I’ve done a lot of writing throughout my college career, but I think the hardest ‘assignment’ I’ve ever had is this one – to introduce myself in one short blog post. That’s life, I guess. There are challenges and you just have to put your head down an push through. So here goes….
Growing up along the country roads of West Virginia, I could always be found wandering my grandparents’ 50 acre forest. Salamanders, birds, deer, bugs, and bears were among my targets, though I never intended to get one in the scope of a gun. All I ever wanted as a child was to experience the forest and the amazing creatures that lived there. It didn’t matter to me if they were slimy, creepy-crawly, or big and scary, I just wanted to see one. For a good year of my life I would track deer through our forest intent on catching and riding one. Although my dream never came true, and never will, it led me to some amazing adventures and my passion for the environment only continued to grow as I did.
Fast forward about 8 years. I’m a college sophomore, at West Virginia University, with strong ideas about where I want to go, but absolutely no idea about how to get there. During an introductory anthropology course that year, an amazing professor and mentor, Dr. Amy Hirshman, threw a flyer on the overhead.
“DANTA: Association for the Conservation of the Tropics”
‘I received this information that I thought may be of interest to some of you. It looks like you can travel to Costa Rica for a field school. One of them is a primate conservation and ecology program ….’, projected Dr. Hirshman. After scurrying to grab a scrap of paper and a pencil, I wrote ‘Primate field school Costa Rica!!’ and quickly entered my own world, imagining the perfect adventure in Costa Rica with amazing people and monkeys all around. Honestly, I don’t remember anything else Dr. Hirshman said that day. All I knew was that I found somewhere I belonged.
Catching a glimpse of the rainforest from 30,000 feet above left me speechless with tears in my eyes. A childhood dream of mine had arrived. It was my time to make the most of it. Little did I know, it would be better than anything I dreamed. (Except for the part where I would have a magical spell cast on me that allowed me to speak with animals … that never happened). The following month was full of ups and downs, challenges and adventures, but more than anything it was all too short. For nearly a month I was woken by howler monkeys, in the forest most of the day, and had spotted my first monkey over breakfast. DANTA’s field course literally changed my life and I don’t go throwing ‘literally’ around unless I mean it.
While in Costa Rica I learned how to conduct field observations, transects, and tree surveys among many other things. I learned not to touch fire vine and if a curassow is running around a tree screaming at you that you should probably leave…quickly. I learned to laugh at myself, to stand up for myself, to truly take advantage of every opportunity, and too much about myself to even consider writing.
Some people will suggest that after a field school you know exactly what you want to do. You have a path and you are ready to start running. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew it wasn’t what I had spent the past month doing. Don’t get me wrong, the DANTA field school is in the top 3 best decisions of my life. I would do it again right now if I could. I just want to be clear – it’s alright if you finish a field school or similar experience and it isn’t what you want to do for the rest of your life. Sitting on the concrete floor of our cabana, I realized that field work wasn’t for me, but I felt badly about that, about myself. I thought that since this didn’t turn out to be exactly what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing that I had somehow messed up, that I had failed somehow. But that isn’t the case.
DANTA led me to some great insights about the field of anthropology/primatology, myself, new world primates, field research, and much more. DANTA put me on the track to many other amazing opportunities. It got me focused on an end goal and made me work even harder to get there. Because of DANTA I know where going and how I will get there.
Since my experience with DANTA, I’ve spent a total of 4.5 months rehabilitating primates in Belize; driven across the country with 2 birds, 5 fish, and a cat; completed my first year of graduate school; and focused my interests around conservation and human-wildlife interactions. I’ll revisit some of these topics and experiences in future blog posts, so be on the lookout!
In the words of my mom:
You never know where your life will take you, but if you do things you love,
everything else will fall into place