Before any adventure can begin, there must be a place from which to set out, much like Bilbo Baggins sets out from his cozy hobbit hole and shire in The Hobbit. The importance of this place cannot be understated and should never be taken for granted.Home is more than a location – it is an extraordinary collection of people and places and experiences that shape you.
My shire is the beautiful Sunshine State, among the pines and prairies, swamps and springs, beaches and orange blossoms. When most people think of Florida, I’m fairly certain that Disney World is the first image that comes to mind. Or perhaps crowded Miami shorelines with clubs and bars stretched out for miles. But neither of these conceptions are true of my childhood (except for a few birthday pictures that portray a younger version of myself in front of Cinderella’s castle). Instead, I was born and raised within the natural spaces of Florida’s beauty, and only later did I become aware that my formative years were far from typical.
Curiosity was always nurtured in my family, and I was never scolded or lectured for bringing home a multitude of animals that I asked to keep or nurse back to health – toads and birds and even the occasional baby squirrel or opossum. My mother, a geologist with a strong scientific background, and my father, a teacher with an extensive educational background, blended their perspectives on life in my upbringing and this in large part contributed to my knowledge, from a very early age, that I wanted to be a wildlife biologist when I grew up. We traveled all over the country for family vacations; road trips that would take us from the Atlantic to the Pacific, always landing us where we could view our country’s majestic wildlife and breathtaking landscapes. It was a magical, dreamy childhood.
From the time I first started formulating sentences, I would enthusiastically tell my parents all about the animals I was learning and their ecosystems, and then I began to tell anyone who would listen. Most kids who loved animals wanted to be a veterinarian, and there were several other classmates of mine who listed “ballerina” or “astronaut” or “firefighter” as their future dream jobs. And these are all fine, noble occupations. But only one ever appealed to me, and I attribute this determination and inspiration to a variety of factors – however, the important factor to note is that my love of wildlife and Mother Nature burned with a ferocity, one that I kindled. This passion grew as I grew, intensifying as my eyes gleamed while watching Steve Irwin wrestle a croc and say “she’s a beauty”, and as I turned page after page of Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man with a flashlight past bedtime.
Eventually this fire led me to the University of Florida (Go Gators!) where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. In fact, as Fate would have it, that incredible moment of crossing the stage to receive my degree occurred on this very day, exactly a year ago. Florida – and all of my family, friends, teachers, role models, and mentors – shaped who I am, imparted invaluable wisdom and endless love, and etched a mark on my heart forever to remain.
As a wildlife biologist, I conduct ecological research for a living, and I enjoy cultivating in others an eagerness to know our planet on an intellectual and spiritual level. To be short, I am unafraid to proudly claim both aspects of who I am – a scientist and a dreamer. Some may say these two are mutually exclusive in sentient beings, but I believe they complement each other well and only serve to strengthen the other. The scientist in me improves the dreamer that I am, and the dreamer in me fortifies the scientist.
Home. Such a multi-dimensional, four-letter word.From its front door, I have set out on my own unique, grand adventure. Yet it is the reason all of this has been possible.
“Bother burgling and everything to do with it! I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!” ~ Bilbo Baggins