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It Begins in Wonder: Sy Montgomery's World

Wednesday, 21 October 2009 14:59 By Leslie Thatcher, t r u t h o u t | Book Review | name.

It Begins in Wonder: Sy Montgomery
Author Sy Montgomery with friend (Photo / Dianne Taylor-Snow)

     It is predawn dark in the rain forest of southern Borneo. The dark is thick and dense with sound. Insects and frogs trill and keen to their kind. Cicadas buzz and whirr, loud as chainsaws. The hot, wet air is heavy with the scents of bloom and decay. There is no breeze; the breath of the forest is its voices, heaving and sighing.

    Before first light the gibbons whoop their alien, elastic duets. Tiny, sharp-hoofed deer bark like dogs; birds whistle like trains; you see nothing, hear everything. And then, at daybreak, silence.

    Life piles thick upon itself. Vines fat as pythons writhe over buttressed trees. Epiphytic ferns and orchids hang from branches. Barbed rattan, thin as cobwebs, claws at your clothing. Life feeds openly, obscenely on death: a column of ants carries away a dying caterpillar. A butterfly, with curled tongue, sucks salt from the open eye of a dead shrew. The strangler fig, born of a seed lodged securely in the arms of a nursery tree, drops its roots around the trunk of its foster mother. Finally she is suffocated by her fosterling's clasping loins and entombed.

    This is at once a hell and an Eden, seething with life and death, growth and decay. Here your senses overwhelm you. But you cannot trust them. Far from the forests of Europe and North America - sturdy, orderly, dry, cool - here the meanings you glean from vision, scent, taste are distorted like a funhouse mirror. Nothing is as it seems.

    Walking, you look at drops of water falling on your shoes and think it is raining; but it is only the sweat falling from your face in the ninety-degree heat. A fallen tree bridging a swamp crumbles under your boots, plunging you into thigh-deep muck. Great trees tower 150 feet high; their buttressed roots sink only six inches deep. The knees of mangroves, roots pointed like stalagmites, rise upward from the swamp like hands from a grave in a horror movie.

    Here bark can burn you with caustic sap, or river water caress you like satin. Fire ants may pour from a handhold, or butterflies light on your skin. Falling fruit can kill you. One of the main trees here is the durian. Its coconut-sized fruit, which in season falls hourly, is macelike, covered with sharp spines; hit by a falling durian, you could die from the wounds. When opened, the durian fruit smells like rotting onions, but its satiny white flesh tastes like a rich, buttery custard flavored with almonds; "such an excellent taste," commented one traveler, Jan Huygen van Linschoten in 1599, "that it surpasses in flavour all the other fruits of the world."

    If you stand still in the forest, inch-long black leeches come toward you from every direction like heat-seeking missiles; they loop forward like inchworms, standing upright and waving their mouths in the air, sensing your warmth. Like a dozen other creatures in this forest, they feed on blood. They inject an anticoagulant as they feed, so the site will gush blood for an hour. Their bite is painless.

    The ground is alive with leeches, ants, spiders, sweat bees. The soil, fetid and fecund, digests death so ravenously that within six months, 90 percent of its organic matter will be recycled back into the life of the forest - a process that in dry forest takes three years. The speed of decay is one reason for the great diversity of life forms, compared to those of temperate forests. Great Britain, for example, has 34 species of native trees; here there are 600, as well as 200 species of mammals and 550 species of birds. Life dazzles in profusion and form. Bamboo, a grass that grows out of scale, towers over your head; pitcher plants gape carnivorous and green. Here live the pink-faced proboscis monkey with the gigantic nose; the colugo, or flying lemur, which is not a lemur at all but a glider, the single member of its order; the flying fox, a fruit bat with a wingspan of six feet; the pangolin, a scale-covered anteater; the secretive cloud leopard; and the only Asian great ape, the only red ape: the orangutan.

