A SHY TV ANCHOR by Wendy Tokuda

Wendy Tokuda

I am a shy person at my core, but no one believes this because for almost 40 years, I made my living as a TV news anchor and reporter.

It’s true. When I was little, I was so shy that I wouldn’t go trick-or-treating. My brothers and sisters would come back with huge bags of candy, dumping them on the floor and running out again for more. I can still see them, breathless with sugar-charged excitement, trying to get me to come along, but the idea of knocking on the doors of strangers or even neighbors was just too terrifying.

Having to sell Girl Scout cookies door to door was torture. At one home, the lady made my sister and I come inside to kvell over our little uniforms. I wore one of those little Brownie beanies. I still remember the kvelling– INSIDE A STRANGER’S HOUSE. It was mortifying. 

Wendy Tokuda girl scoutWhat I enjoyed most was playing by myself in our small backyard. My dad made me a bird feeder and in the spring the birds would nest in the Hawthorne trees next to my bedroom window. My favorite childhood memory is watching the whole nesting process, from the egg laying all the way to that amazing day when the chicks fledged on unsteady wing, with their nervous parents shrieking hysterically.

I was a living stereotype of the nice little Japanese girl: quiet, polite, and obedient. My mom worried that I would spend my life being stepped on like a doormat. She told me that she spent much of her own life as a doormat, and the idea of me repeating that experience saddened her. My poor mom raised five kids, pretty much on her own. One of my brothers is disabled and one sister had emotional problems and my dad could never really handle it. If one of us did something wrong (and you know how kids are), he would go nuts, yelling, and often hitting my brothers.

This had a huge affect on all of us. I learned not to do anything wrong. I learned how to avoid conflict.

Staying under the radar was actually something the whole Japanese American community did. The WWII Internment Camps had only closed down in 1946 and our parents were busy trying to reestablish their homes and businesses. We lived with this unspoken truth: you could lose everything in a moment because of your race. There was less chance of that if we avoided conflict and studied hard. We set out to prove that we were good Americans.

All of this made me even less willing to take gambles and just reinforced my need to seek approval. Add being shy to that mix and you get the picture.

At some point though, I began to see that being shy, quiet and obedient meant you usually didn’t get what you wanted. Sometimes you didn’t even KNOW what you wanted because you were so used to being obedient.

My disabled brother and sister NEVER got what they wanted. Neither did my mom.

All of these quiet realizations led to THE MOMENT. I don’t personally remember this moment, but my mother did, and she has recounted THE MOMENT in vivid terms:

I was about 10 years old, and quietly (as usual) sitting at the kitchen table with Mom and her friend. My mom was talking about how worried she was about my siblings, when suddenly, as she tells it, I hit my fist on the table and announced, “I’m not going to be like that!!”

She was stunned. Such a dramatic pronouncement was totally out of character.

But in fact, after THE MOMENT, I began to change.

I don’t remember thinking any of this through at the time, nor was I consciously aware of how badly I wanted something different for myself. What I do remember is slowly starting my own little assertiveness training program, forcing myself to be more out there. Looking back, this took some serious willpower. I ramped up those efforts when we moved to a new neighborhood and I had to meet new kids.

It was really hard at first, foisting myself on strangers. I had to force myself to say “hi” and to start a conversation. It felt almost out-of-body strange- like acting- very inorganic.

One day, I found an old copy of How to Make Friends and Influence People, among my dad’s old books. That book taught me a lot. It taught me to break the ice by asking questions. I learned to listen well, and I came to realize that I was actually pretty good at making other people feel comfortable. I think this process helped me recognize that even though I was shy, I had natural communication skills.

High school for me became all about making friends and influencing people. Our school had a large percentage of Asian students- in fact our entire top 10 were Asian. But the Asian children of tiger moms were not getting what they wanted- they were keeping their heads down and worrying about grades. I really did not want to be stuck in that box. I became loud, opinionated, and outgoing. I was a cheerleader.

During college, Asian Americans were joining the larger civil rights movement. Being Japanese American became something I felt proud of, not something I felt I had to overcome. Women were pushing for equal rights- no more doormats. I was getting outside reinforcement to break stereotypes and to reach for something larger. I changed my major from Elementary Education to Political Science.

By the time I finished college and started thinking about a career, I was a more complex person- still shy inside, but with a learned ability to push past that, and meet, greet and pursue.

A Japanese American woman had just started reporting on local TV in Seattle. When she came on, my father would yell, “BARBARA’S ON TV!” and we’d all come running into the living room to watch.

Maybe I could do that, I thought…

Someone knew her and arranged for me to shadow her in the newsroom one morning. At some point during that visit, I recognized deep in my gut, this was where I belonged. This was what I really wanted.

Shyness can end your career in a newsroom. But the best thing I had going for me, shy or not, was persistence. That was crucial in landing that first on-air job, and later, in getting information. If someone said no, I had to find a way around it.

When I got that first job as a reporter, we had to have our scripts checked by the Managing Editor. I would stand politely in line while other reporters simply jumped in front of me. “Sorry Tokuda, I’m on deadline,” or “I’m late, I have to get in here!” I would think to myself in my small, shy voice, “I’m on a deadline too…”

I had to learn to push my way in and stand my ground. I forced myself way out of my comfort zone to approach strangers and get “man-on-the-street” interviews. Again, it felt awkward and inorganic at first, but I pushed through that feeling and just did it.

Having a microphone and a photographer at my side gave me a power I’d never had. “Excuse me, Channel 5 here,” I learned to say, walking taller. The waters would part, and we’d move through the crowd.

Another thing I liked about reporting- we weren’t IN the conflict; we were COVERING it. We were trained to be fair. Not to take sides, but to find the truth. The truth would speak for itself.

Reporting involved skills that regularly pushed me out of my cocoon- asking a lot of questions was the only way to get a story, and speaking out was the only way to be heard. I found that I had a competitive, ambitious side too, which seemed to grow with success.

One day my mother asked me, which are you: the shy little girl, or the pushy broad? I thought about it, and answered, “I guess I’m both.”

The truth was, sometimes that pushy bravado still felt a little forced. It would take many years for me to find the boundaries of what I was really made of and to feel truly integrated, whole and authentic. It took successes and failures and life to develop true confidence.

I was in my 50s by then . . .

I’m retired now. As I’ve gotten older, I care less about what others think, but the shy thing never totally goes away.

I still feel shy when we go to parties with a lot of strangers or if I have to meet an important person. During the election this fall, I had to gather all my courage to hand out leaflets at the farmer’s market for a friend who was running for office. For the most part, I now accept shyness as one of the many characteristics that make me who I am.

