Burning Bright

I was stalked by a tiger once. In St. Paul, Minnesota.

I was visiting my sister for New Years, recovering from the big family Christmas back on the farm in Wisconsin. Maggie and her partner both worked days, so I had to entertain myself. One day I decided to pay a visit to Como Park Zoo.

It's not the most exciting place in midwinter, of course. Most all the animals were indoors, if not actually hibernating. Every time I entered a tropically heated building, I had to wait for my glasses to unsteam, by which time everycritter had long since reached cover. I was delighted, therefore, to find five little tiger cubs outside, playing in the snow.

Siberian tigers, of course, to whom Minnesota winter is a balmy resort paradise. They were chasing each others' tails, rolling in the snow, and waiting in ambush behind every tree and shrub.

One of them noticed me watching, and peeled off from the pack to gallop up the hill to where I was leaning on the rail. He plopped down on his haunches, regarded me for a long moment, then wrinkled his nose and licked his chops as if to ask, "Do you taste good?"

Long ago I read something about how weird it is that humans bare our teeth when we're being friendly. (For most animals, it's a challenge.) So I gave him a great big grin...

...and he scampered back down to join his siblings.

Tigers have a lot of presence, so I tend to paint them on big pots: Platters, serving bowls, pasta bowls, cookie jars, platters. I've also let a few creep up onto dinner plates and tall mugs.

And you know what? People always smile when they see them.