Short Stories – Sara Morris Swetcharnik – Spain 1987

Sara Morris Swetcharnik and her husband William Swetcharnik were American Collaborative Grantees in Sculpture and Research to the Fulbright Program in Spain, Commission for Cultural, Educational and Scientific Exchange between the United States and Spain (1988-89, 1987-88). Later, William Swetcharnik was also awarded a Fulbright Grant to Honduras: Sara traveled with him to Honduras as his wife, and continued making her animal sculptures. She also published some if her narratives about animals and their human friends in literary magazines and periodicals. William was also acquainted with many of these friends of animals there.



By Sara Morris Swetcharnik

Charlie the raccoon was one of George’s odder houseguests. His workers had found him at an excavation site, a tiny coon barely able to crawl. With effort the raccoon could slowly propel his body forward, but when inertia took over he could not control his balance. However Charlie would pick himself up and soon had a baffling talent for getting around and foraging.

One day when the raccoon wandered out near the river at flood tide, George finally found him clinging to a tree, surrounded by water.

On another occasion, when a tractor ran over a nearby hutch of rabbits, George brought a surviving baby back to his trailer. He put the rabbit in a box and kept Charlie away in a separate cage. One night, however, Charlie managed to get out, and the next morning all that was left of the baby rabbit was a little bit of fur.

Then Charlie learned to open the refrigerator door. It took George a while to figure out what was happening. First, there was the mystery of the hollow eggs. Each morning, George would get up to make breakfast, open the refrigerator, and discover that some prankster had made a tiny hole in each egg and removed the contents. Finally, he discovered that it was not one of the guys on the project team but his own houseguest.

(Based on field experiences of anthropologist George Hasemann.)



By Sara Morris Swetcharnik

One day about twenty years ago, George and his research team were sitting by a campfire in a grove of giant wild fig trees along the Sulaca River. This was the last camp before Gloria joined the group;George was still a bachelor. George explained the situation this way: “If you can imagine what it is like for a bunch of guys to be together for months with no TV– just drinking, playing cards, and telling the same boring stories… then a family of skunks walked by and of course the guys began to dare each other to catch one.

“Oh hell, I can do it.” George had finally said.

“No you can’t.”

“Of course I can.”

George dressed with thick gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and glasses. The forked roots of the giant fig trees provided lots of places for a small skunk to hide, but finally he cornered one. The skunk looked up at George. He uttered a short snort of alarm: his head went down and his tail went up. George could not imagine that this little fellow could
produce very much spray. But suddenly, he could not see anything but lumpy green-yellow stuff streaming down his glasses. It was very stinky. Contemplating his situation, George figured he couldn’t get any stinkier than he was already. So he picked up the baby skunk, put him in a nylon sack and then put the sack in a bucket. After he had thoroughly bathed
and thrown his clothes out, George’s friends began to offer suggestions to rid him of the odor. Everyone agreed that tomatoes would cure the odor, that the tomatoes should be thoroughly rotten, and that they should be rubbed all over his body. They offered to help find the oldest tomatoes possible. Then all of them kept their distance for several days. When George released the skunk he got sprayed again, but it didn’t make much difference since he still stunk.

(Based on field experiences of anthropologist George Hasemann.)



By Sara Morris Swetcharnik

The night was filled with the incessant shrill scream of cicadas. The cicadas, which climb out of the sandy soil and attach to any rough surface while molting, had been attracted to the light in the tent and had covered it within and without. Gloria needed to go to the bathroom. She picked up a lantern, opened the flap of the tent and paused. All around her were tiny eyes reflecting bright green in the lantern’s light. Skunks! She jumped on a chair.

The mother skunk was beautiful. Her white bushy tail was carried high. She raised her long snout to sniff the air and then stepped into the
circle of the lantern light. A white band ran down her black furry neck, where it split into two parallel stripes. Behind her were five small
skunks whose bright green eyes also peered up at Gloria. The skunk kits took the cue, raised their tails and followed. Then the whole skunk
family proceeded to clean the cicadas off the tent, jumping to reach the ones higher up the sides. After they left, Gloria climbed down from the chair and announced, “Well, I guess we scared them away.”

Eventually the humans and skunks became comfortable with each other. It became an evening ritual for the skunk family to visit. When the skunks arrived, they would first sniff the ankles of the anthropologists who were sitting around a table playing cards, then they would go about the business of cleaning up the cicadas, and then they would leave.

(Based on field experiences of anthropologists George and Gloria




By Sara Morris Swetcharnik

The Central American agouti, also known as an Indian rabbit or guatusa, is a medium-sized, tailless, brown mammal. It looks somewhat like an oversized rabbit with short ears.

Every evening George and Gloria would lift up a stone slab from the kitchen floor, put their pet guatusa to bed in the old plumbing hole, and place the stone slab back over her bed. In the morning they would take off the slab to let her loose. When they went up to their office, the guatusa would follow them hopping, rabbit-like, up the stairs and into the office. Then she would hop up on Gloria’s desk, sniff around, make sure everything was in order, then squat and pee. Then the guatusa would hop on to George’s desk, sniff around, make sure everything was in order, then curl up to sleep.

Eventually, Gloria gave up trying to toilet train the creature. She just left newspapers on her desk every day after work. “But it was a tranquil, pleasant pet. I think it was intelligent too,” comments George. “It knew enough not to pee on my desk.”

(Based on field experiences of anthropologists George and Gloria

Sara Morris Swetcharnik – Fulbright to Spain 1987

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