You might be aware of some of my travels in the animal world. The Houston Parrot Festival, The Cincinnati Zoo, the Midwest Bird Expo, Natural Encounters, the BEST Parrot Conference, The Avian Encounters Trilogy Video Premiere and most recently, Best Friends Animal Society are just a few of the places I’ve visited and some of the experiences I’ve had. I do it for several reasons. The main reason is that I am working on a manuscript that will hopefully be a book.
Also, I don’t do “lying around vacations” very well. And these are all things I’ve always wanted to do and places I’ve wanted to see.
Every time I go somewhere that involves working with animals, there is this little haunting going on in my head: “You know, I could live here. I could do this. I think this might make me happy.” And then I come home; exhausted and beat up, but very pleased with the information I was able to share and the things that I had learned. Sanity returns and I’m back to my life. You know the one: Flying, writing and repeatedly washing the floor. Oh, I also have fun and get to hang out with friends; I mean it’s not that bad.
(Michael Popora. Cute, isn’t he?)
I went to the Cincinnati Zoo for two years in a row and immersed myself in all things “zoo.” It was a crazy thing to do. I mean really, how many people get up at 4:45 in the morning day after day on their vacation to go get crapped on by a penguin, gassed by a sea lion and charged by a pissed-off sandhill crane? Well, me. But as my best friend, Lynne says, “You are just so, so…not right.”
But it wasn’t just the experience of the work. It was the people and their willingness to share a part of their lives, their expertise and take the time to teach me:
Ricky Kinley and Henry
I came home from Best Friends with incredible memories having made many friends and a belief that you can make a difference in the world by making a dream come true. As a matter of fact, every time I come home from somewhere, I think, “You know, this might be a nice place to live.”
And it just might be. I thought, “Working at the Cincinnati Zoo might be fun despite how hard it is. Maybe I should change direction and do that.”
And then I get home and realize that the life I have so isn’t bad after all. While I don’t have an ocean-front home in Florida, I sometimes have a “water-front home:
So it’s really about going out into the world and experiencing it. I come home having been touched by that part of the world, that place, those people. And then, I share what it was like to see those places, do those things and learn that stuff with the people who have the same interests.
When I was at Best Friends, the subject of people moving to Kanab to work there as a way of “healing” came up. Something not right with your life? Hey, move to Kanab, work with the animals and maybe, miraculously, all will be right with the world! Umm, it doesn’t happen that way. Because wherever you go, there you are. And going out to work at BF as a way of working through personal issues and making everything better in your life doesn’t work. I mean, it’s not Lourdes for cripes sake. And it’s still incedibly tough work. You must be equipped and willing to have something to offer Best Friends. If you have that and look to BF to offer you employment and the opportunity to do great work in a challenging field, then you’re good to go. But don’t look to BF to make everything in your life right with the world.
So as I move on, writing and shooting and describing what people, places, events and jobs are all about, I keep learning. Not just about where I’ve been, but where I am now, and where I intend to go. It’s the process of learning and using these opportunities to write about the knowledge I’ve gained from an amazing group of people. These people have so generously given of themselves to help me inform, educate, and edify those who are interested in taking a peek at what these incredible people do:
Steve Malowski and Kim Klosterman
“The Major Dude” at the Cincinnati Zoo
Dr. Susan Friedman
Dr. Irene Pepperberg
Irena Schulz and Sy Montgomery
Jacque and Wendy at Best Friends Parrot Garden
There are so many people that have made this an incredible learning experience. And I’m sorry to say that I haven’t even scratched the surface thanking all of the people who have helped me tell the tale. The people who opened their homes, their lives, their work, and their souls have made my world a better place and my job is to pay it forward by writing about the amazing work that they do. I hope I do it justice.
But the point is, I am a conduit that brings their expertise to you. I can tell a story. It’s my story about my experience with their work. And I hope it has made a difference to you and your animals. My travels, my fatigue, my sweat, work, long days, airport food and jet lag is worth it. I see the tide changing as a result. People have become aware of good animal care and nutrition as a result of my work. If I can get just one bird off of a diet of seed, then I will be happy.
As I write this, I keep thinking about Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz.” In the last scene, she realizes something she learned about home:
“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”
I will always have my home to return to. But my “True North” is the people who show me what they do, how they do it, and take the time to teach me what they know. I may have to leave home to accomplish this, but when I return, I have brought home their knowledge with me. And because of this, the journey is always worth it.