When I was eight, I began spending my summers living with my grandparents out on Shelter Island in New York. Far from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, I spent my days running around with a frenetic energy in the ocean, bike paths, and a musty cottage. During this time, I developed a love of the natural world and a fascination with the fellow animals I would encounter: jellyfish that stung me, deer that would walk across my path on late nights I slept outside on the deck, and osprey that would show up every evening at five to search for crabs near the beach. Unbeknownst to me, my grandfather would observe me on my daily adventures, and he once described me as having a reckless abandon for life. This description can sometimes prove detrimental due to my tendency towards impatience and desire to figure everything out at once. However, it has also meant that I’ve never been short on passion. In the field of conservation, one needs passion because it is that passion, or love, that pushes you forward. I recently heard a quote that reminded me of the answer that I give people who ask how I keep going despite the seemingly hopeless and uphill battles facing our planet:
“The assumption is that hope is a prerequisite for action. Without hope one becomes depressed and then unable to act. I want to stress that I do not act because I have hope. I act whether I have hope or not. It is useless to rely on hope as motivation to do what’s necessary and just and right. Why doesn’t anybody ever talk about love as motivation to act? I may not have a lot of hope but I have plenty of love, which gives me fight. We are going to have to fall in love with place again and learn to stay put.” (Janisse Ray, The seed underground: A growing revolution to save food)
As anyone who has ever undertaken something lengthy such as a dissertation or worked on a task that feels insurmountable, there are many days where hope feels unattainable or even realistic. For me, on the days where I’ve felt discouraged or hopeless, I am reminded of my own reckless abandon that I got to enjoy as a child who was lucky enough to learn that the world is bigger than she is. That love then, is what keeps me going, and it gives me the fight to figure out how to change the rules of the conservation game that we’ve been playing incorrectly all of these years. My advisor, Cindi, has often (jokingly) asked me if I’m writing a dissertation or a library, and it’s partially because of my impatience (endearing eagerness?) that I’m trying to change the system all at once. I know that this is not possible, so what I’ve written here is the first step of many in a lifelong pursuit of my love for people, place, and the animals with whom we have the privilege to share our lives.
On that note, there are a few wild animals in particular that have helped my own love stay strong as I’ve gone about these endeavors. First and foremost, my grandfather, David Jaicks, is arguably the best person I’ve ever known, and my favorite carnivore of all. I miss him every day because he gave me the emotional support and patience that this wide-eyed wild child needed to find her sense of grounding. He, along with my grandmother Nancy, helped me to create the roots that keep me firm in who I am today, and they never let me forget that I matter. Nancy, I am grateful that you continue to remind me of this grounding. Another beloved carnivore of mine is Jean. You are more than a teacher and a mentor; you are a constant source of strength that inspires me to show up for life every day ready to begin again. My friends, a mix of college, New York, Philly, family, graduate school, and Montana creatures who somehow find my eccentricities loveable: Will, Emily R., Daniel R., Donna, Patrick, Julie, Andy, Kathleen, Anna, Nick, Emily D., Jeff, Bryce, Scott, Lizzy, Jen P., Jen T., Sruthi, David Agar Jaicks, Bill Jaicks, Steve, Rebekka, Kyle, Logan, J.R., Bess, and Jurgen; I am a more loving and grateful person because of you. My parents, Dawn and Bryan, your support is eternally appreciated. Not many people would drive eight hours through the night to take their daughter to go see Jane Goodall, only to return that same day. Getting to jump to the front of the two-hour line for her autograph because I came the farthest of anyone else is something I will never forget. My teachers that have guided me and supported my love of learning: Dr. Hagelin, Dr. Rablen, Ms. Carson, Mr. Minsky, Mr. Kahan, Mr. Krauthamer, Ms. Franco, Mr. Carson, Sra. Kantor, Dr. Schwartz, Dr. Sloan, and Dr. Pagnotta, who you are has made a world of difference to me. My committee and advisors: Cindi, Roger, Caitlin, Susan, and Bill, without you I would never have been able to dream up and undertake such an incredible project. Finally, to the nonhuman animals I’ve been fortunate enough to know, including my beloved Luce, Devon, Molly, Sandi, Sunny, and Teddy as well as the warthogs, hyenas, bats, penguins, monkeys, gorillas, orangutans, lemurs, giraffes, and wallabies I’ve met around the world, thank you. It is because of you that my reckless abandon, or love, is so strong, and I dedicate this dissertation to all of you.
And now my fellow wild things, onward…