One of our media people asked a group of us for our wildlife “close calls.” So putting on my best Crocodile Dundee accent, I wrote down the following true stories–in the spirit of the ADD internet, I’ll post these one at a time. .
“[Beer in hand, funny Australian accent, at the ready ] So, no joking, there I was……..]
Snorkeling on a wreck in 30 feet of water off Palmyra at 6 degrees above the equator and at least 2 days and $100k from an emergency room. I had wandered off in one direction and my group was about a quarter mile away. I was coming back up for air when I saw a big torpedo shape about 100 yards away, headed straight for me. I surfaced, breathed and then looked again—closing fast was a 10 foot long grey shark. It came within 10 feet of me, circled twice…
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I’ve been very privileged to have the opportunity, and the luck, to see a lot of beautiful creatures and wild places. They are what has driven my work in conservation and what recharges me. I revel in the daydream of seeing western North America with Lewis and Clark, or even more interesting, seeing it with the first peoples that came across from Asia to find the Giant Buffalo, North American Cheetah, and Mammoths.
But I work in the present reality of our dominion over nature and the complex problems of humans trying to figure out a way to sustain this world that has shaped and sustained us. This planet is now virtually dominated and managed by our species—even the huge systems like the oceans and the atmosphere are under our thumbs and laboring to provide us with the air, water and food that we need to survive.
I’ve given up the romantic notion of saving nature for it’s own sake, and never really bought the idea of a rights-based approach to species, instead I believe in designing and promoting models and ideas that will fully recognize that the economy is a wholly—owned subsidiary of nature, that the fabric of the ecology is best preserved by making the connection to good human lives.
And the good life isn’t about the Italian yacht or the Rolex watch or the Gucci handbag, it’s about clean air and water, access to safe and sustainable food sources, and livelihoods that can support families, communities, ecological systems and civilizations.
Sharks and goats and spiders are majestic and scary and miraculous to me, and they are also the indicator of our own health and well—being. I hope my daughter can see them too; if she does, I know our species might be on the right track.
Hong Kong is wilder than anyone realizes. Most visitors never get off of Hong Kong island and the concrete jungle. But just a few steps out of Central is a real jungle (note the dark spaces in the photo right next to the skyscrapers–all trees and hills and trails!), and a subway ride away puts you close to where the last tiger in the territory was killed in the 1940s!
We moved to a part of Hong Kong that has easy access to some of the remaining open spaces (over 50% of Hong Kong is preserved land!) so that we could have a real jungle as an antidote
to the concrete jungle. It’s been fun to explore the trails, bays, beaches and mountains of Sai Kung.
I have a small running group for Tuesday morning trail runs, Oliver from Germany and Roman from France. We head out very early so that we can be in to our offices by 9. A couple of Tuesdays ago, we were headed down a jungle track with me in the front.
I was running along full speed when my face was enveloped in thick strands of spider web—the golden orb weaver, a spider with legs about twice as long as my fingers, didn’t appreciate the man-sized hole in his very sticky web, but fortunately I didn’t have to pull him off my face. The other guys were laughing at me as I was coughing and frantically trying to get the web off and started up the trail—I shouted, “you guys are next!”
About a mile later, with me in the rear of the line now, I suddenly saw them doing what can only be described as Euro-techno dancing in front of me, both hollering a the top of their lungs in foreign languages. Looking down, I managed to hop over the tail of a 10 foot long Burmese Python as it scooted across the trail trying to avoid the weird disco performance that it clearly had not evolved to deal with. Roman immediately ran a new European 1500 meter record down the trail as Oliver and I struggled to keep up……..
Backpacking out of south-eastern Yellowstone in the early morning after a fly fishing trip, my friends and I were remarking how we’d seen a lot of fish and birds this trip, but not much of the larger wildlife that the park is famous for. Moments later we rounded a bend to see an enormous bull moose half submerged in a wetland. Two minutes later, we walked into an open area and spooked 3 grizzlies feeding on a dead
And just as they were disappearing the low sound of a wolf howling started, lasting for several minutes. We were all stunned, partly to be in what seemed like a Discovery channel video after 4 days of seeing only cutthroat trout and eagles, but also to realize just how wild this part of America is still. When we got back to our offices the following week, one of the friends emailed an article about that corner of Yellowstone, describing it as the point in the lower 48 states that was furthest from any roads or other human incursions. It certainly felt that way to us that morning that we had time-travelled back into pre-Columbian America.