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A Handy Guide to Some Common Shadows

by Otis Kidwell Burger

Writing a key to common shadows isn’t easy. Even the most common shadows are elusive, hard to track down or capture, and generally inhabit the darker and more unexplored areas of any country. Moreover, even the commoner shadows are becoming scarce these days, and some are seriously threatened with extinction, due to loss of habitat. Even Darkest Africa isn’t as Dark as it used to be, and the Dark Ages are long since over. However, exploration of the ocean’s floor, and of the moon and the planets and beyond, will no doubt reveal entire new species, or even new orders, of shadows, since shadows are very adaptable creatures well able to survive even the most inhabitable habitats.


The amateur collector, however, will almost certainly be able to find enough common shadows in his area to keep him quite busy. It is a pity that many people are (mistakenly) afraid of shadows, and so miss out on this pleasant hobby. True, the amateur collector who wishes to study the natural history of shadows would be advised to be well-armed with a flashlight, since even the most docile shadow has been known to turn on its pursuer when cornered. However, the majority of shadows are essentially friendly creatures, and very curious about people. Even the fiercer shadows are usually fierce only because they are frightened of people, or perhaps were once mistreated by some careless or cruel person. With proper care, however, even these fiercer shadows can be tamed; and such shadows, once their fears about people have been allayed, can become life-long companions. 


Shadows, in fact, often make excellent pets. They are inexpensive to feed and housebreak, and reasonably neat in their habits, though you must take care not to startle or mistreat them, since a frightened shadow may sometimes break things by mistake. A properly trained shadow will last a long time and can be taught to follow you everywhere. Some shadows can even be taught to do tricks.


Unfortunately, it is difficult to preserve a good specimen of a shadow, once you have caught it; shadows are fragile and disintegrate soon after they are killed. One method of preserving live shadows is to quickly draw their outlines on the walls, ceilings, or floors where they are usually found, but this raises difficulties, since bits of walls, ceilings, floors etc are awkward to store and take up a good deal of space. And only the most dedicated shadow-collector would want to live in an entire room decorated permanently with shadows. Quick sketches, photographs, and quickfreezing are possible methods of shadow-preservation.


Nevertheless, the study of shadows can be a fascinating and rewarding one, despite the difficulty of preserving a good specimen once you have captured it. And anyway, a really dedicated shadow-hunter is not really interested in trophies; dead shadows’ heads and skins, or shadows preserved in formaldehyde, do not, after all, tell us very much about live shadows. And even pet shadows lose many of their natural characteristics when taken away from their homes in the wild. 


The true thrill of shadow-hunting lies in the chase, and the joy of watching shadows pursuing their normal, wild lives, or locating a rare specimen… or sometimes even adding a whole new species to those shadows already known. So far, our real knowledge of shadows is limited, and in this little volume we do not pretend to cover the whole field, merely to give the amateur an easy method of identifying the shadows he or she is most likely to encounter in the field.


Happy hunting! 

About the Author

Otis Kidwell Burger was born November 9, 1923. She attended Bennington College and NYU, and graduated from Cornell in 1946. Her work has been featured in The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Good Housekeeping, and more.

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