    - "Walking with the Great Apes" by Sy Montgomery

    It is not uncommon for those of us who love books to discover that even the finest actor and the best screenplay do not convey the subtleties of character and character development a good author reveals. Consequently, the impressions that Sigourney Weaver's wonderful performance as Dian Fossey in "Gorillas in the Mist" or that even Jane Goodall being herself in National Geographic's documentary "Return to Gombe" were but pale representations of the complex women so brilliantly portrayed in Sy Montgomery's "Walking with the Great Apes" were not surprising. But that the actual Rwandan and Tanzanian forests should be so much less alive on film than they are in Sy Montgomery's book was a revelation I believe any reader of the excerpt above may begin to appreciate.

    Green Press Initiative publisher Chelsea Green has done a great service reissuing Ms. Montgomery's four science and adventure books: "Walking with the Great Apes," "The Spell of the Tiger," "Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest," and "Search For the Golden Moon Bear," each embellished with new material from the author or from her friends: author and anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and biologist Gary Galbreath. The new editions also feature a fresh selection of photographs from the original expeditions.

    "Science and Adventure" captures the ostensible subjects of these four books, each of which involve journeys to what most of us would consider remote and dangerous locations on missions of scientific research and discovery. But they might equally well be classified with works of "religion," "anthropology," or "philosophy," so deeply does that primary religious impulse - wonder - run through these four and all of Ms. Montgomery's books, so profound is her respect for all the living beings she encounters: the scientists, photographers and guides she works with, the government officials and indigenous people she comes to know in her travels, members of her community at home, the creatures she studies, the creatures she lives among - both domesticated and wild - and life forms in all their imbricated complexity and wild individuality.

    The daughter of US Army Brigadier General Austin James Montgomery, Sy brings an almost-martial sense of honor to her portrayals of people and other living beings: no detail pertinent to her narrative is censored, neither does she pander to prurience, whether writing about garter snake mating balls [The Snake Scientist] or spider courtship [The Tarantula Scientist] for children or about the lives of Louis Leakey's "three primates" [Walking with the Great Apes] for adults.

    Although Ms. Montgomery allows herself to contrast an Indian officials' belief in astrology with his dismissal of local animist beliefs [Spell of the Tiger] or the Australian head of a Thai animal rescue NGO's professed indifference to animals with his passionate pursuit of their protection [Search of the Golden Moon Bear], she never drifts into authorial condescension: she lets us in on the jokes her adventures have made her privy to with a good-natured merriment and lively sympathy that seem to encompass almost everyone and everything. The most generous of observers, Sy Montgomery frequently assumes her subjects' perspective, and also constantly deepens her own multi-faceted viewpoint. This action of digging deeper, going further, circling a subject from every angle drives the structure of her adult books far more than does chronology.

    The deepening of the reader's understanding of this astute and generous observer is another cyclical progress as Montgomery - with a rare delicacy - reveals herself a little more in each book: from near-invisibility in "Walking with the Great Apes," to being tracked by a tiger in "Spell of the Tiger," to swimming with the pink dolphins (and at least one piranha) in "Journey of the Pink Dolphin" to being the official bear hair plucker in "Search for the Golden Moon Bear" until, with "The Good Good Pig," she is as much her own subject as observer and treats herself to the same judicious mixture of discretion and revelation applied to her other characters:

    Again and again, when local people learned I was swimming with the dolphins, they cautioned me with the same phrase: "Cuidado com o boto" - be careful of those dolphins, for everyone knows they can sweep you away, seduce you to the Encante. And yes, I knew well the pull of that desire. Again and again in my work I would follow some new animal, pour out my soul, and fill myself utterly with the graces and sorrow, the mysteries and truths of some new place.

    "How can you go to all these difficult dangerous jungles?" people often asked me. To me, the travel was a joy. It didn't matter that there were piranhas in the water, or that my skin burned so badly it blistered, or that ants crawled into my bed at night to drink the fluid from the blisters and feast on my dead skin. To be with the dolphins filled my heart; there was no room for discomfort or fear.

