Rudolph Unveiled

An essay of my interpretation of the Rudolph story can be found under the original lyrics (below). Comments welcome!

Original Lyrics:

"You know Dasher, Dancer,
Prancer and Vixen,
Cupid, Donner and Blitzen,
but do you recall
the most famous reindeer of all?
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw him,
you would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games.
Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say:
"Rudolph with your nose so bright,
won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
Then all the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
you'll go down in history!"

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Unveiled

When “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” came out in 1938, sung by the legendary Singing Cowboy Gene Autrey, I still lived in Holland and heard the music on Radio Luxembourg, the US Army network in 1946.  
Much later I began to see this evergreen song in a different light.  Could it be Robert May, who wrote the lyrics, had a hidden meaning? (The music was composed by Johnny Marks.) 

Robert May was an American advertising executive.  I am not sure how well he knew the Bohemian heartbeat and environment in which most artists dwell, but I feel this song is pure poetry.  Over the years, this message never left me.  
Now, deep in the winter of my life, and many years after hearing that happy tune, the flash of intuition from long ago has been distilled in me. But especially the lyrics.

During a recent gathering at friends, we were having a lively conversation about the origin and meaning of Christmas.  The consensus was Christmas evolved from a combination of pagan traditions, ancient mythologies and historic facts, blended together.

Seventeenth century pilgrims brought to the New World their tradition of Sint Niklaas. In 1823, Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem “The Night before Christmas” which, so the story goes, heralded Santa Claus in America.

Much earlier, Bishop Nicolas, 280-342 AD and who loved children, handed out presents to needy youngsters on December 6th, his birthday. He later became Saint Nicolas or Sint Niklaas.  The British accent morphed this into the “Santa” Claus we know today.
When I mentioned to my friends of all the Christmas songs, my favourite was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, their reaction was one of surprise. “Why that one?”

To begin with, for me the song has a deeper meaning. We know that of all the reindeer - Dasher, Pranzer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, the most famous of them all was Rudolph

And Rudolph had a shiny red nose.  And if you’d come a bit closer, you would even say it glows.   He was not included in playing any reindeer games. 

Rudolph was different.  He stood out from the herd.  Just like anyone who is different is often left out, considered eccentric or not taken seriously. (Not an unfamiliar story for many artists throughout history.)

When Santa notices this particular reindeer with a red and shiny nose that glowed, he figured Rudolph would be perfect to guide Santa through the foggy night with his sleigh loaded with treasures.

Rudolph appears with his illuminating nose, and becomes a pathfinder, a shining light in the darkness.  Then, all the other reindeer love him.  Just like today, when we “love” the works by great artists long after they have left us. 

Vincent van Gogh and here in Canada, Emily Carr, are perfect example of artists who were called names and ostracized during their lifetime

It was Santa who noticed the talent and worth of Rudolph so that he could be the guiding light in space, through the fog and darkness, enabling him to bring those gifts and treasures for all to enjoy. 

Rudolph is a symbol.  He represents those who leave a legacy, a treasure-trove of Music, Letters and Art.   Santa? Well, he is Space & Time of course, for only through time, greatness is recognized.

Rudolph not only pulls a sleigh loaded with treasures, but guides  other reindeer (the Human Family, the flock) from the darkness of ignorance into the Light.

So that’s why Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is my favourite song of the holiday season.  It has now become universal, like “Jingle Bells” or “Silent Night” and many more, together with the hymns and great choral works which brighten the hearts of us all. Still, the glowing red nose of Rudolph stands out.

And as the song goes, “He is the most famous of them all!”
Henri van Bentum

 Rudolph also has his own site:  Click here to visit.


The Galapagos, "Crucible of Life": Part Six - Encounters with Wildlife

Most visitors nowadays come to these “Enchanted” volcanic isles aboard large boats, or some take land-based organized tours.

