Lately, like for the past year or 10, I’ve been really keen to read about animals.
I like to read about all kinds of different animals – land and sea and sky and trees and underground animals – all are equally intriguing to me.
I’m not sure what I’m looking for, precisely….perhaps a closer connection with the natural world, or a greater sense of wonder at its diversity, or (most likely) a unifying thread that explains why animals can often make me feel better, peaceful, more at ease in my own skin, even when people can’t.
The most recent animal I’ve been reading about is the tree kangaroo.
This is a very unusual animal, in that the only kangaroo I was aware of looks nothing like this one and has no interest in tree climbing. In fact, in the place where the kangaroos I knew about live in Australia, mostly they are already as tall as the trees, so there wouldn’t be a need to climb them. Plus they weigh about 200 pounds each, which would mean the moment they tried to climb any trees, those trees would likely fall right over.
But this new kangaroo is small and loves to climb trees. It lives in the cloud rain forests of Papua New Guinea, where all the trees are really tall. And since it only weighs about 25 pounds, any tree it wanted to climb probably wouldn’t even know it was there. Tree kangaroos also don’t really look like kangaroos. For starters, their arms and legs are all equal lengths. Plus, their faces look more like bears. And they have really large, soft, pink noses.
The tree kangaroo was actually only discovered in 1990, by which time it was already considered endangered and rare. So now people are fighting to save it. Some of those people are scientists, others are students, still others are veterinarians, photographers, writers, artists, biologists, and some are simply animal lovers who want to help vulnerable species survive.
Sy Montgomery wrote a book about the plight of the tree kangaroos called “Quest for the Tree Kangaroo.” To research for the book, she went to Papua New Guinea with a group of other specialists to see tree kangaroos face to face.
One of her fellow specialists was a young artist named Robin. During their quest, he spent much of his free time making watercolors of local flora and fauna. At one point, as Sy tells it, he climbed up a tree and came back down with a watercolor of a lovely orchid. Then Robin told the team,
My mentor said this to me about my artwork. If you believe in something, chase it, and chase it as much as you can – you’ll be a happy person. Well, you can see how happy I am.
I thought this was so beautiful – and so spot-on. If you believe in something, chase it. Chase it and keep chasing it, because there is something for you there.
I am lucky to know a number of other creative-minded people. Often, I notice that creative people tend to have trouble believing in themselves. It is not uncommon to hear self-criticism tumbling out of a talented creative person’s mouth.
But Robin’s mentor didn’t say you had to believe in yourself. He said you have to believe in something….for him, it was art.
For many years, I believed in music. I believed in its power to explore, explain, express, heal, soothe and connect. So I wrote songs and recorded albums of those songs and shared the songs with others in concerts and just immersed myself in all things music.
During those years, I never felt very self-confident about me and my talent. But I believed wholeheartedly in music. So I chased and chased and chased it, and I found what it had for me and it healed me.
These days I am chasing writing – words and their power to connect, heal, educate, inspire, express – and I just keep chasing and chasing them. I believe in words. I don’t always believe in my ability to use words, and definitely I often doubt my mastery of words, but I believe fully in the words themselves. I have always loved to read and write, and the more I chase words, the more wisdom they have for me to learn.
When I first read Robin’s words, tucked deep in the middle of a book about the endangered tree kangaroos, they seemed to be misplaced somehow – like, shouldn’t those particular words be in another, different book? Maybe one about the creative process or making art or choosing a career?
But then I realized his words were perfectly placed – he was there following two things he believed in: art and saving endangered animals. How beautiful!
Just to have two things you believe in so deeply and fully, to travel all the way to Papua New Guinea (like, where is that, exactly?) AND take all your art supplies along with you AND have that special artist’s eye to notice all the wild beauty and mystery around you AND bring it back in the form of art to share with others…..WOW.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you have something you’ve been chasing that is mentoring and teaching you? Or have you been thinking about chasing something you really believe in, but you’ve been letting issues of self-confidence stop you? What if you just shifted your focus away from you and towards whatever-it-is that you feel so passionately about?