    But to merely travel is not enough. Few people understand that the heroism is in the writing. To bring the stories of these places back, to share the truths amassed by those who live close to the Earth, to help us remember how to keep the earth whole - that is the difficult part. The real work, the real transformation, takes place at my desk in New Hampshire, surrounded by the familiar animals I love. To make sense of the Encante, to make use of its magic, I needed the anchoring fulfillment of home."

    Sy Montgomery's books open worlds and invite the reader in, sensitize us to the ongoing stories of the places and creatures we discover with her: whether NPR reports on the Interoceanic Highway linking Brazil to the Pacific, the BBC quotes Jane Goodall on the intricate relatedness of any given environment, Truthout publishes an article on Cambodian university women, suddenly these have become our worlds, our stories, as a result of the intimate visits made in Ms. Montgomery's company.

    A recent story on the importance of an excellent education in the sciences being necessary for informed citizens immediately brought to mind Montgomery's enthusiastic advocacy, her clear descriptions of scientific processes from radio telemetry to tweezing bear hair to the conversion of that hair into decipherable DNA. The descriptions of equipment ranging from marshmallows and condensed milk to the ultra-sophisticated centrifuges, multi-channel pipettes and sequencers of the DNA lab are precise, but also warmed by an effervescence, a gusto: the mystery and magic is reintroduced even into conventional science. Unconventional science figures also: Montgomery even experiments on herself, visiting a shaman to drink the local hallucinogen to induce visions of the underwater world the local people believe dolphin people inhabit. She reconnects science with its origins in awe and wonder, an awe and wonder reserved not only for the subjects of scientific investigation, but extended to the scientists she works with, not only their knowledge and their craft, but also their passions and their stories. I do not see how her riveting children's books could fail to inspire new generations to want to emulate these models, to want to participate in the great work of expanding our knowledge of the created world and conserving its wonders.

    In a society that has to a very large degree forgotten respect, Sy Montgomery's reverence is an extraordinary model. The territory she explores in her books is not only physically dangerous, but also emotionally treacherous. She reports on the unbearable: a forest with no signs of fauna, a man's mauling and witness to his brother's killing by a tiger, the murder of Dian Fossey's beloved Digit, the hunting of bears for medicine and food, the burning of the rain forest. Yet her total eschewal of denial provides a shining example, models the true heroism of the heart: to love and choose life. A popular Chasidic song captures what, for me, has been the spell of Sy Montgomery's books:

    Return again
    Return again
    Return to the land of your soul

    Return to who you are
    Return to what you are
    Return to where you are born and reborn again...

    --------

     This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is is Truthout's French Language Editor and sometime book reviewer. Chelsea Green provided reviewer copies of the four Sy Montgomery books it has published.

    Works Reviewed to Prepare this article:

    All Montgomery's books include bibliographies as well as information about how to learn more about and participate in the conservation of the animals and the places she writes about.

    Books:

    New Editions from Chelsea Green:

    Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest
     Sy Montgomery
     Chelsea Green, 2008 (new edition- original 2001)

    Montgomery goes to the Brazilian and Peruvian Amazon to study "a species of mischievous, rose-colored, river-dwelling whale living in the world's greatest jungle. From the Teatro Amazonas in Manaus to the aguaje fruit, the side-necked turtle Podcnemis, scientists, shamans, and farmers, not to mention the toothy elusive pink dolphins themselves, Montgomery finds subjects for reflection in every encounter:

    "I grew increasingly eager to speak privately with Don Jorge - the man who treated ailments with electric eels, who could speak without using his voice, and whom dolphins tried to seduce. Later, I asked Jim to arrange a visit to Jorge's house, and to translate an interview so I could talk to him about the magical powers of bufeo. To my surprise, Gary offered to come with us, a more unlikely pairing of minds, I could not imagine: Gary, whose truths were fossils, literally set in stone, and Jorge, to whom the truth appeared as the wishes of plants and the vaporous spoutings of dolphins. Would Gary, a talented teacher, feel the need to "educate" Don Jorge? Would Don Jorge sense Gary's disbelief and feel insulted? Neither would believe the other's stories. Gary no more believed in Curupira than Don Jorge would believe in dinosaurs. But both men, as I was to learn, told mirroring truths. Their stories spoke of time and transformation, understandings that reflected each other the way the waters of the Encante mirror the stars in the sky."

    Search for the Golden Moon Bear
     Sy Montgomery
     Chelsea Green, 2009 (new edition- original 2002)

    A series of coincidental conversations leads Sy Montgomery and her friend Gary Galbreath to conclude there may be a "new" species of bear living in Southeast Asia. Their search for the species takes them to cities, forests and mountains of Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, where they talk with local people and other foreign scientists and meet many bears, but they will not know whether any is a new species until they get back DNA results on the bear hair they have collected on their journeys. As in all her books, Montgomery continues to address the questions "What is science?" "Who has knowledge?" "What is the difference between men and animals?" "How can we live in this world with honor?"

    "Once a royal hunting preserve. The 3,700 kilometer Nakai-Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area is the largest protected area in Laos and boasts the highest biological diversity of any site surveyed in the country. Among its wet and dry rain forests, old growth pine, fragrant cypress forests and riversides, some three hundred wild Asia elephants still roam, along with tigers, clouded leopards, rhinos, and both sun and moon bears. Here, and just across the border in Vietnam, the Sao la, the giant muntjack, the other new barking deer, the zebra-striped rabbit, and the Vietnamese warty hog had been discovered. More than four hundred species of birds have been catalogued, the greatest variety in the country. And, unknown to all but a small handful of researchers, small communities of people, speaking seventeen different languages but all belonging to a branch of the Mon-Khmer known as Vietic, have also been living here for thousands of years . Unlike the Hmong and Black Lahu, the Vietic people still inhabited the homeland that birthed their language and their understanding of the world. "Many of the groups are hunter-gatherers or were until recently; their familiarity with the animals and their habits is quite amazing," the linguist had replied to our email queries. "At any rate," he wrote us, "if there's a third species of bear, they would know."

    Spell of the Tiger
     Sy Montgomery
     Chelsea Green, 2008 (new edition- original 1995)

    Everywhere else in the world, the man-eating tiger is an anomaly, but in Sundarbans - "the great mangrove swamp that stretches between India and Bangladesh along the Bay of Bengal" - an average 300 people a year fall prey to tigers. Far from seeking to extirpate the powerful predators, the local people revere the tiger and even recognize the tiger's key role in preserving their environment and their lifeways. This is a story Montgomery has to investigate.

    "We had just reviewed another litany of death as we sipped coffee on the porch with Debaish. Girindra [Montgomery's guide and host in Sundarbans who began a regular correspondence with her (using a local translator) that went on for over a decade] had recited yet more tales of friends and relatives who had been eaten by tigers . Why not kill all the tigers? I asked him.

    "To save the earth," he replied. "You see," he said, "inside the forest of Sundarbans is very costly wood. And it is no job of the Indian government to save the forest! And if the forest is destroyed, it will wash away the land. It is the work of the tiger to save it."

    Adhir Krishna Mridha has more reason than most to hate the tiger. Yet, he explained, he cannot bring himself to hate the animal that killed his father and his brother; he cannot hate the animal who killed and ate his son. For the tiger is as integral to the Sundarbans as its tides, and just as powerful. To illustrate, he told me this story..."