By the way, I have several bird feeders now. I am back out in the garden and spend hours in the forest doing environmental restoration work. It’s very healing after all those years of pushing. I am enjoying a quiet peace.

Wendy TokudaWendy Tokuda was a San Francisco Bay Area television staple for more than 30 years, as both TV news anchor and feature reporter. She retired from broadcast journalism in 2016.

 

A NOVEL IDEA by Kristin McCloy

If anybody asks, as everybody does, I am a writer. I’ve dabbled with plays, poetry, published a couple of stories, written some reviews, edited other people’s work, and taught; but mostly, I’m a novelist, and very lucky that when my first one was finished I was in the right place at the right time (young/NYC/late ‘80s, with a runaway manuscript that had five sex scenes, not a single one gratuitous).

Velocity made me a ridiculous amount of money while my second novel had already been bought as an idea. Because of this, I fell, and for too long remained under the illusion that writing would always sustain me.

HA!

My third novel, Hollywood Savage, published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster called Atria Books was given zero publicity. They rushed it out without even the author photo I had provided, or any blurbs from other authors. Perhaps they decided I would make a better tax deduction, but it was very hard to watch something I’d spent several years on come and go without a trace.

I am now working on my fourth novel, advance-free and editor-less.

All of the above is the preamble to the how and why I became an animal caretaker.

Primarily, it is something I do to generate some cash flow, if not much, but it is all cash, and boy does it flow. In and right back out again — as it should! That’s why it’s called currency.

I’ve been stupid rich, and I’ve been astonishingly poor, and I’ve discovered that I’m not materialistic, and I don’t need more money than it takes for me to live on – which I’ve learned to do with not much, unless you don’t count on tremendous generosity from your friends — and I do. Oh boy, do I!

In fact, part of that help began when a woman I met at my first reading for LitQuake, and who became the most constant member of my fiction workshop, asked if I would consider staying in their back storage unit/living studio to take care of their menagerie (one dog and three cats, plus the house and garden), so that she and her husband could take a three-month fellowship he’d landed in Marseilles, France.

The storage unit is filled mostly with books, has a wonderfully high bed, high ceilings, great insulation and a skylight, while the garden is lush and wild, with plum and apple and peach trees, along with a lot of fennel which attracts Monarch and Swallowtail butterflies. I couldn’t say yes fast enough, especially when I saw that my own kitty, Zelly, a serious hunter could leap out the window and into the mysterious natural world whenever she wanted, and then back in again – I felt like I’d won the lottery.

After they returned and graciously allowed me to stay on, I looked for more animal caretaking jobs and slowly began acquiring clients, two of whom book me at the beginning of every year, and who’ve kept me afloat when other jobs occasionally dried up.

While the work is not exactly high-pay, I love it – not least because it comes so easily to me, as I’ve loved animals with a freakish intensity ever since I was a little girl, as I think most children do (just look at picture books!) Innocence has such a soft spot for other innocence, and children are particularly vulnerable, as are nearly all the animals in our world.

I’m good at what I do because I have never not fallen in love with other people’s animals. It’s fun getting to know each little sentient being for its own distinct personality, with as many quirks and differing habits as any person I know. The exception is that, given enough time and attention, all of these little guys will start to shower me with affection in their own way – whether it’s wanting to be in (literal) touch at all times, or deciding they need to sleep on my chest at 3:00 A.M. Some of them follow me from room to room, others are more, Can you open the effing door already?

Like Jules Pfeiffer’s cartoon women, I dance to the ever-present grace in every single cat, their ability to drape themselves anywhere (and then sleep!) to twist themselves while free-falling in space so as to land on their flexible feet, then simply walk away unscathed (and, more importantly to them, I believe, unembarrassed!)

I dance to the way they pretend you don’t matter, but manage to keep you in their sight-lines at all times, regardless of how well they hide themselves (it’s called ‘cat space’ and if that cat does not want to be found, well then: good luck!)

When I’m writing I often ask my small charges to help me channel the genie, and so often they will curl up around me (on the arm of a couch, on the floor at my feet, nearby on a windowsill) and fall into the trance-like sleep I so envy, creating an atmosphere of deep serenity into which my mind can drop.

The only thing I dislike about animal care is that I have to leave Zelly at home by herself, where she basically just waits for me. She’s an Abyssinian, a breed known for their wild beauty as well as their unusual loyalty. They bond with a single being and you, lucky lucky you, become their world.

I got Zelly after the cat I had adopted from a neighbor who was never home — a regal creature I named Napoleon — was hit by some asshole driving very fast down a single-block street. Napoleon tried to come home and made it only halfway across the street. I bent over him and howled. The grief was so intense I knew the only thing that would help would be adopting another cat, because believe me, there is no shortage of beings who need out of a cage and into your heart.

Zelly was curious, insanely playful, and if you threw something for her, she would snatch it out of thin air and bring it back. Not like a dog, panting and leaving it at your feet, but much more casually, jumping on the bed and carelessly dropping it near your hand. Her cool was stunning, and very funny. But when she needed affection, she let me know. She would get up on my chest and knead me, then curl up next to me and sling one paw over my collarbone. I often fell asleep holding that paw.

Somewhere along the line, I had the realization that my cat was essentially living for me. Attending to her own cat business (oh where to take those seventeen naps?), but also waiting for me to come home, wanting attention, wanting to play, and later, if I’m very lucky, jumping in bed when I wake up panicked by everything at 5:00 A.M. to meow in my face then curl up in the space between arm and heart to purr us both back to sleep.

Understanding that this breathing, living, loving, very chatty being was and is singularly devoted to me struck me with a sudden force. The extent of that devotion left me breathless, and from then on I knew: she wasn’t my cat, I was her girl.

I think most people take their animals’ utter devotion for granted, and I want to shake them and ask, Don’t you understand what an honor that is?

So here’s the thing: while I identify myself as a writer, a label that goes a lot deeper than words (no pun etc.), who’s to say what’s the more important work? Writing books that one hopes will outlast one’s own lifetime, and might perhaps achieve what Jean Cocteau always claimed was the main reason for writing – to ‘utterly overwhelm a single soul’? Or is it the care and love that flows between myself and the animals I’ve been entrusted with, including my own?

I met a dog named Dirk when I was an undergraduate at Duke. Dirk was easily the smartest animal I’ve ever met (she should have been, considering how many classes she attended with me alone!) She was one of my roommates during her owner’s last semester at the university, and when I asked for custody, her human sneered and said, You don’t even know where you’re going to live next year!

Well, that was true. But apparently, Dirk did. Because one day, when I wasn’t even home, my sister, with whom I shared an off-campus house along with a litany of others, heard a wild scratching on the screen door, opened it, and in out of the rain came Dirk. She jumped on the couch, stretched out, and fell asleep. She remembered my promise, and she obviously had my number. For the rest of the time I was there, Dirk lived with me.

