The Wild Things

Maurice Sendak, the legendary children’s book writer and illustrator, once said that he modeled all the characters of his “Wild Things” after relatives – aunts and uncles who scared him as a child.

I was recently filing through the troves of safari pictures I amassed during our African travels, and I was struck by how many of these wild animal portraits resemble family portraits from the olden days. You know, the sepia ones where no one is smiling but instead staring at the camera as if they were on death row. Before ever going on a safari, I imagined having to stealthily track the wildlife and catching a brief glimpse before it got away. But often, it’s nothing like that. Instead, these animals will stop in their tracks and stare at you just like you are staring at them, giving you a great photo op.

Here I’ve assembled my favorite such “family portraits” of my own Wild Things. If I was Maurice Sendak, I’d use the inspiration to write a children’s book and become rich and famous.

wild things: giraffes in South Africa
“It’s shameful what these young folk are wearing nowadays,
don’t you think, Edna dear?”
wild things: zebras in South Africa
“Have you heard about that new crazy dance… I think they
call it the Charleston?”
wild things: gemsbok in Southern Africa
“For Chrissakes, Arthur, will you stop farting
and just stand still for a moment?”
wild things: zebra family in Southern Africa
“Mother, he keeps pushing me!”
“Just shut up and look at that man with the black box.”
Sorry I couldn’t resist. My grandmother circa 1913, far right,
with her parents, sister, and 3 brothers
wild things: lion cubs in South Africa
“If they tell us to say cheese one more time, let’s scratch them.”
Grandma Hattie trying to shove her false teeth in place for the photo.
wild things: wild dog in South Africa
“You think they can see me?”
wild things: kudu in South Africa
“What an awful bore standing still for this commoner who calls
himself an artist. I do hope tea and scones will be served soon!”
wild things
“Can you please tell me when it’s over?”
“If I wanted to, I could kill you with one swipe.
“If I wanted to, I could kill you with my pointy mustache.”
(an unspecified ancestor of Noisette’s)
wild things: buffalo in South Africa
[blank; no thoughts whatsoever in there]
wild things: buffalo in South Africa
“And as I was saying… uh… wait, where were we?”
“You think we should rather show them our pretty butts like this?”
“One day they’ll call this African Gothic. Wait, where’s my
“Who needs a pitchfork with those horns?”
wild things: zebras I South Africa
“…and then turn slightly to the side, like that, so you’ll look
thinner. It will work wonders with those stripes!”
wild things: elephants in southern Africa
“I wonder if that black box sizzles if you spray it with water…”


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