    Walking with the Great Apes
     Sy Montgomery
     Chelsea Green, 2009 (new edition of 1991 classic)

    In this, the first of Montgomery's books, she visits the research sites of Louis Leakey's "three primates:" Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas to see for herself how they individually and collectively revolutionized science by approaching the subjects of their inquiry on terms set in large part by those very subjects, delivering research results that - as Leakey had hoped - furthered and continue to further human understanding of ourselves as well as of our primate relations.

    A long excerpt from the book is quoted above.

    Other Adult Books:

    The Good Good Pig
     Sy Montgomery
     Ballantine Books, 2006

    Montgomery's memoir of her life with the irresistible Christopher Hogwood whom she and her husband Howard Mansfield adopted as a runt pig with zero chances of survival in the litter. "Chris" goes on to become a love object for hundreds of people and dies at the ripe old age of fourteen ,weighing seven hundred and fifty pounds. Even after his death, as Montgomery points out in an interview that will be separately published, Christopher Hogwood continues to bring people who have been seduced by this story of a great soul together and into her life. But be warned: bacon and pork chop days are unlikely to survive the reading of this inspiring biography.

    "Some people consider their animals as substitute children. Certain psychologists explain away the loving relationships between people and animals in terms of thwarted parenthood. These psychologists have identified a group of physical traits, such as the flat face and big eyes of pug dogs that they call "baby releasers" and claim the sight of these activate a torrent of misplaced maternal feelings toward animals. This suggests that any friendship between a human and an animal is really just some kind of wiring mistake, a person's thwarted yearning for a human infant - a simple-minded view that, in my opinion, insults mothers, diminishes animals, and underestimates the complexity of love.

    Our animals were not our babies. True, Howard and I had raised Chris as a piglet - but there was no mistaking him for a baby anything now. By his first birthday, Christopher Hogwood was big enough to eat us (That was another reason we didn't give him meat - we didn't want to give him ideas.) Our chickens were not babies either (as their eighty eggs a week proved); they were adults, as we were. And no one could have taken [dog] Tess for anything other than an adult. She was a fully formed, mature creature with a mysterious past of her own."

    The Wild Out Your Window,
     Exploring Nature Near at Hand

     Sy Montgomery
     Versa Press 2002

    A compendium of fifty essays - most of which appeared first in Montgomery's "Nature Journal" column in the Boston Globe - that invites readers - especially those in the Northeastern United States which hosts the environments and the creatures discussed - to pay attention and to learn from the world around them. Although there is a treasure trove of interesting factoids contained here, from the drumming patterns of woodpeckers to the mating habits of otters, to the details of the moss world and the curious species convergence in the fauna of the US Northeast and Japan, Montgomery's synthetic and empathic imagination weave them all together into a narrative with emotional spiritual and physical significance for all species and most especially our own.

    "Eleanor Briggs was in her New Hampshire kitchen making madelines when she heard the mouse trap snap.

    She put the pastries in the oven and went to investigate. The mouse was dead all right - but it was still moving. A wound near its groin indicated that something was still alive beneath the mouse's skin. It was an inch and a half long maggot. Yuck! She flung the mouse, maggot and all, behind a smokebush in the side yard. But out of sight was not out of mind. Briggs, a careful observer of nature, has never seen anything like this; she thought such an odd sight might be significant.

    And she was right. In the trap in her kitchen that evening, she had glimpsed part of a story as rich in character and plot as a Russian novel: a tale of mice, maggots, moths and men, involving two diseases, one summertime drought, several foreign invasions, and decades of scientific sleuthing.

    And while no one knows for sure, such signs may act as portents: such sights can foretell a leafless summer, months away."

    
     Children's Books:

    All Sy Montgomery's children's books are written specifically for fourth to eighth graders, but children of all ages will treasure the stories and the wonderful photographs. As with her books for adults, each title includes bibliographies as well as information about how to learn more about and participate in the conservation of the animals and the places she writes about.