When, we had to part, I entrusted her with my soul. She was the fiercest guard I could think of, and when I die, I pray she will be the first creature I see. And when I look around, I hope that I see every other animal I ever loved, freed, helped, took care of, or mourned for – including every animal sacrifice, any animal hurt, wounded, or poached – every animal in the whole wide world.

Because that is my idea of Heaven.

This essay is a shout out to the gorgeous variety of creatures who have their own deep intelligence, and everything to teach us about being at ease in your own skin, trusting your instincts, and loving without limit.

Kristin McCloy is a thrice-published author (Velocity, Some Girls, and Hollywood Savage), working on her fourth, and living in Oakland with the cat who owns her, Zelly, and the family who took them in. 

 

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, THERE’S FIRE by Caroline Paul

Caroline Paul

The first dog I ever rescued bit me. I held on, so he dropped two poops onto the sleeve of my fire coat. I couldn’t blame him: I was just the latest bummer in what had been a very bad doggy day. There had been flames, there had been smoke, there had been the shouts of strange people. With an axe at my side, and an air mask on my face, I was as scary as the rest. But I held him tightly and, whispering promises of dog bones and hugs, I carried him to fresh air. The owner rushed at us, arms outstretched, crying.

This was a fairly typical workday for me. I was a San Francisco firefighter, part of a crew called Rescue 2. Our job was to search for victims in fires, and sometimes those victims were dogs who pooped on our fire coats.

When my career began back in 1989 there were barely any female firefighters, in the whole wide world. In the San Francisco Fire Department, for instance, I was the fifteenth woman hired. That may sound like a lot, until you realize that there were one thousand five hundred men.

This meant that I was the only female firefighter on my shift. Sometimes I was the only female firefighter the other men had ever seen! I loved the job and I respected many of my coworkers but, let’s face it, it’s tough to be different. As the only woman, I was left out of the jokes. I was excluded from the easy camaraderie. I often didn’t understand the social rules. For the most part, the ostracization wasn’t purposeful. I was like that new kid in school with weird hair and crazy clothes who couldn’t find someone to eat with at lunch.

Firefighting was full of adventure and excitement, but it was also difficult, those first years. People had a lot of questions. Were women strong enough? Were women brave enough? I was watched very carefully. Any mistake would not just reflect on me, it would reflect on all women, and each female firefighter knew it. Some of the men were mean in ways that were so dumb and embarrassing for them it isn’t worth mentioning here. But many were decent and respectful, even if they, too, had doubts. Soon three of us women had joined the biggest station in the city, on the rig that responded to the most fires, called Rescue 2.

Art 80 - What it looks likeJoin me now at a fairly typical fire. That’s me, crawling down a hallway. I’m hauling hose, but you can’t see me because the smoke is so thick. I can’t see me, either – not my hand in front of my face, not the beam of the flashlight on my shoulder, not the floor beneath me. My partner, Victor, is behind me, and he keeps bumping into me, but that’s okay, because I keep bumping into Frank, who in turn must be bumping into Andy, who is at the front of the line and is most certainly bumping into walls. The is how it goes in what we call “a really good fire,” which to most people actually means “a really bad fire” – terrible visibility, a lot of clambering around, and air that seems made of molten lava stinging your ears.

One day, there was a small fire, confined to one room; an engine crew had already extinguished it. We jumped from the rig anyway, and walked toward the chief for instructions. I could still see smoke wafting from the window several stories up, but clearly the flames were out. Then something caught my eye. A small black object, on the ledge outside the smoking window. I squinted. Was it alive? Yes, it was.

I took the stairs two at a time. I rushed past the crew in the apartment. I asked someone to grab my coat, then I leaned as far as I could out the window. There she was, just within arm’s reach: a tiny, mewling black kitten. “Hello,” I said in my most soothing voice.

Below a crowd of gawkers milled like ants, but I didn’t allow myself to look down. I extended my arm slowly. I tried to communicate pure thoughts of animal love. I murmured nonsensical assurances. I hoped for a miracle. And the miracle happened. The kitten didn’t run, as kittens are wont to do when strangers approach. I grabbed, latching on to her tiny scruff and pulled her back into the apartment. She was shivering, so I dropped her into my coat. I held her next to my heart. “You’re okay,” I told her, “you’re okay,” and together we headed for the stairs.

Caroline PaulOnce a young scaredy-cat, Caroline Paul grew up to fly planes, raft rivers, climb mountains, and fight fires. In her book, The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure (illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton) Caroline shares her greatest escapades and encourages a new generation to conquer fears, face challenges, and pursue the lives they want — lives of confidence, self-reliance, friendship, and fun. 

A COMEDY WRITER’S STORY by Ali Rushfield

A Comedy Writer's Story

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be invisible? You probably imagine a scenario like this: you, listening in on your best friend’s conversations, find out what everyone really thinks of you. You are happily surprised to discover that while they think you have a big mouth and cannot be trusted with secrets, they consider you loyal and think you’ve been looking better than ever these days. Okay, slow down. That’s not the kind of benign invisibility I’m talking about.

Have you ever sat with eight to ten of the funniest people you’ve ever met, said something you thought was one of the most hilarious things your brain has ever managed to conjure up, and suddenly felt invisible? Not even like you ceased to exist, more like you never existed in the first place. Pairs of eyes glazing over you as if you were only an empty chair. Or worse, looking right through you, as if you were made of air. Invisible.

That is what happened to me in the writer’s room. More specifically, the writer’s room of a TV comedy show. In 2001, when I just started out working in TV comedy, I worked in one of the most difficult writer’s room there is, Judd Apatow’s, on his show, Undeclared. It was difficult in the way you want a writer’s room to be difficult—everyone was so good at what they did, it was hard to make a dent. It was like sitting at a dinner table surrounded by sharp wits, all day, every day. But I couldn’t sit there silently and pick at my food. This was my job. I was being paid. I was expected to pull my weight.

The range of reactions to my jokes (and everyone else’s) ranged from being invisible to being made fun of mercilessly, so much so, that whatever joke you happened to make became a nickname that could follow you for the rest of your career. (The story isn’t worth retelling here, but I was known as “Cranky Pastrami” for a time during Undeclared.)

Let me just point out the obvious perks: free food, free Red Vines, free soda and candy, free paper and pens (I haven’t paid for a pen in over 15 years.) It is the greatest job in the world, the only downside are the dangers of invisibility or humiliation, as well as mockery for your age, gender, race, religion, etc. I also want to point out that I have no memory of ever having my feelings hurt in the writer’s room over one of my missed attempts at a joke. It was embarrassing on those occasions, maybe, but the environment was never threatening. These people became my best friends.

