Ruth Rudner
Ruth Rudner

David Muench's National Parks


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When I moved to Montana from New York, I packed an orange canvas bag with a number of stuffed animals and my two dolls, one that came from Russia with my mother, the other, bought years ago in Switzerland when I was writing about skiing. The Russian doll is precious to me, partly because it is Russian, and partly because I love the way she is dressed. I’ve always thought I should dress like that. If it weren’t for the fact that I am – of course – deeply opposed to serfdom in any form, I think I should have been a Russian peasant.

I couldn’t put the doll (Sonyetchka, after my mother), or any of the animals in a closed box for the move, (how would they breathe?), so they all squeezed into the orange bag to ride in the back seat of my car.


I’ve always loved stuffed animals. When I was a child, it was mostly pandas and koalas. As an adult, my menagerie expanded to include every sort of bear, as well as everything else. My first Christmas in Montana, I sent one to a friend in New York, and he sent me one. Our bears crossed in the mail.

Once, a friend of my mother’s – in her 80s at the time -- told me, sheepishly, that she had brought a teddy bear (her only one) with her when she moved from Ohio to Florida. Admitting it to me because she felt I’d understand, she said she didn’t tell many people. When I told her it had never occurred to me to be embarrassed about the large number of teddy bears in my car’s back seat when I moved, I did have a moment of wondering if somehow I was odd. (How could that be?)

Blue, a Wheaten terrierMy animal collection grew. A close friend gave me three wonderful bears, all the same but three different colors--vanilla, butterscotch and chocolate. Another friend gave me a little pink pig after I fell in love with Babe, although I seem to have acquired a couple of other little pigs as well. I have a wire-haired terrier that was a gift from a former husband a few years after our wire-haired died, although that one came out to Montana in the orange bag. I have various wolves, a coyote, one regular cow and one longhorn, and Blue dog from Blue’s Clues, which some friends gave me because my dog was named Blue. Blue was not named for Blue from Blue’s Clues, but for the dog in the song that goes, "I had an old dog and his name was Blue, betcha five dollars he’s a good dog, too . . . ." It always seemed to me that Blue was a real dog’s name, the kind of dog that followed you up mountains and through forests and maybe, as the song continues, treed an occasional possum to cook for dinner. When I was finally ready for another dog – years after my wire-haired had died--what I wanted was a real dog. My father, worried about my living alone in Montana, thought a dog was a good idea. So when I got Blue, a Wheaten terrier who was ten weeks old, I sent a picture of him to my father. My father called me from Florida where my parents then lived. "I told you to get a real dog," he said, " not a mop."

Blue was a real dog. About the most real a dog could ever be. But he wasn’t the least bit interested in toys. He just ignored the toys I bought him. He was like me in his love of being on a hiking trail, or a ski trail, but we differed when it came to toys. I think Blue thought toys were irrelevant when there was so much real stuff to do.

Nevertheless, the stuffed animals continued accumulating. In Yellowstone National Park’s stores, I discovered stuffed bison. Since I had become obsessed with bison while writing a book about them--the flesh and blood ones that cause buffalo jams on Park roads, or that move in huge herds up the Lamar Valley, or that stand on a backcountry trail just daring a group of horseback riders to get through, or that leave the Park in winter searching for food, often getting shot, I began buying the stuffed ones. I now have a small herd.

After my mother died, I took the bear I’d given her. I also took a huge white bear that one of the hospice nurses who helped her had given her. When I met David, who noticed me eyeing every stuffed animal I came across, he made gifts of them to me. Once we were married even I thought it was a bit odd that David would have to share a bedroom with so many stuffed animals. But he bought a wonderful bookcase to hold most of them. The rest, including the lion we got in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand, spill over onto a large chair. The lion travels back and forth to Montana with me because he is somehow a part of my beautiful little cat, Lion, who moved from Montana to New Mexico with me, and was, until his death from cancer, one of the best friends I’ve ever had. The bison stand on the floor, ready to stampede.

It turned out that David was fascinated by the stuffed birds sold in all the national parks, fluffy copies of real birds, offering the birds’ actual calls when you squeeze them. Perhaps one might consider these educational toys, a way to learn bird calls.

Suddenly, we were overrun with birds, which did have the effect of making me less self-conscious about the animals. But when we had a little birthday desert party for a friend last week and the only place one of my friends could find to sit (perch is more like it) was on the edge of an antique chair of my parents where a peregrine falcon, a redtail hawk and an eagle have sat for years, I wondered if things had gone a bit far.

"Oh, don’t worry," she said. "I’ll just sit with the eagles."

Copyright © 2013 Ruth Rudner