    Encantando, Pink Dolphin of the Amazon
     Sy Montgomery with photographs by Dianne Taylor-Snow
     Houghton Mifflin, 2002

    An adaptation of the adult book "Journey of the Pink Dolphins" with amazing photographs by Dianne Taylor-Snowe that capture the dolphin's many shades of pink from bubble gum to tea rose, its long jaws filled with cone-shaped teeth and zany smile, as well as other Amazonian flora, fauna, aboriginal people, and scientists.

    "Look at the water beside you. It may seem as if sunset is glowing a deeper pink on the river. But no - this is no reflection. A creature is swimming up from the depths - an animal nearly as long as a canoe. It's shaped like a dolphin, but it's the entirely wrong color.

    It's as pink as a flamingo!

    Then, right next to your canoe, a sleek pink face breaks the surface. It's a face that looks like something from an enchanted world - yet it also looks familiar. Long tube-shaped lips stick out like a nose. The forehead is rounded and big as a melon. The creature's pearl gray eyes look right into yours. It opens a hole on the top of its head and gasps..."

    Quest for the Tree Kangaroo (Scientists in the Field)
     Sy Montgomery with photographs by Nic Bishop
     Houghton Mifflin, 2006

    Montgomery and Bishop trek into the cloud forest of New Guinea as part of a team of scientists and volunteers working with biologist Lisa Dabek to study the Matschie's tree kangaroo - "one of the world's rarest and most elusive mammals" - an adorable and unlikely creature with golden soft fur and fat clawed paws and a long tail, a marsupial that looks like a monkey.

    "The people of Yawan, along with their neighbors in nearby villages, are our partners in conservation. Without them, explains Lisa, "none of this would be happening. Nothing we are doing would work at all." And yet, not long ago, many of them hunted tree kangaroos. Almost everyone ate them. They almost ate every last one.

    Yawit, an elder wearing a big leather hat, told me about those days. Once Yawit was a champion tree kangaroo hunter. He has killed at least a thousand. He used to chase them with dogs and shoot them with his bow and arrows. His neighbors were impressed. They all liked tree kangaroo meat. They used the fur - especially the tail - to make fancy headdresses. Sometimes, Yawit remembers, he would kill five or ten tree kangaroos in a single day."

    But now he has stopped killing."

    Saving the Ghost of the Mountain
     An Expedition Among Snow Leopards in Mongolia (Scientists in the Field)

     Text by Sy Montgomery; Photographs by Nic Bishop
     Houghton Mifflin, 2009

    Almost as much as anything else, this story about Montgomery and Bishop's expedition to the remote Mongolian highlands to study the snow leopard with wildlife biologist and conservation director of the Seattle-based Snow leopard Trust, Tom McCarthy, is about McCarthy's extraordinary patience and devotion. In over fifteen years of study of the nearly-undetectable snow leopard, McCarthy has gone through periods as long as six years without seeing a single one, relying on the evidence of radio telemetry, scat sampling, and scratches to try to determine the vanishing predator's population and range. Montgomery conveys the richness of an apparently barren landscape, of the lives of local ger-dwelling herders who live on a diet composed almost entirely of animal milk and meat.

    "'We have to protect the snow leopards,' fifty-one-year-old Surenjav tells us on the day we visit her ger. She and her daughter make scarves. 'Snow leopards are rare,' Surenjav explains. 'If they were to disappear, things would change.' In study after study, scientists have proven that Surenjav is right: removing top predators upsets entire ecosystems. It even changes the numbers and kinds of microorganisms in the soil! Without predators such as snow leopards, prey animals can overpopulate and spread diseases, and wild animals can transmit diseases to livestock. 'Everything,' Surenjav says, 'is connected.'"

    
     Search for the Golden Moon Bear
     Sy Montgomery
     Houghton Mifflin, 2004

    In this adaptation of the book for adults with the same title, Montgomery conveys the excitement of scientific discovery and the weird twists and turns it may take.