Eventually, I developed a skin to the humiliation. The moments of being mocked, rejected or just ignored became a positive. It made the skin stronger, until it was an almost armadillo-like shell. Once that skin was there, I could do anything. I could say anything. I was on a suicide mission. Nothing could hurt me.

I contributed my real life story of flying, which became the air marshal story in the movie Bridesmaids (though in my true life tale, the guy was not actually an air marshal.) I went to a joke writing session for the movie Anchorman and was initially in awe. Will Ferrell. Adam McKay. Steve Carell. It was the most intimidating writer’s room I could imagine, but I remembered that I had that skin and that I had built it up for exactly this kind of situation. I don’t remember what I said, but I know I made everyone laugh. It was a career high.

For a while I felt invincible in the writer’s room. My skin was so thick, it was like being on a suicide mission. I could say and do anything without fear of embarrassment or taunting. If anyone tried to mock me, I mocked back (not necessarily my proudest). That skin had reached its maximum strength. It was as I was a knight or an armadillo. Untouchable. Then, things changed. I started work on a new show (new for me anyway, it had been on the air for four seasons by that point). The show was Parks and Recreation. It’s a funny show. I’m a funny writer. I assumed it would be a perfect fit. But Parks and Rec was not my finest hour. I couldn’t click with the show. I pitched jokes that people thought were funny, but almost never right for the episode we were working on. I remember throwing something out there for the main character, which I thought was particularly hilarious and the show runner responded by saying, “That would be amazing . . . if she were out of her fucking mind.”

My carefully developed skin was eroding, and it was all because I had become cocky. Now, that skin thinned down to something akin to an old grape. I thought I no longer had feelings when it came to the writer’s room. But I did. I realized this because now everything seemed to be hurting my feelings. There was a day when everyone ordered individual chicken potpies for lunch. I was out of the room and they forgot about me, so when the potpies showed up and there wasn’t one for me, I actually went into my office and cried. A thick-skinned powerhouse does not cry alone because of a potpie. But I did. My reign was over. Or so I thought. I left the job feeling like I had, for the first time, failed.

Don’t worry. This story has a happy ending. I spent two years away from the writer’s room and wrote my own stuff. I drew cartoons. One was published in The New Yorker. My confidence came back eventually. I now work on the Netflix show Love. It’s a pretty friendly writer’s room. My skin isn’t particularly thick or thin. I’m not cocky, but I feel confident. I have found a middle ground.

Ali RushfieldAli Rushfield is a TV comedy writer and producer. She was a writer and co-executive producer of  Undeclared and  Parks and Recreation and is writer and co-executive producer of the Netflix show, Love.  

 

AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN by Sohini Chakraborty

Sohini Chakraborty (Micky Wiswedel photographer Photo Courtsey Vital Voices)

I decided at a young age that I wanted to live my life as an independent woman. I know a lot of women are independent in spirit, but in my case, I also wanted to live on my own, outside of my family’s home. In the cultural context of life in India, this was very bold, as family is a big thing. The traditional way of life in India is that children continue to live with their parents or their families until they are young adults, usually until they marry. I was single, and I wanted to stay single, but I also wanted complete independence. I wanted to not only live in my own space, I also wanted to have financial independence. That was my choice, my decision alone. I was considered a rebel.

My mother died young, so I grew up living with my father. I was a dancer, but I had a degree in Sociology, so I think he wanted me to get a good government job. My decision to live independently was not a decision against him; it was a decision for myself. This was very different from the traditional or “normal” life of a woman in India and it was very, very challenging.

When I was 21 or 22 years old, I had a big idea that dance could change lives. I began to fully pursue that idea when a lot of people were saying that it wouldn’t work. It was a bold decision, but I’ve chosen to live life on my own terms. I think that my independent spirit has helped me to be successful.

Prior to starting Kolkata Sanved in 2004, I had spent about nine years pursuing my dream of changing women’s lives through dance. Most of that time was a constant struggle, but I decided that all those challenges provided me the opportunity to move ahead in life. That’s how I got to where I am today.

I had a daring dream that dance could change lives and I transformed it into an organization: Kolkata Sanved. It was only my dream, one person’s dream, but now it’s the collective dream of many women, and it is truly transforming lives.

For all women who speak Bengali, I share this video message (I have also inserted English subtitles:)

 

Sohini ChakrabortySohini Chakraborty is a sociologist, Ashoka Fellow, dance activist, and Founder/Director of Kolkata Sanved, which has expanded the notions of dance and traditional rehabilitation programs. Through Kolkata Sanved’s groundbreaking dance/movement therapy program, survivors of violence and trafficking release trauma, develop confidence, identify their own potential as human beings, and become independent and empowered individuals rather than victims.

LOVE MADE VISIBLE by Jo-Anne McArthur

Jo-Anne McArthur Sea Shepherd

Click on each photograph below to see it in larger size.

It’s summer in the Antarctic and on sunny days I can venture out onto the bow of our Sea Shepherd vessel, the Bob Barker, to let the warmth penetrate my bones. Between chores, the bow is a great place to spend a bit of idle time outdoors reflecting on life and on our mission here in the southern oceans.

Keep a sharp eye and you’ll spy dolphins, penguins, albatross, and southern petrels. These moments of quiet reflection give me time to reflect on how the heck I got to be on this boat of environmental and animal rights activists, and on how a few defining life decisions led me to this moment.

A beautiful but wet day on the Antarctic Ocean.

A beautiful but wet day on the Antarctic Ocean.

Life won’t always be this idyllic aboard our boat, which the crew affectionately refers to as “The Bob.” We will have intensely dangerous confrontations with our rivals, the Japanese whaling fleet. Our boat is one of three on this 2009-2010 Antarctic Mission to stop the poaching of up to 935 Minke whales, which are hunted by the fleet and sold for meat in Japan.

Bob Barker captain, Chuck Swift, gives orders to crew in an intense moment while being surrounded by the Japanese whaling fleet.

Bob Barker captain, Chuck Swift, gives orders to crew in an intense moment while being surrounded by the Japanese whaling fleet.

The whalers hunt under the transparent guise of “research,” and though the countries who are members of the International Whaling Commission have imposed a ban on whaling in this southern sanctuary, no one is there to enforce the ban. Long time radical animal activist Paul Watson decided to take the matter into his own hands, sending ships down to the Antarctic to intercept the slaughter of these endangered animals. My title on board The Bob is “Sea Shepherd Crew Photographer.” It’s a role I almost turned down in lieu of a much-needed restful winter in Canada. When I think about a “fabulous” experience or moment in my life, he story of how I came to be on The Bob is one of those. I am a photojournalist and the work I do for animal rights is rewarding and exhausting. The year 2009 was undoubtedly the craziest of my 33 years. It began with a trip through Guatemala and Belize, followed by three months in Africa.

