Interview with Straight from the Library

Interview with Straight from the Library

EXCLUSIVE! Read this exciting interview with Emergence star, Xavier – the Lac Rogue Wildchild!

Interviewer: For people who haven’t read Emergence, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Xavier: My name is Xavier. I pronounce it the same way my mother, who was French-speaking did: Za-vee-eh. But I don’t mind if people say it the Anglo way. I live in Lac Rouge with Stefan, who is my father. It’s just the two of us – my mom took off when I was eight, because she couldn’t take the isolation. At least, that’s why Stefan says she left. I suspect there was more to it than that, but that’s all Stefan is willing to say. I know some people think it’s weird that I call my father by his name, instead of something like Papa or Dad. But that’s how I’ve always referred to him. He says that because he’s an anarchist, he rejects the power dynamics built into names that indicate roles.

Interviewer: So your mom couldn’t take the isolation at Lac Rouge? How you do you feel about it?

Xavier: I’ve always loved living at Lac Rouge. But it’s all I’ve ever known, right? Maybe I’m the kind of person who would love wherever they are, just because I’m kind of built that way. My friend Cass, who trains dogs, calls that “temperament”. She says some dogs have a happy, eager-to-please nature, which she calls “biddable”. Others – not so much. She says that with training, you can always make big changes in the way a dog behaves, but only small changes in who they are, because they come into the world with their own temperament. From what I’ve seen, there’s not all that much difference between dogs and humans. I think maybe I was just built to like where I am.

Interviewer: It’s great that you love living at Lac Rouge. But because it is so isolated – I wouldn’t think there is all that much to do there. Why do you love it? How do you spend your time?

Xavier: Stefan home-schools me, so that takes some time. But even though I enjoy our lessons, I try to get through them as quickly as possible so I can do what I think my temperament made me born to do. Which is observing. In Emergence, I call that Just Watching. But I was only twelve when the book started. I’ve matured since then, and now generally, I call my passion by the word most people would use to describe it – Observing.

Interviewer: It’s interesting that you use the word “passion” when talking about what you like to do most. I don’t think most kids would do that. Where’d that come from?

Xavier: I probably got it from Cass. I get a lot of stuff from her. Even though she doesn’t give me school-lessons like Stefan’s, she teaches me a lot and is a very good teacher. Once, when Cass and I were talking, I mentioned that she seems happier and spends more time having fun than most adults do. She told me that’s because she’s selfish, and she spends her time on her passions – the things she really loves doing. That’s being outdoors and working with dogs. I don’t think I said this to her, but what I thought at the time was that it didn’t sound selfish to me – it sounded smart. Why waste your time doing stuff you don’t like doing?

Interviewer: What’s so great about observing? You look like an active, athletic kid, and “observing” sounds so passive and sedentary – like you’re sitting around a lot.

Xavier: Not to be rude, but that’s a really ignorant idea of what’s involved in observing. Sure, there are many times when you have to be very still when observing. But if you know what you’re doing – it’s like a great game. You are still because you don’t want to alert your subject to your presence. So you have to sort of absorb and become a part of the place where you’re positioned. You need to control yourself to stay still, even if you’re hot, or cold, or itching, or covered with insects. You even have to control your breathing. Most people don’t know how much their breathing changes when they’re excited or scared, and that animals are really tuned in to those kinds of changes in the blend of sound that surrounds them.

And it’s not all about being still. You need to get to where you’re going, or even better, track your subject without them knowing it. And there are different ways of doing it depending on where you are, who or what you’re tracking, and the time of year. Before we met, when I was Just Watching Cass and her dogs, I spent a lot of time tracking her during the winter. She was skiing, and I was wearing snowshoes, and figuring out where she was going and how to stay down-wind from her so that the dogs wouldn’t know I was there, was really fun. So was getting to know the dogs, while not letting Cass realize that they had a new friend. I had to time it so that they were still able to get back to Cass before she got too worried about them. She says that timing is really important when you’re training dogs. I know she’s right, but I think that really doesn’t go far enough. I think timing is really important, period. When you think of all the stuff that happened in Emergence, an awful lot of it depended on getting the timing right. Sometimes that depended on skill, but sometimes it was just luck. I agree with Stefan, when he says “You control what you can, and hope for luck with what you can’t control”.

