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  • Growing up I had always dreamed of walking the Gombi, living in the forest among the chimps who would become my family. I dreamed of being long, blond and ethereally beautiful just as Jane Goodall was and is, albeit less blond now. Neither of these dreams would come to pass, however. I've not even been to Africa and I dove into a gene pool that dictates I view the world from a squat, darkish place. Nonetheless these Jane dreams would manifest in my life in their own fashion, take on their own landscape, their own critter, but I would still approach it with the same zeal as Jane and would always deify her.

    While so many others make plans for their life, lay brickwork on a path of sorts to make their way easier, I've always stumbled down whatever opening I happened upon, for better or worse. Landing in ecology, doing field work, and then in conservation biology was no different. There was no thought as to how I could or did arrive anywhere, I just got there haphazardly.

    Looking back, I can't help but wonder if dreams of becoming Jane were subconsciously at work, driving me in that direction.

    Not unlike how the rest of my life accidentally unraveled, so too would I find myself in San Francisco among my conservation heroes, struggling to hold my jaw shut, scratching my head wondering how the hell I got there. Shuffled from one venue to the next, I found myself talking to people from all over the world who do amazing things: saving elephants, African Wild Dogs, Cotton-top Tamarins. I was an imposter among royalty, a mere side-kick among the super stars who were out saving wildlife, sporting an impressive amount of letters at the end of their name too.

    Invited to a gala dinner at a supporters home for this suite of hot shots and the elite who cheer them on, I was most concerned about seeing my childhood hero who was scheduled to speak. Giddy with excitement all evening awaiting Jane's arrival, I nervously watched the door.

    I just needed to catch a glimpse of her, that was all.

    In keeping with the accidental theme of my existence, I walked through the kitchen and saw signed copies of Jane's latest book set out on a table and, oddly, one of which included a card with my name on it. Merely a side-kick not a a centerpiece of this event, I knew this was an error and pointed it out to the power's that be.

    "Oops, funny, go ahead and take it!" were the words conveyed to me. The next sentence I heard gave me pause and I swear I stood in that expansive kitchen, clutching that book to my chest, staring in a daze for hours after: "And be sure to get it signed and your picture taken with Jane too."

    Truth be told I kind of wanted to puke on the woman's shoes when those words fell out of her mouth. I was dizzy with the notion of hearing my hero speak in person, but buddying up with her for even the briefest moment was incomprehensible.

    Shortly after choking down my anxiety, Jane walked through the door. It was interesting to see the pull this woman has on people. A palpable awe swept over the crowd and as people would walk away from her, tears would stain their cheeks.

    I would watch her the following day at a convention center as she moved through the crowd and you could hear people audibly weeping in shock and surprise at the sight of her, trying to get words out, to say something to her, but the words would get lost in a tangle of emotion.

    Through it all she would nod quietly.

    I entered the room where she was sitting, heart pounding in my ears. Someone waved me over and there I found myself sitting face-to-face with my hero. We talked briefly if at all, mostly she said she was extremely tired and then we fell into silence.

    We sat there for a moment and I looked at her and saw a woman, a completely exhausted human being. She wasn't some deity, but someone more like me in so many ways and somehow in this sliver of clarity I grasped so much. Listening to her assistant move her onto the next task and discussing the agenda for the next day, I realized the super-human characteristic of this woman was the pace she kept up that would have long ago crushed me.

    She is, however, just that: human.

    What sits with me most powerfully today about that meeting and that I carry with me in that picture is that my hero isn't some other-worldly God, she's human, and there is a bigness, a kind of magic even, in this being humanness.

    Along with all our damn foibles, we're a pretty spectacular species capable of astounding Jane-like feats.
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