Something Wild: How Biologists Are Born

Jan 22, 2016

Every moment of our lives add up to the people we are today but some of those moments have a bit more of an impact.  That turning point when you realize what you want to do with the rest of your life. It's something that's been coming up in conversation as we've been speaking to naturalists and wildlife biologists, including Sy Montgomery.  

The author of many books including "Search For The Golden Moon Bear" and "Walking With The Great Apes", Montgomery has traveled the world writing about exotic locations, imperiled habitats and very rare wildlife species.  

She first heard the "call of the wild" as a young girl at the Frankfurt Zoo in Germany.  "Somehow I got into the exhibit with the hippo," she recalled.  "Hippos bite you in half; they're very dangerous animals."  Small as she was, especially next to the hippo, she didn't get nervous. More importantly she didn't start running around as little children can do when they panic. And she has a simple explanation for why she didn't. "I've always just felt much more at home with animals than people."  

So very early on Montgomery learned to be quiet and still, and to listen; skills that helped her relate to animals and to ultimately launch her successful career as both naturalist and author.

The moment that sparked Chris Martin's life-long passion happened during his convalescence from the Chicken Pox. "My parents knew I was going to be at home for [up to] two weeks until I could go back to school." Being bed-ridded for all that time meant 7 year-old Chris was at great risk of  boredom. So his parents set him up in a chair next to the window, then "brought me a pair of binoculars that had been in the closet for I don't know how long... and I started watching birds."  

Chris explains that he was captivated not be exotic birds making an appearance in his backyard, but by the "run of the mill stuff: cardinals, blue jays... colorful birds." Watching those birds scuttle from the bush to the feeder and back was the first time he'd really thought about birds, "And I haven't stopped thinking about them since."

As for Dave Anderson, his call came from the trees.  "I remember climbing trees," he said.  "I was really good it and I could climb up into the tree where no one could find me and I'd drape myself over a limb like a cheetah.  Sometimes I'd even fall asleep." On one such excursion, Dave went missing for longer than was typical and his parents began to worry. But, "the neighbor lady found me asleep in her hedges and she brought me home.  There was a kind of leafy-green peace in those hidden places outside."

Early experiences in nature are really powerful.  They can be transformative and are nearly universal among people working in natural resources.  We love hearing peoples' stories of early exposure to nature. There is real value in hearing and sharing those stories.  

Other Origin Stories...

David Carroll - writer, naturalist, artist and MacArthur Grant recipient - remembers when he fell in love with turtles.

As we collect more of those life-changing moments from naturalists, we'll add them to the post. And we'd love to hear about when you first heard the call of the wild.  Leave us a comment or email us.