My absolute favorite part of the Wizard of Oz is at the end when (spoiler alert) Toto, of all things, outs the charlatan Wizard and everyone discovers they already had what they’d been looking for the whole time. Enlightened human living: piece of cake. Especially since you can watch the two hour movie version, or even read my spoiler alert above, as a shortcut.
But the simplicity of that ending should lead us to ask… OK, so… then what? What’s Dorothy supposed to do on the other side of the Rainbow having found all those brains, all that courage, and the vast depths of her human heart? Just fly around like a Bluebird?
Apparently, she is supposed to go help our endangered local animals.
When most of us think of scientists, we think about their brains. If you’re like me and consume much too much media, you might suffer that subtle brainwashing that occurs when headlines like “Swedish Scientists Create Skunk/Rat Genetic Hybrids That Can Chew Through Steel” or “Are You Still Reading This? Scientists Said You Were Going To Die Yesterday!” are the ones that grab your attention. And so those clever reporters keep on dreaming up more of the same. The end result is a modernly-twisted stereotype of scientists as being some faceless mass of of cold-hearted, one-dimensional brainiacs, hopelessly mired in a rigid bureaucracy, haphazardly disturbing our world and constantly threatening to control us, or destroy us all, with their dangerous experiments and forbidden knowledges.
“Wait… is that a tear?” I whispered.
“Yes. Because we are bad humans, and this is difficult work,” responded Emily.
Down falls the curtain. That single tear was a wet little Toto, unmasking for me the many ridiculous biases about scientists that some ignorant, fearful voice in my head had erected so convincingly. Everything was suddenly upside-down as I realized I was actually in the presence of not some charlatan Wizards pretending to have all the answers, but instead a couple of enlightened Dorothies; two marvelously evolved, exceptionally inspiring, and mind boggling well-rounded people who were motivated by love, inspired by understanding, and, based on those two things, courageous enough to act despite all of the uncertainties, difficulties, and responsibilities that come with doing so. I suddenly found myself admiring them immensely, while at the same time, not envying them, at all!
I felt shamefully out of place when I recognized that I was in fact on the other side of the Rainbow, discovering what those rare few who have already found their brains, their hearts, and their courage can do in this world. I had once again grossly underestimated the depth of the people who do this type of work.
After that, I noticed all sorts of things. There would be another tear here or there as the stresses and the joys of such difficult work with such fragile creatures were finally allowed to flow as we left the PIPL family each time.
One time, I noticed Michelle sitting quietly, almost in a meditative pose, breathing slowly and trying to become as calm and focused as humanly possible before going anywhere near Tufters & Family. The pressure of getting everything just right and staying calm is immense.
I marveled at Emily’s continual state of high alert, scanning every detail and shaving off every second from the banding operation to minimize the disturbance as much as possible.
I heard them both repeatedly, and goofily, apologizing out-loud to the PIPL, telling them that we are sorry, telling them they are hurrying, telling them it will be O.K.
And I watched them both as they focused intently on their work, yet still always seeing their activity from the perspective of the animals, doing everything they possibly could to put them at ease… always positioning themselves so the chicks, and the parents, could both hear and see each other and know that everything was in fact going to be O.K.
Saving our local animals from extinction at our own hands is something we as people are capable of doing. We just need a few special people who care enough, who are smart enough, and probably most importantly, are brave enough, to do it.
Despite my deep, personal understanding for the need to study our last few remaining PIPL before we eradicate them completely, I still somehow saw the scientists coming to do the work as invaders coming to mess with my stuff. I could not have been more wrong. Instead what I discovered were two beautiful souls who loved these animals even more than I do, understood even more urgently the crappy situation we’ve put them in, and somehow found a courage to actually do something about it.
So now I walk my own Yellow Brick Road, more determined than ever to find the kind of heart, brains, and courage I’ve seen in Michelle Stantial and Emily Heiser.
And I’ll always be grateful that these two Dorothies, having discovered their gifts, decided not to just go home, but to come back and help our itty-bitty munchkins.
I now fully understand why there exists such a thing as “Hug A Scientist Day”
If you want to know more about about Michelle & Emily’s adventures around the state of New Jersey, and get some more details about the project, Emily has just posted and excellent introduction on The Conserve Wildlife Foundation Of NJ website. Click here to read Pondering The Plovers!