Who am I? This is not an easy question to answer. But I can tell you some of the things I have done, at least as they have anything to do with this website.
I was born in the smallish northern Pennsylvania town of Warren in May 1946. From the age of six, I grew up in a house four miles outside of town where my life centered around farming and woods buddies, school and Boy Scouts (I became and Eagle Scout and Order of the Arrow). As a Scout, I cleaned the grave of Seneca Chief Cornplanter before it was moved to make way for the Kinzua Dam. I read a lot about far-away places.
My father’s side of the family descended from the Scotch-Irish stock of Appalachia settlers. There was a professional hunter among them – who was also a Civil War Sharpshooter. Others were teamsters or worked in the oil and gas industry. My mother’s side were of German heritage. My maternal grandfather was Dean of Liberal Arts at Penn State when he died young. I inherited his name. Between that, my own college career, both parents, one brother and one niece, Penn State was and still is in our blood.
I was also an artist from a young age. I remember submitting a drawing of Mickey Mouse to Disney in sixth grade (did not get the job). There is a photo of me in my high school senior yearbook doing an oil painting, hair combed back in the super cool style of the day (1964).
Twenty years later (life gets in the way) I would earn my PhD from Lund University in Sweden in Sociology and Social Anthropology. My work had a foot in deep theory (systems and evolution) and another in the field – in my case, in India. Post-doctoral work took me from India, to Borneo, to Appalachia, and to Canada where my focus was (and still is) on people of the forests and on their place in the health of the ecosystem. Here is a 1990 photo of me deep in the hills of Uttarakhand, India, where most of my fieldwork was done.
And here are some children in the Borneo rainforest.
While we are on the subject of children, how did I transition from academic anthropology to children’s books?
I would like to see my work now in the Autumn of my life, to contribute to the increasingly pressing need to communicate, not only to share facts but to reach into people’s hearts to understand Nature and both what threatens it as well as its wonder. Children are a very important part of this. They are the future, and they are willing to listen and be touched.
In fact, when I was visiting the Corbett Tiger Reserve in India in 1999 as part of an effort to develop an applied anthropology project in forest and tiger conservation, I had taken my watercolors with me to make studies of the local people. At one point I asked the local people what they thought I could do to best share the message of saving the forest and the tiger and someone said: “Why not write a children’s book?” I was hooked. No more academic treatises on bookshelves. No more competing for college posts. And I would get to do what I loved most doing: art (people and forests); taking facts and making stories from them (the writer in me that grew out of the anthropology); and finding a way to bring an important message out to as many as possible within the communities that would make a difference globally.
The message of conservation needs to focus among communities – the people who live near the forests (and its animals such as the tiger) as well as those far away. All of us share this world with the tiger – and not only the tiger. We share this world with all living things. We breathe the same air. We feel the same wind. How could I combine my approach to anthropology with my art to create messages for children?
The book Did Tiger Take the Rain? was born.