Interviewer: So it sounds like one of the things you like about observation is the challenge. Are there other things about it that appeal to you?

Xavier: That’s a really great question – I’m sorry I kind of called you ignorant before. One of the main things I love about observing goes back to when you implied that it must be boring here because you think it’s isolated. The thing I love about observing is that I’m so NOT isolated. I become a part of wherever I am. A maelstrom of smells swirls around me – damp earth, and dry grass, and the spicy smell of ferns in the autumn, and the wildflowers, and even the kind of popcorny smell of Cass’ dogs.

Do you know what a maelstrom is? [Interviewer shakes her head “no”] I love that word – I learned it from one of my favorite writers, Edgar Allen Poe. It means kind of a whirlpool. And for me, smell and sound can combine into one that sucks me in. I can close my eyes and surrender to the smells at the same time I give myself up to the music of the wind and the birds, and the frogs and bees and crickets, and other whirring and crawling critters. Sometimes I press myself to the ground in the woods or the fields, and just take it all in and let it wash over me, until I’m a part of it and SO not isolated.

Of course – that’s not really observing. That’s just what I feel while I’m observing. But it kind of sets the tone, because I think the more you feel like your subject, the more you respect it and find beauty in it. Even animals most people disrespect, like martens for instance, are interesting and clever and beautiful once you study them. I figure that’s how and why I eventually decided to meet Cass. Because I’d been observing her for a while, so I had learned to respect her and find beauty in her. That is not the way I feel about all humans.

Interviewer: I know that, for sure, from Emergence. Do you want to talk about Jean-Luc or Mike, or would you rather tell me more about how you met Cass?

Xavier: I’d much rather talk about meeting Cass. It was a big, hard, project and I got help on how to do it from my hero, Dr. Jane Goodall. Though she is old now, she started her work observing chimpanzees in Africa when she was quite young, and she wrote her first book about it while she was still young. It’s my favorite book. It’s called In the Shadow of Man, and Stefan suggested I read it when he knew I needed help in figuring out how to observe Cass and her dogs.

When he suggested that, I thought it was going to be a formula, kind of like the manuals and books he’s given me about stuff like how to dress a deer. You know, like first you do this, then you do that – kind of numbered instructions. At first, I was disappointed because In the Shadow of Man wasn’t like that at all. But I got sucked into it, because it is a very interesting story about her life and how she got started in her observations. Rather than telling me what to do, she explained what she did and I kind of worked backwards from that to figure it out.

Here’s what I learned: You need to slowly let your subject know that you are around and that you are not a threat. You shouldn’t surprise or scare your subject, ever. For example, at first Dr. Goodall always wore the same clothes, so her subjects knew it was her and that nothing had changed since the last time. She provided gifts of bananas, but didn’t make the chimps accept them from her – she just kind of arranged it so that they would associate the bananas with her. She never pushed herself on them, but just waited until they seemed to accept her.

That was pretty well what I did with Cass. After I arranged our first meeting, I allowed her to see or hear me in the woods, so she’d know I was around. I’d always let her take the initiative, just like Dr. Goodall did with David Graybeard. I’d be super-aware of her body language and would never hang around if I observed even the slightest sign that she ‘d rather be by herself. And just like Dr. Jane gradually won the respect and trust of David Graybeard, and Goliath, and the other chimpanzees, I gradually won the respect of Cass and her crew of dogs and humans. And the most interesting part of this process, is that I don’t think it can work only one way. As I earned Cass’ respect, she earned mine.

Interviewer: You’ve mentioned respect a number of times since we started talking. Why is that so important to you?

Xavier: I don’t know many people, so I don’t know if it works this way only for me, or if this is generally the way it works. But for me, the people I care about I respect, and the people I respect, I care about. And I’m willing to do a lot for the people I respect and care about. I guess that’s pretty clear in Emergence. I would never have done the stuff I did there, if I hadn’t moved from observing to respecting to really caring about Cass, and Lori, and Katrinka, and Chuff, and all the other people and dogs who came into my life when she did.

Interviewer: You certainly did “some stuff” in Emergence. Do you have any regrets about that?

Xavier: Even though I have bad dreams and kind of waking nightmares about some of that stuff, I still believe that what Stefan taught me – that you do everything for your family and friends – is right. So the answer is No.

Read the full interview and learn more about Emergence by visiting the Straight from the Library blog.

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