A volunteer shares a moment with a rescued chimpanzee.

A volunteer shares a moment with a rescued chimpanzee.

While shooting a photo story at a primate sanctuary in Cameroon, I contracted dengue fever, which left my body crippled with reactive arthritis. Refusing to return home for a rest, I moved on to Uganda to do photo work with the Jane Goodall Institute. There I asked a doctor to load me up with the meds necessary to allow me to continue my work. These meds were steroids, and I relied on them for close to four months. They helped me to walk and work, but slowed my overall healing significantly.

After a brief rest in Canada, I left for Spain and France to do factory farm investigations and a story about the brutal slaying of bulls during La Corrida. Night after night, with cameras in hand, I traipsed all over the country to document the extreme suffering of pigs, broiler chickens, egg laying hens, and bulls. From there I went onto Scandinavia where I documented mink farming. It was incredibly exhausting work, in both the emotional and physical sense. The traveling and all-night investigative escapades left me drained in a very profound way.

Thousands of bulls are needlessly killed each year in Spain’s Corrida.

Thousands of bulls are needlessly killed each year in Spain’s Corrida.

I do all of this investigative work so that I can help expose the use and abuse of animals worldwide. The images I take have become part of my umbrella project on the subject matter, called We Animals, and dozens of animal welfare organizations use the images to promote their work. We Animals is my passions combined: my love for story-telling through the lens and my love for helping animals, seamlessly entwined, epitomizing that famous quote by the writer Kahlil Gibran, “Work is love made visible.” I feel very strongly that my work for We Animals is what I was born to do in this lifetime. I took action to solidify this belief when I wrote to Sea Shepherd that November.

Free range chickens are collected, six at a time, by their legs, and put on the truck headed to slaughter.

Free range chickens are collected, six at a time, by their legs, and put on the truck headed to slaughter.

The Sea Shepherd mission came on the heels of my European investigative work so I put off replying to them as to whether I would join. The opportunity stood before me as a chance of a lifetime: saving whales, visiting the Antarctic, living on a boat, working alongside other dedicated activists … incredible! Yet I knew that I had to say no for the sake of my recovering health and my sanity. I wrote a carefully crafted e-mail, saying that I would love to join future campaigns, but would regretfully decline this upcoming mission. I sat there at my computer before hitting “send,” feeling responsible but hollow. As I navigated my mouse to the “send” button, however, something happened. I quickly deleted that email and, with a smile and a sigh, wrote the words “Sign me up!” I hit send. My fate was sealed.

The Ady Gil, moments after it has been rammed by the Shonan Maru No.2 The boat sunk less than 48 hours later. All crew members escaped.

The Ady Gil, moments after it has been rammed by the Shonan Maru No.2 The boat sunk less than 48 hours later. All crew members escaped.

My “yes” to Sea Shepherd was a door thrown open wide. I felt like I was also staring down a dark abyss of danger, seasickness, and sleep deprivation. It was all that and so much more. Not only did I have the adventure of a lifetime with inspiring activists and work that was meaningful to me, but my photos were also published by over two thousand news agencies worldwide. Though I was working for Sea Shepherd for free, it turned out to be a decent career move while helping to expose the poaching of whales in the southern oceans. I’m happy to report that my Sea Shepherd mission only somewhat slowed my recovery to full health. The dengue-induced arthritis lingers, but I have made a full recovery.

photo by Bohdan Warchomij

When I finally caught my breath after that whirlwind twelve months, I was sure that things would slow down and that there’d be calmer waters ahead. Actually, though, that whirlwind hasn’t really stopped. Since that year, I have travelled to dozens more countries and worked with many inspiring animal protection groups to document factory farms, wildlife sanctuaries, puppy mills, captive animals, fur farms, slaughterhouse vigils, animal fairs, and more. I have written two books and, with Dr. Keri Cronin, launched the Unbound Project to highlight the work of women on the front lines of animal advocacy. Little did I know that in 2009, I was just getting started.

In documenting our complex relationships with animals, I see the best and worst of humanity: the willingness of so many to look the other way in the face of atrocities, and the refusal of some to turn away.

Me and a rescued chicken at Farm Sanctuary. Photo by Karol Orzechowski

The work I do is can be difficult and devastating. I’ve shed more tears than I thought possible over the cruelty, hopelessness and apathy that I have witnessed. Not being able to save the tens of thousands of animals I’ve met causes me a lot of heartache too. Yet every moment of injustice and suffering that I have captured serves a purpose. My images have been presented to government committees examining industry practices. They have been mounted on billboards seen by millions of people. They have been featured in countless exposés highlighting practices that would otherwise remain in the dark. The work is hard, yes, but the suffering of those animals is not lessened by our not seeing it. Change will only come with visibility, so I continue my work to make sure these beings are seen.

On the other side of what I do are the rescued animals. And the activists who give––and risk––everything to make sure that those animals know that despite everything they have been through, they’re safe now. They’re loved. My work for animals is my love made visible.

Jo-Anne McArthurJo-Anne McArthur is an award-winning photojournalist, author, educator, and animal rights activist. Her documentary photo project We Animals explores our uses, abuses, and sharing of spaces with the animals of this planet. She is featured in the award-winning documentary film The Ghosts in Our Machine and has written two books, We Animals (2013) and Captive (2017).

THE ADVENTURE OF CHANGING ONE’S WORLD by Tabra Tunoa

Tabra Tunoa logo

I am Tabra Tunoa, Fabulous, Creative, Jewelry Designer, Artist, and Very Courageous World Traveling Adventurer. That’s how I like to think of myself….

In the summer of 2006, I decided the time had come for me to stop designing and manufacturing jewelry in the U.S. and move “Tabra International” to Bali, Indonesia. I couldn’t afford health insurance for my employees any longer and the increasingly difficult economic times were stressful. I had marched and marched in the streets of San Francisco protesting the beginning of the Iraqi war and was becoming discouraged as the war started anyway and then dragged on year after year. I was angry, depressed and obsessed about it.  I was losing interest in creating beautiful art.

My business had grown from selling jewelry on the street to a corporation with jewelry sales close to five million a year. My business won the “Inc. 500” Award for one of the fastest growing small businesses in America for two years in a row along with a prestigious Award for Diversity and Social Responsibility in the Work Place. There were many newspaper and book articles written about the way I created jobs for refugees.

In 1997, I faced a difficult life situation. I went bankrupt and lost everything – my house, my car and of course, my business. I was penniless with no prospect of a job. Realizing that there was no one who would hire me at the salary I wanted or give me the freedom of “running the whole show,” I began slowly and painfully to rebuild my business.

