“If we can teach people about wildlife, they will be touched....Because humans want to save things that they love.” - Steve Irwin
When I was small, my tiny face mostly covered by absurdly large glasses, my right eye even further hidden behind a large eyepatch intended to strengthen the weakened muscles of my left eye, I spent countless hours in my backyard.
It was here, quietly and alone, that I discovered a white ooze that leaked out of deeply green leaves when I pressed my fingernail into their soft underbellies. An ooze that I then assumed meant the tree was ill, but know now was a sign of health: an elaborate evolutionarily derived defense against caterpillar predation. It was here, beneath the shade of a leaning but towering tree in an area my sister and I called 'the forest', that I honed my observation skills. It was here too that I first looked closely, lying motionless, belly down on cool concrete with my sister, pressing our faces around the edge of the large and whirring air conditioner, watching not one but three kittens begin their 27 lives. It was here that I first experienced a love for nature.
Being outside taught me to be mindful, observant, and still.
As a teacher I am struck by and curious about the increase in anxiety and other forms of mental illness in youth. Constantly monitored, communicating, on alert, I wonder if the children in my classroom are ever fully where they are. Or, is their attention as fragmented as a spreading fractal among the multitude of things that occur invisibly within their devices? Snapchat, Gmail, Instagram, Twitter, flashes of input that incite a nervous system response akin to what was once reserved to encountering a predator in the wild, like a bear.
In recent days, I've wondered still about whether or not they are encountering a threat equivalent to a bear. My own device informs me daily about fear-based legislation that may limit their ability to be or marry who they wish, or an economically driven one that will limit their access to wildlife or the expanse of nature that I've been so fortunate to experience. As a scientist and artist, I've wondered what my place is in this changing world, and how a person not inclined toward politics might make an impact in saving what is most beautiful to them. It is true, undeniably, that the diversity of life we've been so privileged to witness is worth saving, even with its rough edges and imperfect tactics, like an ooze that mostly serves to adhere and then drown its would-be predator-turned-victim. And, since even the trees seem to have a plan for defense, the best I can do is to use my art to further their cause.
In defense of this beautiful world then, all the proceeds of my upcoming show with Sarah Coyne will be donated to WWF. Friends have asked if this includes larger pieces, on which I've spent countless hours, and the answer is simply: yes. For it was in my own backyard that I first found myself, and it is our collective backyard that is now threatened.
It is my hope that the world I know, love, and draw will remain as it is for the children in my classroom, and their children, and so on for as long as I can imagine.