 Renowned underwater expert Valerie Taylor
Our expedition, several years ago, was very different.  Ron and Valerie Taylor, pioneering underwater photographers from Australia, were special guests aboard the first small-boat expedition (apart from Jacques Cousteau’s trip aboard “Calypso” decades earlier.)

It was a dive-snorkel trip that included shore visits to the major islands. Since I don’t dive, I opted for snorkeling instead.  There were only 10 of us, not like the large numbers who travel by ship nowadays.
Each island is different.  Fierce currents surround the islands:  most well-known is the Humboldt current, which brings cold waters from the Southern Ocean, but the Cromwell and the Panama Flow are not friendly to snorkelers either.
Although the Galapagos are located right on the Equator, the water can be very cold - the Galapagos Penguin is evidence. But ashore it’s a different story - very hot, especially when walking on the lava rocks and beaches.
While snorkeling we witnessed schools of fish speeding by, suddenly changing direction. Quite a sight to see! Then there are Barracuda, Hammerhead Shark, Golden Rays, Big-Eyed Jacks, Damselfish, Barber Fish, Yellow-tailed Surgeon fish, Pacific Reef turtles, Sea Lions, Fur Seals and Elephant Seals, just to name a few.

And you can’t forget the prehistoric-looking Marine Iguana grazing on the sea algae.  I mentioned the strong currents, these are the reason each island has a different kind of Marine Iguana. 

They cannot swim from island to island and through eons of evolution have each developed unique characteristics. On one island, they are skinny.  On another, they’re green, on another, fat and grey.  And so forth.

The Galapagos Islands are part of the Ring of Fire and have active volcanoes.  Even now, the Fernandina Island volcano has erupted 24 times in the past two years alone.

One day while enjoying a leisurely snorkel amongst a group of ‘lady’ seals – who are curious and come right up to you while performing what looks like an aqua ballet, suddenly I felt a nudge against my fins.  Then another.
Bull Sea Lion shows me who's boss.
Before I knew it, I landed on the lava rocks!  The cause?  A sea lion bull had literally tossed me out of the water.  Needless to say I was stunned.  I realized what had happened – he’d been protecting his ‘harem’ and showed me who was boss!

Charles Darwin demonstrated how all the Finches of the different islands are different.  There are giant tortoises, some born when Napoleon was alive, land iguanas, swallow-tailed gulls, frigate birds, owls, cormorants (who continue to ‘dry their wings’ even though they don’t have wings anymore), and of course the different kinds of Boobies.
Boobie comes from the Spanish word for clown, “Bobo”.  The blue-footed ones surely honour that name, when you see them stepping dapper, lifting their pastel-blue feet up for all to see!

The Galapagos are an archipelago, a ‘crucible’ for Life, a microcosm of planet Earth, and one of the most pristine areas in the world.  Let us take good care of these Enchanted Isles and do our very upmost to protect this precious realm.

To be continued, Part Seven (coming soon).

Henri van Bentum


Part Five: Encounters with Wildlife - South Georgia Island, Antarctica


Our vessel, the ice-strengthened "Professor Molchanov"

On another expedition, this time it was to a remote, uninhabited island in Antarctica:  South Georgia Island.  Our means of transportation was a Russian icebreaker.   The ship was a former Soviet hydrometeorlogical vessel, now chartered by an expedition company. 
Getting there from Ushuaia at the southernmost tip of Argentina (there are no airstrips on the island), we slalomed amongst giant icebergs. 
 Aboard one of the ship’s Zodiacs, South Georgia Island

The ship had zodiacs and we came up close to leopard seals, elephant seals, whales, and – of course – penguins.   We could smell the whales’ breath and see the barnacles on their skin, that’s how close we were.
  Elegant and majestic wanderer of the oceans, the Albatross

Seabirds such as Giant Petrels and Wandering Albatross abound.  One bird was a menace, the Skua, a predator of other birds’ chicks, also they dive bombed us!  South Georgia has recently been discovered to have one of the highest levels of biodiversity amongst all ecosystems on Earth.  In 2012, in order to protect marine biodiversity, the territory's government created the world's largest protected area – the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Marine Protection Area – comprising 1.07 million sq. kms.