During my 20s, I lived with my son in various countries in the South Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe and Central America. I only returned to live in my home in Texas, when it became clear that the war in Vietnam was ending. However, I never really fit in there, so my former college art teacher suggested that I should try Berkeley, California.  Sure enough, at the age of 29, I found a place where an eccentric, non-conforming gypsy, hippie artist and single mother, could thrive.

I sold on the streets of Berkeley for many years before deciding to try the Renaissance and Harvest Festivals. That’s when I began to make real money from designing and creating my hand-made jewelry. The next step was to hire employees to meet the growing demand for my work. I also hired a professional business therapist to teach me how to manage and run a business.

For some 30 years, while traveling in remote corners of the world, buying stones and beads, looking for inspiration, and selling in fairs across America, I continued to grow my business and raise my son in California – all at the same time. In 2006, with my son grown up, and me without a significant other, I was ready for life in another culture again. I was ready for more adventure. I would go alone and I would be okay.

After making that difficult decision (the logistics of it all were absolutely daunting), I gave my employees six months to find another job. The majority were Asian refugees who had fled oppression in their own countries. Some of the refugees had worked with me for 20 years and many had chosen my company when they first arrived in the U.S. fresh off the boat, so to speak. They took my announcement with amazing grace and supported what they knew I had to do.

Powerful Bronze Indonesian Moon Goddess Amulet Bracelet With Lapis Lazuli Eye Symbols To ard off Evil and Protect the Wearer. Set in Sterling Silver Designed by Tabra and Fabricated in Bali.

Some of my employees found other jobs right away and some stayed with me until the end – helping me with the difficult business of closing down my life in America. Some didn’t like the new jobs they found, returning to work with me again until they could find another job that suited them better. I had been advised that this was not the way to close the business – that it would be best to announce the closing as I passed out their final checks, the same day I closed, but I closed my business in the manner I felt my employees deserved. They had to make their own adjustments and it would be difficult for them, as well. What I kept reminding myself throughout the process was “this is not all about me.” We had worked together for so long, through major ups and downs, and they were like family. Those who stayed with me got jewelry-making equipment, office supplies, computers, beads and bonuses at the end. Everyone got something.

During those hectic six months, I took time to write up plans for my future – a one year plan, a five year plan and a twenty-five year end of life plan. It was important for me to be very clear with myself about what I wanted to do with the remainder of my life.

I decided that Costa Rica and Bali, Indonesia would be my focus countries. I knew that I wouldn’t be happy being tied down to just one country or one culture and I wasn’t finished designing and creating. There were still many women who enjoyed wearing and collecting my jewelry and I wanted to supply them. I also knew that wherever I went, helping educate young women in Third World countries would be an important part of my life.  That would be my gift to the world.

Figuring out what I would need in my new life and what I should let go of, working with lawyers, accountants, realtors and distributors, shipping beads and stones to Bali – took the full six months. It was difficult, fun, physically and emotionally exhausting, exciting and sometimes sad. I was working 16 hours a day, making important decisions every hour that would directly affect the rest of my life. Although it was scary, there was really no time to think about how difficult and complicated I was deliberately making my life.

On the third of January, 2007, I flew to Bali alone – to begin the next phase of changing my world: setting up my workshop and making my jewelry in Bali, selling it directly on my new website www.tabra.com and opening up my beautiful little gallery on Hanuman Street in downtown Ubud, the Art and Cultural Center of Indonesia.  I continued to sell my Tribal, Modern/Ethnic Jewelry to wonderful craft galleries in the U.S., Australia and Japan. I hired five smart, young Balinese women and began English classes for them and Indonesian classes for myself – so that we could communicate. I told them my life goals and they told me theirs. That way we could all help each other achieve those goals.

Three months after arriving in Bali, my condo back in California, sold. I took the profit and made a down payment on 85 acres of jungle and a small cabin in the Turrubares Mountains of Costa Rica. I put the rest of my money into gold and silver investments. I had worked with silver and gold for so long, I felt I understood that market best.  It turned out I had made wise decisions. I sold my house and invested in metals at a very good time.

My future plans continue to develop as new opportunities arise or the unexpected occurs and I have to change directions. However, my overall plan has remained the same: live part of the year in Bali, visit my friends and family in the U.S. every year and develop my land in Costa Rica for eventual retirement. I will build cabins for my artist friends, people I like and family  to live near or visit me often as I grow older. It will be another calculated, but crazy adventure.

The challenge of changing your world takes the courage to be different, to risk disapproval, and to take chances, but for me, it has been worth it. My life is interesting and full of change. I have no regrets. I love the world I have created for myself.

Returning to the U.S. to see family and good friends for a few weeks each year is very important to me. I miss the long walks in the forest with my best friend and seeing her two or three times a week in California. Best friends are not replaceable. But I write long letters and visit her twice a year and I cherish the memories I have of the good times.

I have made many mistakes, but I have tried to learn from them and live my life with grace. Now, I am ready for new challenges. My life in America is finished. From time to time, when things get really tough, I tell myself that maybe I will settle down and live a safe, uncomplicated, predictable life. But I can’t. And, anyway, I don’t want to. I’m addicted to adventure and change.

Tabra TunoaInternationally known artist, Tabra Tunoa, is a leader in the Contemporary Ethnic style of Gypsy Jewelry. She studied Mayan and Aztec art at the University of Mexico City and in San Jose, Costa Rica. She also studied jewelry design at the Masana Art Institute in Barcelona, Spain in the ’60s and ’70s.  She continues designing jewelry and working with young Balinese women in her home near Ubud.

WHY I BECAME A BUDDHIST by Pema Chödrön (a story told on video)

In this six-minute video, Pema Chödrön candidly and humorously shares the story of her broken marriage and how it ultimately led her on the path to Buddhism. 

Good Medicine by Pema Chödrön. Copyright © 1999 Pema Chödrön. All rights reserved. Used with permission from Sounds True, Inc., Boulder, CO

Pema Chödrön was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936 in New York City. She began studying Buddhism in her mid-thirties and became a novice nun in 1974. At the request of the Sixteenth Karmapa, she received the full bikshuni ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong. Since 1984, Chödrön has been the director of Gampo Abbey, a Tibetan monastery for Western monks and nuns in Nova Scotia. She is also the author of many popular books, including The Wisdom of No Escape, When Things Fall Apart, and The Things that Scare You. 

ON SELF-ESTEEM by Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem "On Self-Esteem"

As wise women and men in every culture tell us: The art of life is not controlling what happens to us, but using what happens to us.

Like all great oaks, this understanding began with a very small acorn.

