Discovering the World With Sy Montgomery
Monday 26 October 2009
by: Leslie Thatcher, t r u t h o u t | Interview
On Friday, 16 October 2009, I interviewed Sy Montgomery over the phone.
Leslie Thatcher: In the review Truthout published of many of your books I describe what I believe you write about. I'd very much like to hear your own sense of why you write and what you write about.
Sy Montgomery: I write about the relationship between people and the rest of animate creation and I write about it because I think things have gone askew. [At this point, Ms. Montgomery excused herself to remove a tick from her dog Sally.] I try to offer a different model of how to love and honor the rest of the animate world. My books offer a few different models:
Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas offered a totally different model of how scientists could interact with their subjects, of how they could use emotions and intuition as tools of inquiry. They revolutionized ethology.
When I went to India and talked with people who live with tigers, they worship the tiger even though 300 people there are being eaten every year. They have an intimate understanding that we need predators in the world to make it whole.
Again, when you go to the Amazon and people tell you the crazy stories about dolphins who can seduce us and dance with us and take us away to another world, there is a truth there that we have lost. That truth is the transformative power of relationships with the dolphins.
No matter where I go, I'm being blessed by that Buddhist promise: When the student is ready the teacher appears. Teachers are always appearing for me. Our job is to recognize the teacher whether it has two legs, fours legs, eight legs or none - quite a few snakes have taught me a great deal over the years. My job as a writer is to understand what the truth is - whether it's in another language or in another kind of truth-telling than the one we're accustomed to.
Would you talk about how you came to write "Walking with the Great Apes" and the conditions under which you did the research for it?
Before I could read, I was seeing pictures of Jane Goodall holding her hand out to a wild chimpanzee on the cover of National Geographic, and as a preliterate being I thought this was the way it should be: Animals are our teachers and our healers and I wanted this to be a kind of homage to these women who had shown us that truth. I had discovered in my preproposal research that the three had all wanted a book like the one I intended to be written.
To do it, in just the way that they learned from the apes, I got to walk in my heroines' footsteps and got to visit all their research sites. My first major expedition for this book was to visit Borneo at Birute's site. You cannot imagine the difficulties of research in the jungles of Borneo. The film melts inside the camera. Your tape recorder swells so you can't play the tapes back. At the end of the day, you're plucking fat, black leeches out of your bra. There were not even any pathways cut through the forest when Birute first went out there with her then husband.
Read the whole article here.