Elephant Seal with King Penguins, South Georgia Island

Ashore we encountered Macaroni and Adele penguins.  One spot had thousands and thousands of King Penguins with their chicks. We ascended a slippery path to view Albatross sitting on their nests.
 Black-Browed Albatross with chick, South Georgia Island

On one of our wanderings ashore, I was suddenly made aware of another presence.  A big roar, right behind me.  I thought, “Uh oh, a giant Bull Elephant Seal”.   Then turning around, I spotted a small Elephant Seal calf.  Talk about pretence and imitating his father.  Maybe only a couple months’ old.
Henri on South Georgia Island, Antarctica - where an Elephant Seal pup makes big, “scary” noise

As for the elements, we had weather galore.  Four cyclones!  These forced the Captain to keep the vessel in protected bays.  It definitely is a bonus to have a good pair of sea legs if you contemplate visiting this part of the planet.
 Henri van Bentum, South Georgia Island, with King Penguins

I was fortunate to experience this extraordinary place, a privilege to witness the wildlife and have these wonderful encounters.

Coming next:  Part Six

Henri van Bentum


Hippopotamuses or Hippo rap

Statuette of a Hippopotamus, Ancient Egypt, Middle Kingdom, approximately 2,000 years old
This story is very old
how old? Who knows?
It's about those Hippos
who, at one time, with their large mouth and teeth
devoured all the fish they could eat.
 Then a voice spoke from nowhere:

 "Friends, from now on you'll eat greens
and go ashore to defecate
so we can see if they'll be fish bones
from any fish you ate.

We need to prevent you from depleting 
all the fish you devour and may be  eating".
 That's how to this day
those colossal Hippos
only eat greens and hay.

Henri van Bentum


Part Four: more encounters with wilidlife

Little did we know we’d soon be returning to Africa only a few years after my first ‘safari’ (see previous post).  This time, it was aboard ship, via an around-the-world voyage with the venerable Royal Viking Line in 1974 as guest artist and lecturer. 
We had several ports of call in South Africa, Cape Town and Durban. Then onwards to Lourenco Marques in Mozambique, followed by Mombasa, Kenya. From Durban we headed due west inland to the Valley of the Thousands Hills, Zulu country.  We also visited a snake and crocodile farm.  The latter stop did not amuse us because we knew they made handbags and shoes out of their skins.
Rhino, the most dangerous animal in Africa
Mombasa was the departure point for a safari to Tsavo Park with wildlife galore.  Lions, wildebeest, giraffes, antelopes, the funny Secretary Bird, and rhino.  Our guide told us the rhino is the most dangerous animal of all.

Secretary Bird

Tsavo Park is known for its “red elephants”.  They’re not red, of course, but like to roll in the clay soil for relief from insects and the heat, and spray themselves with red sand.
While roaming through the Park in a safari Van  - - -  with open roof (to facilitate viewing and taking pictures - - - we came upon three lions sleeping in the shade on the road.

This is exactly how our lions looked

The Van approached slowly, they gradually got up and without even glancing in our direction, walked away.  Next we went off-road amongst trees and bush, and came face to face with a herd of elephants.  The male Bull Elephant was not amused and began flapping his ears.
The guide explained this was a warning signal:  the elephant was ready to charge.  The guide whispered to us, “Hush!  Be very, very quiet!” and prepared to reverse the Van. A sharp and loud shriek pierced our ears – a woman passenger became hysterical when the dangerous situation suddenly dawned on her.  A few moments before she had been happily taking pictures. Luckily, our cool-headed driver continued to slowly back up and brought us all to safety.  And how close was the Bull?  Ten metres! 

To be continued, Part Five.                                     
Henri van Bentum