It was the late sixties, those days that were still pre-feminist for me. I didn’t question the fact that male journalists with less experience than I were getting the political assignments that were my real interest. Instead, I was grateful to be writing profiles of visiting celebrities – a departure from the fashion and family subjects that female reporters were usually given – and this included an interview that was to take place over tea in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel.

Because the actor was very late, I waited while the assistant manager circled disapprovingly and finally approached. “Unescorted ladies,” he announced loudly, were “absolutely not allowed” in the lobby. I told him I was a reporter waiting for an arriving guest who couldn’t be contacted any other way – an explanation that sounded lame even to me. The manager escorted me firmly past curious bystanders and out the lobby door.

I was humiliated. Did I look like a prostitute? Was my trench coat too battered – or not battered enough? I was anxious: How was I going to find my subject and do my work? I decided to wait outside the revolving door in the hope of spotting the famous actor through its glass, but an hour passed with no success.

Later, I learned that he had arrived, failed to see me, and left. His press agent called my editor to complain that I had “stood up” his client. The actor missed his publicity, the editor missed a deadline, and I missed a check that I needed to pay the rent. I also blamed myself for not figuring out how to “get the story” and worried about being demoted permanently back to the ghetto of “women’s interest” articles I was trying to escape.

By coincidence a month or so later, I was assigned to interview another celebrity who was also staying at the Plaza. To avoid a similar fiasco, I had arranged to meet this one in his suite, but on my way through the lobby, I noticed my former nemesis standing guard. Somehow, I found myself lingering, as if rooted to the spot – and sure enough, the manager approached me with his same officious speech. But this time I was amazed to hear myself saying some very different things. I told him this was a public place where I had every legal right to be, and asked why he hadn’t banished the several “unescorted men” in the lobby who might be male prostitutes. I also pointed out that since hotel staffs were well known to supply call girls in return for a percentage of their pay, perhaps he was just worried about losing a commission.

He looked quite startled – and let me stay. I called my subject and suggested we have tea downstairs after all. It turned out to be a newsworthy interview, and I remember writing it up with more ease than usual and delivering it with an odd sense of well-being.

What was the lesson of these two incidents? Clearly, the assistant manager and I were unchanged. I was even wearing the same trench coat and freelancing for the same publication. Only one thing was different: my self-esteem. It had been raised almost against my will – by contagion.

Between those two interviews, a woman doctor had made a reservation for herself and a party of friends at the Plaza’s Oak Room, a public restaurant that was maintained as a male-only bastion at lunchtime on the grounds that female voices might disturb men’s business meetings. When this woman was stopped at the Oak Room door for being the wrong gender of “Dr.,” as she knew she would be, her lunch group of distinguished feminists turned into a spirited sidewalk picket line and held a press conference they had called in advance.

Now, I had also been invited to join this protest – and refused. In New York as in most cities, there were many public restaurants and bars that either excluded women altogether or wouldn’t serve “unescorted ladies” (that is, any woman or group of women without the magical presence of one man). Certainly, I resented this, but protesting it in the Oak Room, a restaurant too expensive for most people, male or female, seemed a mistake. The only remedy was a city council ordinance banning discrimination in public places, and that would require democratic support. Besides, feminists were already being misrepresented in the media as white, middle class, and frivolous, a caricature that even then I knew was wrong: the first feminists I had heard of in the sixties were working-class women who broke the sex barrier in factory assembly lines, and the first I actually met were black women on welfare who compared that demeaning system to a gigantic husband who demanded sexual faithfulness (the no-man-in-the- house rule) in return for subsistence payments. If groups like those were not publicized – and if well-to-do women who lunched at the Plaza were – I feared this new movement’s image would become even more distorted.

As it turned out, I was right about tactics and the media’s continuing image of feminism: “whitemiddleclass” did become like one key o the typewriter of many journalists (though polls showed that black women were almost twice as likely to support feminist changes than white women were). But I was very wrong about women’ responses – including my own. For instance: By the time of that demonstration at the Plaza, I already had picketed for civil rights, against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and with migrant farm workers, often in demonstrations that were far from tactically perfect; so why was I suddenly demanding perfection of women? When blacks or Jews had been kept out of restaurants and bars, expensive or not, I felt fine about protesting; so why couldn’t I take my own half of the human race (which, after all, included half of all blacks and half of all Jews) just as seriously?

The truth was that I had internalized society’s unserious estimate of all that was female – including myself. This was low self-esteem, not logic. Should a black woman demonstrate for the right to eat at dimestore lunch counters in the South, where she was barred by race, and then quietly leave when refused service at an expensive New York restaurant on account of sex? Of course not. The principle – and, more important, the result for one real woman – was the same. But I had been raised to consider any judgment based on sex alone less important than any judgment based on race, class, or anything else alone. In fact, if you counted up all the groups in the world other than white women, I was valuing just about everybody more than I valued myself.

Nonetheless, all the excuses of my conscious mind couldn’t keep my unconscious self from catching the contagious spirit of those women who picketed the Oak Room. When I faced the hotel manager again, I had glimpsed the world as if women mattered. By seeing through their eyes, I had begun to see through my own.

Gloria Steinem is a writer and activist who has been involved in feminist and other social justice issues for over fifty years. A major figure in the launch of the women’s movement in the 1960s, she is one of the few to span generations and cultures with such newer U.S. feminist groups as the 3rd Wave and Choice USA, and international human rights/women’s rights groups including Equality Now. Steinem is the co-founder of New York Magazine and Ms. Magazine, and author of such touchstone books as Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions; Revolution from Within, and Moving Beyond Words, among other influential writing.

“On Self-Esteem” by Gloria Steinem published with permission from the author. Story excerpted from Revolution from Within Copyright ©1993 by Gloria Steinem. Printed by permission of Little, Brown & Company 

VIEW FROM THE TOP by Nalini Nadkarni

Photo by Michael and Patricia Fogden for National Geographic

I have a great job; I climb trees to study the rainforest canopy. My journey to understand trees started early in my life, when I climbed the eight sturdy sugar maples in the front yard of my home in suburban Maryland. Most afternoons, I would drop my school books inside the front door, grab a snack and a book, and scramble up one of those trees, each with its own vertical pathway to a comfortable nest aloft. Those perches were refuges from the world of homework, parental directives, and the ground-bound humdrum of the everyday. I could look out across my home territory, check on the progress of squirrel nest constructions, and feel the strong limbs of those trees holding me up for as long as I wished. It was in those afternoons of arboreal repose that my sense of kinship to trees germinated.