    "...The professor explained that the real news had come from the black moon bears whose hair we had pulled almost by chance at Lop Buri - bears we hadn't expected to learn anything new from at all.

    These bears' DNA proved so different from one another that Lisette had calculated their ancestors must have been evolving separately from one another for hundreds of thousands of years. Quite unexpectedly, we had stumbled onto a way to solve a mystery even more interesting than the identity of the golden moon bears. With their thick coats and fluffy manes, moon bears don't look like they belong in the hot humid jungles of Southeast Asia. 'How and where did these bizarre shaggy things get to be in this tropical place?" Gary had always wondered. 'They are as out of place as Eskimos in the tropics.

    Now we had a way to find out. Like Lisette, we found a way to use the DNA code as a time machine."

    The Snake Scientist (Scientists in the Field)
     Sy Montgomery with photographs by Nic Bishop
     Houghton Mifflin, 1999

    For about six weeks every spring in Manitoba Canada, some eighteen thousand garter snakes emerge from their winter huddle - the largest concentration of snakes in the world. Sy Montgomery documents the many experiments and observations led one spring in situby herpetologist Robert Mason, from collecting, counting, and tracking, to the distillation of "snake juice" and running snakes through mazes.

    [Following an explanation of how animal research may sometimes be applied to human problems] But what really keeps Bob interested in the snakes of Narcisse isn't just the hope of helping humans, although that would be nice. It's something more.

    'Humans have a thirst for knowledge,' says Bob, 'an innate curiosity.' And knowledge, he says, is its own reward - like art or music.

    Learning about the animals with whom we share this planet offers one way to satisfy our thirst to know. And it satisfies an even deeper need as well.

    'The average human feels a shared heritage with other creatures on the earth,' Bob says, 'and feels a pain when a species vanishes.' Without the beauty, surprise and sheer fun of learning about the living creatures on this planet, he believes, 'life would be diminished in a very real sense.'"

    The Tarantula Scientist (Scientists in the Field)
     Sy Montgomery with photographs by Nic Bishop
     Houghton Mifflin, 2004

    Staying with arachnologist Sam Marshall at the Emerald Jungle Nature center in French Guiana, Montgomery and Bishop to study tarantulas in the rain forest and then return with him to the spider lab in Ohio to follow some of the experiments and studies conducted there.

    "For Sam, finding answers to questions in science sometimes means hours of experiments in his Hiram laboratory. Today, it means climbing over giant fallen trees covered with orchids and mosses as he makes his measurements. It means long hikes through a wet warm rainforest where even the sunlight glows green through the leaves. The rainforest is alive with strange voices: the thrumming of frogs and crickets, the screech of the red and gold macaw parrots flying overhead, and the sound Sam likes best: the stuttered wolf whistle of the screaming piha. Sam calls it 'the Theraphosabird' because he tends to hear is call in areas where he finds the most Goliath birdeaters.

    Sam never knows what he might find on a day in the rainforest. One day he might nearly stumble over a giant red-necked tortoise climbing out of its burrow. Another day, he might catch a glimpse of a troop of howler monkeys in the trees. An every day he gets to learn more about tarantulas - the most beautiful, intriguing mysterious creature he has ever known."

    DVDs:

    Gorillas in the Mist, The Adventure of Dian Fossey
     Universal Studios, DVD - 1999

    >From her passionate entreaties to Louis Leakey to be allowed to study the mountain gorillas to her still-unsolved murder at her research station, an only slightly-fictionalized account of Dian Fossey's development as a scientist and as passionate - some would argue mad - protector of the mountain gorillas she studied.

    Jane Goodall's Return to Gombe (2003)
     National Geographic

    The real star of this remarkable documentary is the deposed once-violent alpha-chimp Frodo. In spite of the footage depicting his savage enforcement of primacy, his takedown by four younger chimps and cowering solitary cover in the forest have the tragic resonance of King Lear.

Last modified on Monday, 09 November 2009 11:00