Healer of Angels


(This 1134th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on December 16, 2012.)


Martin Tyner with his golden eagle Scout


My friend Paul Fuhrmann forwarded a book to me review. It came too late for more than a brief mention in last week's recommended books for holiday giving, but it is so remarkable that I spent most of the night I received it reading it from cover to cover. I found it worth a column by itself.


The book is Martin and Susan Tyner's Healer of Angels (Amethyst Moon Publishing). The angels of the story are golden eagles and the healer is Martin himself, a falconer and bird rehabilitator. We follow his progress as he grows from a child afraid of birds due to an encounter with a parrot to an adult whose career is associated with them and especially large raptors.


His adventures are interesting and often funny, at least in retrospect. In one of them he is asked to bring in frogs for his fourth grade teacher's terrarium, but there is no lid on the display and the frogs soon fill the classroom.


In another, between jobs working with birds, he is interviewed for employment at the Lions Unlimited. Here in his words is how that interview unfolded:


"We walked over to a large enclosure. Inside were a half dozen full-grown African lions. The trainer unlatched the gate and we walked into the enclosure. He immediately turned around, stepped out of the enclosure and locked the gate behind him leaving me alone with the lions.


"'What are you doing?' I asked. The trainer replied, 'You want to be a lion tamer, there are the lions, go train them.'


"I protested, 'This isn't funny.' Very seriously he answered, 'No it's not. There is a big male coming around behind you. You better do something about it before you get eaten.'


"I glanced around quickly spotting a small, wooden stock cane hanging on the fence. I grabbed the cane, turned and then ran toward the lion swinging the cane and yelling 'Hah, Hah!' at the top of my lungs. That lion backed down only to have a second move in from behind, so I went after him as well.


"Understanding that even though these lions each weighed about four hundred pounds, when they were standing they were about four feet tall. I may have weighed only one hundred sixty pounds, but at five foot six inches, as far as the lions were concerned I was bigger than they were. There was no way with a small wooden cane that I could hurt one of these big cats, but as long as I was bigger, louder and more aggressive, I could back them down.


"After about ten minutes, I had all the lions backed off and the head trainer said as he opened the gate, 'Come on out, you did just fine. You have the job.'"


There are many more interesting stories in this book, but there is a subtext that made those stories even more appealing to me. Martin Tyner was born with the serious learning disability dyslexia.


For many people dyslexia represents an insurmountable problem. They are never able to conquer it and remain functionally illiterate. But there are examples of people who have overcome this learning problem, almost always with the assistance of talented and committed teachers. The list includes Pierre Curie and two other Nobel prize winners, our former governor Nelson Rockefeller, Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner, authors Hans Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll and Agatha Christie, and entertainers Cher and Jay Leno. Add Tyner to that list.


We are most fortunate to have in this region the Gow School in South Wales, an institution whose teachers are devoted specifically to the instruction of students with dyslexia and other language-based learning difficulties. But for every youngster able to get that kind of high quality professional help, there are hundreds left to their own resources.


In Tyner's case his grandmother addressed his problems. Seeing how poorly Martin was doing in school, she worked tirelessly with him, in the process convincing the youngster that he had gifts that balanced his problems and that he could succeed.


And indeed he does succeed. With his wife Susan, Tyner created and now operates the Southwest Wildlife Foundation in Cedar City, Utah, a nature center that not only supports animal rehabilitation and falconry but also provides programs for schools and scout groups throughout the west.-- Gerry Rising