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Dreams of Rainforest Biology: When I Grow Up

Little girls want to be just like their mothers, and I was no exception. My mom was an entertainment lawyer for Motown Records; naturally, when I grew up, I wanted to be an attorney, too. My parents loved hearing me tell strangers, in my precocious, five-year-old voice, “I want to be a lawyer, just like my mommy!” Adorable, right? Clearly, I didn’t know what lawyers do, or I would’ve run screaming in the other direction.

My career plans took a sharp turn when I went on a trip to Costa Rica with my seventh-grade biology class. Students had two options for out-of-state field trips: Washington, DC, or Costa Rica. Visiting our nation’s capital was blasé, lame, and only for kids with no imagination. (Even at twelve, I was a snob.) After all, why stare at the Lincoln Memorial when you could play with spider monkeys?

Costa Rica was magical: giant spiders invaded our camp, rainbow-colored butterflies fluttered overhead in huge swarms, and we played soccer with local children. While traipsing through the rainforest, my eccentric biology teacher stopped to show us a horde of Atta columbica (leaf-cutter ants) carrying absurdly large leaves back to their colony. “See, kids?” he exclaimed. “This is the delicate symbiosis between flora and fauna in action!”

Who cared that we never had hot water, that I wore ten times more DEET than the CDC allows, or that we ate baked beans every night? I felt alive. Then and there, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life in a rainforest, charting simian migration and observing curious ant behavior. I would be a rainforest biologist!

My dreams ended abruptly when I realized I wasn’t good at biology. But I still love to observe animals in their natural habitat … so thank goodness for eco-tourism. Next on my agenda: a photographic safari in South Africa. Tallyho! 

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