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Spirit of Adventure
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Sy Montgomery

      . . . naturalist and writer. With a keen observer's eye, a deep commitment to the natural world and a startling fearlessness, Ms. Montgomery shares her adventures as a champion for the wholeness of the earth. Journey of the Pink Dolphins takes readers to the Amazon, Spell of the Tiger reveals mysteries of man-eating tigers in India and Bangladesh (also filmed by National Geographic) and Walking with the Great Apes brings us closer to our primate cousins. Her children's book The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans is now available. Ms. Montgomery also writes for the Boston Globe.


      The secrets to keeping the world whole belong to people living modestly in the middle of "nowhere" -- the Amazon, Borneo, India/Bangladesh -- according to Sy Montgomery. She brings some of these secrets back to the rest of us, hunter-shoppers now inhabiting industrialized, urbanized nations. What have we to learn from people who co-exist with man-eating tigers, magical pink dolphins or elusive golden moon bears? Hope.

      The hope Ms. Montgomery celebrates comes from both the humans and the endangered species she immortalizes in her books. The lessons she is intent on sharing? We can -- as well as must -- do the essential work of keeping the fabric of the world together. And we already know how.

      In her exotic travels, Ms. Montgomery is as far as one can imagine from being a numb tourist. Her guides are dolphins and tigers and orangutans and bears, leading her to people who have been at this living thing, in one place, for a long, long time. These humans co-exist with the natural world, often with animals gravely at risk of extinction in a rapidly shrinking world.

      Ms. Montgomery believes her work is to give the world examples in which humans didn't mess things up too badly. The rest of us may have forgotten how that's done, but we can remember. And we have teachers, both in people who have long histories, and in animals who remind us that all creatures -- even predators -- are vital to the fullness of creation. (Predators, she says with an earnest twinkle, are essential to that wholeness, even ones who are trying to chew your flesh from your bones, off your face, though she concedes that can be off-putting.)

      In her pulse-quickening, beautiful and terrifying, books, the unspoken theme is stewardship. It's a skill we used to have and can regain, she's certain. So she brings back vivid examples from people who "get it," living in harmony, balancing life's equation in ancient ways, from one side of the planet to the other.

      Since we are, according to Ms. Montgomery, story-thinking creatures who can only make sense out of our world inside of stories, she goes looking for what we have lost. Redefining the idea of "adventure," losing herself in the enormity of the moment's passion, finding her gyroscope in a sense of urgency, she brings back what we most need: history-bearing stories that instruct us on how to behave, remind us what our place is in the natural order, and give us the hope to get it right, before it's too late.

      From whom does Ms. Montgomery learn these stories? Unusual animals most of us have never heard of. And a lot of people who live in mud houses. They may be defeated when confronted by a door knob but they still have access to magic that is essential to life on earth.

      Yes, it's practical to save the Amazon, or the Sundarbans or the forests of Borneo. The trees mediate storms, provide fish nurseries and produce the oxygen we breathe. But, says Sy Montgomery, there's more. These places and their creatures -- all of them -- have transformative powers that we must have to keep the planet whole.


[This Program was recorded January 15, 2001 in Peterborough, New Hampshire, US.]

Conversation 1

Convinced that we all have a keen sense of adventure, Sy Montgomery shares hers with Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. Ms. Montgomery introduces us to her Amazon guides -- elusive pink dolphins -- and recreates the coincidences that led her to them. She describes the dolphin's seemingly magical powers.

Conversation 2

Describing the dolphins as agents of transformation, Ms. Montgomery remembers what she had in mind before the dolphins led her in profoundly different directions. She takes us back into the time when whales walked (really!), a journey she records in her book, Journey of the Pink Dolphins. She reminds us that the world was not always as it now is, offering examples from paleontologist to Amazonian locals. Adding a shaman and a magical brew to the mix, Ms. Montgomery recounts how the many-layered experience affected her. She compares "craziness" to ecstasy and considers local Amazonians' perspective on "progress."

Conversation 3

Greed has many faces and is destroying the Amazon, according to Ms. Montgomery, who elaborates with personal examples. She describes the differences between pink dolphins and Flipper. She gives pointed examples of how complex environmental issues can be, even with the best of intentions. Westerners, she suggests, must learn to listen better and shows how it would benefit all. She reminds us that just because people don't have much money does not mean they are impoverished and gives examples.

Conversation 4

There's little as humbling as realizing our bodies are just meat, Ms. Montgomery recalls as she turns to her adventures among the man-eating tigers in India and Bangladesh. She vividly elaborates on the essential, life-affirming role of predators as told in her book, Spell of the Tiger. Man-eating tigers there are feared but not hated or hunted, she reports, then describes the world in which the tigers actually protect everyone. She tells of the essential roles played by the tiger god, the forest god and the local people. Once again, human greed enters the picture. She shares more stories of how tightly bound tigers are to the well-being of all. ĘCertain that the wholeness of the world is precious, she explains with examples why we must work to keep the fabric of the world intact.

Conversation 5

Mindful that it's important for us to know the devastation humans are causing all over the world, Ms. Montgomery points us toward real solutions, at the ready if we recognize that local people often have answers outsiders (Westerners) don't see. She gives examples from the Amazon and India. She contends that we while we have moved from hunter-gatherers to shopper-gatherers, we are still story-thinking creatures who must have our stories. She tells Amazon monster stories to make her point. She explains what effects she thinks her gender has and has not had in her travels. She honors her Hindu "family" in India.

Conversation 6

Ms. Montgomery tells us what she wants us to know about the Amazon -- it is both necessary and possible to keep it whole. With pointers for how to do that, she talks about how vital the Amazon is, from the air we breath to it's transformative powers. She gives us a preview of her next adventure and book.


The incomparable Elizabeth Marshall Thomas introduced us to Sy Montgomery's books. Ms. Thomas then welcomed us to New Hampshire, where she brought us together with Sy herself, and Sy's husband, Howard Mansfield. Next, Sy and Howard introduced us to their extended family -- Chris, their 10 year old pig, a bird sporting a gothic tale (sic), an excellent dogperson and a whole coop full of surprisingly friendly, approachable and quite beautiful chickens. A Great Time was had by all! And we thank all of those who made it so.

Related Links:

Journey of the Pink Dolphins is published by Simon and Schuster.

Spell of the Tiger and Ms. Montgomery's children's book, The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans, are both Houghton Mifflin books.

In May, 2007, we talked with Sy about her bestseller The Good Good Pig.

You'll find more about Sy Montg
omery (and her writer-husband Howard Mansfield,) at her (their) website. Sy tells more about herself, her tour schedule and her lastest projects, including a bibliography of her work.

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