Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
* * *
I fell in love with Jane in Anthropology 101 class my sophomore year in college. She was tall, slender, and beautiful. She was brave, bold, and brilliant. But, alas, she was 12 years my senior and living on another continent—in Gombe, Tanzania, to be exact.
The whole world it seemed was enthralled with Jane Goodall.
When Jane was a child, her father gave her a stuffed chimpanzee. Family friends thought it a weird and frightening gift for a child. Jane loved it.
That love ultimately drew her to Africa. She devoted her life to the study of chimpanzees. She lived among them. She named them. She described their human-like personalities. Other primatologists were appalled.
Too much anthropomorphism!
Jane pressed on until her work was ultimately acclaimed by most (but not all) scientists.
Her singular passion grew to embrace the entire animal world. She became an advocate for all endangered species. In 1991 she created the educational program “Roots & Shoots” to inspire children to be good stewards of the earth.
I read Jane Goodall’s book Reasons for Hope in 1999 and fell in love with her again. She knows the future of the earth is in jeopardy. Still, she nurtures hope.
I don’t know what the meaning of life is, she said in a recent interview. All I know is that the meaning of my life is to give people hope because without hope people give up.
I didn’t set out to write a trilogy on women and their passions, but that’s what I’ve done. Paula’s Passion. Rachel’s Passion. Jane’s Passion.
These three women have answered Mary Oliver’s urgent question, the most important question that anyone can ask of another. It’s a question we could ask ourselves.
… I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
* * *
PS: The Devil’s Gift is taking August off. In the meantime you can do me a favor. Please let your friends know that my two books, Let Love Arise and 80 Dispatches from the Devil’s Domain, are available at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown and on Amazon in print and digital formats. Or consider giving one as a gift. Thank you. See you in September.
See Paula’s award-winning photo on the home page. Posted July 11.
I loved Jane too, from the first! My first Shero! What a life affirming reminder… do what you love; love what you do! thank you for the reminder. 🙏🏼❤️
Love the Mary Oliver poem. She has another called The Journey that spoke powerfully to me when I was leaving the Jesuits after 20 years.
Ted Loder remarked, “Prayer is paying attention, attention to anything”. Jane Goodall enables us to zero in on all endangered species and all animals. Perhaps her compassionate work is really a form of prayer. Life is short; let us pay attention or we’ll miss it!
I am following everything that Robin Wall Kimmerer is publishing, written and podcasts. She has taken up the connective biology of the soil- the mycorrhizal chemical communication between plants- to a degree that no one else has. This part of biology is relatively unexplored, but holds the first hints of how we might begin to resolve our survival. She talks about humans as edge builders- how we always make a stark edge which is destructive to the web of life. My solution? Get dirty.
It is so wonderful to affirm as we time travel together, that we are woven of the same cloth, that we recognize each other, share and rejoice.
I too experienced similar feelings with Jane Goodall, then discovered Dr. Ingrid Visser from New Zealand who has made it her life’s work to study killer whales in the wild. Others would be Kevin Richardson, known as the Lion Whisperer. He maintains a sanctuary in South Africa and is devoted to lions and working to stop “canned hunts” of these magnificent cats; Anne Dagg a Canadian giraffe researcher who did with giraffes what Goodall did with primates; and of course Diane Fossy and her interactions with gorillas before she was killed by poachers. Such passions shown by these individuals always result in the advancement of humanity towards “all creatures great and small”.
The lifetime commitments of Goodall and all the others like them mentioned and unmentioned, tower over those of the billionaire playboys.
Am I missing something here? The lede is about falling in love with Ms. Jane, then falling in love again, and what do I get? A photo of a group of monkeys. Did you fall in love with a monkey?
Don’t forget Maria Sybilla Merian,1600s artist & documenter of insects of Surinam (and the bird-eating spiders that nobody believed existed). And Dame Miriam Rothschild, famous Brit. flea researcher.
P.S. Lovely Mary Oliver poem.