Trees were not my only focus in those formative years. My parents provided me with modern dance lessons from Erika Thimey, a German-born dance teacher who offered the gift of creativity to her students. I learned the expressive ways the body can move and acquire the discipline that is needed to hone my muscles. From Miss Erika, as we called her, I learned that with mindfulness, the simple act of walking across a wooden floor or noting the graceful fall of a leaf can be an aesthetic action. It opened up a whole different way of seeing that has kept me aware of the multiple ways that one must look at nature to understand it fully, an approach I now bring to my scientific work.

In college, I first discovered the world of forest ecology through the lectures of an ecologist, Dr. Jon Waage. When he wasn’t teaching undergraduates, he carried out research on damselfly behavior. I was amazed to learn that he could make a living by sitting at stream edges to record the movements of these aquatic insects. From him, I learned about the world of academic science. He posed seemingly narrow questions that later turned out to relate to much broader issues about life and death, competition and mutualism, and the evolution of life on Earth. Wrestling through the labyrinth of the scientific literature, I learned to trace citations to their sources and recognize the key players in a scientific discussion. Science seemed the right approach to really understand the world.

But what of dance? With my deepening passion for science, I soon fund myself in something of a love triangle, having to choose between very different professions. Parallel with my enthusiastic forays in science, I delighted in the sparks of creativity that flew from each composition in the dance studio, the sense of feeling my body move with others, the messages about life and emotions conveyable on stage, which no scientific paper could communicate. Right after graduation from college, I decided to test out which would be the better profession for me – field biology, manifested in the scholarly persona of Dr. Waage, or modern dance, exemplified by the graceful spirit of Miss Erika.

I first tried on the life of a field biologist. By writing letters to 70 field stations all over the world, and offering my services as a volunteer field assistant, I found a temporary position to help a septuagenarian entomologist (insect biologist). He studied the taxonomy of tropical leaf-feeding beetles and directed a tiny field station in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, in the South Pacific. I accepted with joy. In January of 1978, I arrived at the entrance of the Wau Ecology Institute, in the foothills of the Morobe Province. The field station consisted of a few shabby wooden buildings, a small herbarium and insect collection, and a central table occupied by a chipped coffee pot around which staff gathered each morning to discuss progress on their research projects. I spent the next twelve months on expeditions around the country, thrilled by the stunning diversity of the rainforest. In that rainforest cloister, I felt at home with the people and work I encountered.

After the year in Papua New Guinea was over, it was time to investigate dance. I traveled to Paris, and made contact with a modern dance company, Danse Paris. I first took classes, and was then invited to practice with their troupe. The opportunity to dance for hours at a time and hang out with professional dancers was perfect to test out my potential future profession. After a year in the rainforest, it was a delight to gulp in the cultural offerings that only Paris provides. The art museums, city parks, urban architecture, and evening concerts filled my non-dancing times.

After six months, I had to make a choice. I knew that I could not do both professional science and professional dance. The former demanded years of academic preparation and wildland settings; the latter required years of physical and aesthetic training and an urban homespot. On a sunny morning in April, I sat down with my journals from both locales at a neighborhood café. Over numerous cups of tea, I read through them all and then sat back to decide which was to be my choice. The forest or the stage? As much as I loved the world of dance, the time I spent in the tropical rainforests seemed truer to my own spirit. I felt closer to my biologist colleagues, and more at peace in the forest environment.

I returned to the USA and entered graduate school in forest ecology at the University of Washington’s College of Forest Resources. I spent a summer in Costa Rica on a field biology program, surrounded by fledgling graduate students and experienced faculty who opened the world of tropical ecology with enthusiasm and expertise. Each had his or her own specialty: hummingbird physiology; beetle distribution; songbird migration. Early on during that course, my eyes looked up to the complex world of the forest canopy – the plants and animals that lived their lives high above the forest floor and were among the most poorly known in the world.

I had the good fortune to encounter another graduate student who was studying canopy interactions. Don Perry had developed modified mountain climbing techniques, and he agreed to ‘show me the ropes’ in exchange for help with his field study. After a month, I was ready to climb on my own and to pursue my own set of canopy questions – activities that would enliven my life for the next three decades.

My canopy research colleagues, students and I have enumerated the rare and often unknown species that dwell on branches and twigs that never appear in ground surveys. I discovered that some trees put out “canopy roots” from their own branches and trunks, which gain access to the arboreal soil that accumulates beneath mats of canopy-dwelling (“epiphytes”). We learned that treetop versions of traditionally terrestrial insects and even earthworms – are found in this canopy-level soil, living out their entire life cycle high above the forest floor. We have measured the amounts of nutrients that the epiphytes intercept and retain from rain, mist, and dust, which can be considerable.

Over the last 30 years, new techniques of canopy access have evolved to include hot-air balloons, treetop walkways, hanging platforms, and 30-story construction cranes. The answers that canopy researchers report in scientific meetings confirm that trees are a critical part of ecosystems, landscapes, and the biosphere. Canopy researchers now quantify the amount of oxygen tree canopies produce, the amount of carbon dioxide they store, the volumes of soil they protect, the amount of water they retain, and the scores of wildlife species they support. Urban foresters have documented the “ecosystem services” provided by trees in urban settings: reduction in noise, temperature, and pollutants. Thus, the growing body of treetop research documents that loss of canopy diversity and function is a loss to the forest as a whole and to the landscapes beyond them.

Over the years, aware of the importance of the forest canopy and forest ecosystems in general to the health of the Earth, I have made deep forays into doing outreach and communication of what I have learned. I am especially interested in reaching “non-traditional” audiences, those who don’t automatically pick up a Natural History magazine, or watch a nature documentary film. Each of these projects involves connecting with other partners. One of my programs involves gathering scientist, urban youth, and scientists to spend time in the field and create rap songs about trees and insects. Another program brings science research projects involving endangered plants and animals into prisons so that incarcerated men and women can contribute to solving environmental problems, even though they are behind bars.

Another set of my partners to help communicate scientific messages are artists. One of my favorites is a wonderful collaboration with a modern dancer and choreographer. On an afternoon last year, I got a telephone call from Jodi Lomask, the Director of the San Francisco-based modern dance troupe. She wanted to make a modern dance about tropical rainforests, but wanted it to be based in science – could she come to my rainforest study sites with me to learn about them? Indeed she could, and did, and this year, we are performing the dance she choreographed while climbing my rainforest study trees to public audiences in Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. I feel happy that the two seemingly divergent forces in my life – studying trees and making modern dances – has come together for the sake of protecting rainforests.

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni is a Professor of Biology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and a leader in the scientific field of rainforest canopy research. Nalini created a unique method for rappelling to the top of the canopy using mountaineering equipment and has become known as “The Queen of the Forest Canopy.” She is featured in the Emmy award-winning National Geographic documentary “Heroes of the High Frontier.” She is also the author of three books and numerous scientific research articles.