Most of the people I admire outside of my family—I mean monumentally admire, not just appreciate—are women, probably because I can recite by heart the extra obstacles and hindrances they’ve overcome to get where they are. Among my favorites are Harper Lee, Georgia O’Keefe, Sally Ride (love the name), Sandra Day O’Conner, Dolly Parton, Joy Mangano and Oprah. What they seem to have in common is self-possession, and nerves of steel.
The name that came to mind immediately upon thinking about it is not an American, but she has fascinated me for years, as strongly as her subjects fascinated her. She is Jane Goodall, an Englishwoman who has always managed to look good in khaki shorts and clunky shoes, who followed her absorbing interest despite a lack of credentials, straight to the source. She was given a task that had gone begging for attention, and her approach and technique were just what was needed.
She was (and still is) so old school! She presented herself to the famous Louis Leakey, without credentials or sponsorship, and without any fear of being turned away. He sent her to a research station that was barely more than a tent and assigned her to study the behavior of chimpanzees. She sat down out in the bush and let them study her while she took notes on a steno pad; no "crew," no "metadata," no grids, graphs, or grand illusions.
She recorded days, sketched details, named the chimps, and eventually became part of their world. Now, in her 80’s, she has expanded her concern for the natural world to the whole world. She still looks people in the eye and conveys the idea that even you can do something. Her organization for children, called "Roots and Shoots," is designed to give children something valuable and challenging to do — of their own choice. There was one in New Concord when I went looking, though I couldn’t make contact. I thought a connection to the Wilds would be interesting.