The Good Doctor Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall turns 80 today.

I met her once. More on that later. I have admired her for many years.

Back in 1960, at the age of 26, Jane left England to what is today Tanzania to enter the world of wild chimpanzees. She had a notebook and a pair of binoculars and not much more.

With great patience and observation she gained the trust of these initially shy creatures and came to understand their lives.

Nowadays, Jane Goodall is on the road more than 300 days per year. I was invited to a conference ten years ago in New York City for educators. I got into a line there for a hot drink and the woman in front of me was surprised and embarrassed to discover that you had to pay $3 for your coffee or tea. “Oh, my,” she said “I don’t have any money with me.” I offered to pay and only when she turned did I realize she was Jane Goodall.

She accepted my offer and then suggested we sit together with our drinks. I was starstruck. I knew she was the featured speaker that day. She was going to talk about her Roots and Shoots program. The Roots & Shoots program is about making positive change for people, animals and for the environment.  It involves tens of thousands of young people in more than 120 countries. Young people identify problems in their communities and take action. Jane truly believes that young people, when informed and empowered to realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world.

We drank out tea. I never said anything about her or her work. I didn’t ask for an autograph. She did all the questioning. She was interested in where I taught, what I taught and why I taught. She was very interested in my volunteer work for endangered species in my home state of New Jersey.  She thought that any work I was doing in my own local area was most valuable.

Her institute encourages lots of small local actions, including creating a sustainable home garden and building a habitat for local native wildlife.

Today, Jane’s work has gone beyond the chimpanzees and includes endangered species (that does include chimpanzees) and encouraging others to do their part. The Jane Goodall Institute works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, but recognizes this can’t be accomplished without a comprehensive approach that addresses the needs of local people who are critical to chimpanzee survival.

Dr. Jane is high on my list of the good people who live on our planet.

Today at 2 p.m. ET / 11 a.m. PT you can join Dr. Jane Goodall for a live-on-YouTube Google+ Hangout birthday party. The program will feature will feature projects from Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots groups completed in Dr. Jane’s honor, birthday wishes from around the globe and a special message from Dr. Jane herself.  A YouTube box will appear at the top of the page and all you will have to do is click play to tune in. You can join the hangout by posting questions on Google+, Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #80yearsofJane.

This Google+ Hangout on Air is hosted in conjunction with Google Earth Outreach and Connected Classrooms.


We Were An Island

“No man is an island, entire of itself,” wrote  John Donne.  And yet, Art and Nan Kellam bought an uninhabited island off the coast of Maine in 1949 and lived there for more than 35 years. They were quite content with little more than the company of each other. And they thought of themselves as an island.

I have been reading several books that I’ll share here about people who dis their own Walden kind of expereinece and it’s very easy to Romanticize those experiences into some kind of idyllic fantasy.  Though the story of the Kellams is appealing, you have to keep in mind that they had no electricity or running water, and heated the house they built with firewood from their forest. To fetch supplies, they rowed a dory several miles to the mainland and back.

They goal was self-sufficiency, so they were building things rather than buying them and  growing whatever foods they could. But that was more to stretch their limited money than it was to serve as models of good living or inspire a book.

Their story is told in We Were an Island: The Maine Life of Art and Nan Kellam by New Jersey native and conservationist Peter Blanchard III. The book is based largely on journals kept by the Kellams.

Their island was Placentia Island, a forested 550-acre island a few miles from Acadia National Park. They moved to the island to lead, like Thoreau, a simple life, free of technology and modern contrivances.

These are not Caribbean desert or deserted islands that are along the coast of Maine. More often than not, they are rocks in a cold ocean.

They lived there year round for nearly forty years.

The story is illustrated with historic photographs and recent photographs by David Graham. As much a story of a relationship that grew in isolation, it is also one of those tales of “living “off the grid” that I find appealing.

Don’t confuse them with anyone who has some idealistic, environmental, survivalist, sustainability movement behind their actions.  “They made a conscious decision to inhabit a world that they had total control over,” says Blanchard. And though they were not naturalists or conservationists when they took to the island, it would be hard not to say that they had a growing mindfulness and appreciation for not only nature’s beauty, but its power.

And in the end, they didn’t want to see their land destroyed or built on, so they turned to conservation and donated the island to the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy after retaining a “life estate” that allowed them exclusive use of Placentia during their lifetimes.

Blanchard learned of the Kellams when he volunteered for the Nature Conservancy. He  himself “owns” two islands near Placentia – Black Island and Sheep Island – that have been permanently preserved, and is part-owner of a third preserved island, Pond Island.

If you visit Placentia Island now (it is a public nature preserve), all you will find of the Kellams are some stone foundations and a square of cement with their footprints.

We Were an Island  is published by the University Press of New England