“One touch of Nature,” wrote William Shakespeare, “makes the whole world kin.” Why then, is man’s coexistence with the diverse creatures great and small with whom he shares the planet such a fragile – and often destructive – relationship? In his first book, The Spirits of Birds, Bears, Butterflies and All Those Other Wild Creatures, author Dennie Williams offers his perspectives on environmental preservation, interspecies communications, and the need to recognize that we’re all in this together.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: So tell us what your new book – and hopefully the first of many! – is all about.
A: This is a book of true to life nature tales emphasizing animal and bird interaction and communications with humans. The tales start with a short poem about Chickadees and end with a poetic tour through the Costa Rican jungle. The book opens with a prologue relating how I became fascinated with animals and birds through family influences and experiences. Then, in an introduction, it explains the significance of interactions and spiritual communications among birds, animals and other creatures with humans. Finally, it starts with the first of sixteen true stories or descriptive chapters of interesting interaction among people and birds and animals.
One of the critical issues facing the world today is the vital obligation to preserve and protect the environment. As a result of the momentum of destruction of nature world-wide, it will take generations, if ever, to repair all the damage. Hopefully the erosion, already generations old, will not continue at its present pace. But, whatever happens, children, teenagers and adults need to educate themselves as much as possible to the very soul of nature. This book and its short stories are a small and humble effort at catching the attention of as many readers as possible to the need to appreciate wildlife and the actuality that wild creatures can and do communicate their vital needs to people around them, even if they don’t listen or observe the many attempted interactive approaches to them by the non-human world.
Once people, at as early an age as possible, become educated to the needs of wild life, the less destructive they will be toward nature during their lifetimes, and perhaps they will even become devoted to help the causes of all living beings including those humans other than themselves. If the skill to appreciate nature and interact with wild creatures is honed at an early age, it becomes almost impossible not to take up or support environmental protection causes as one grows older.
Q: If there were a single quote in the book that summed up its takeaway value, what would it be?
A: “As kind as people are to animals, birds, fish and other living creatures, they have to think more about those creatures’ innate desires for freedom and independence. Above all, humans need empathy toward wild animals, birds and all other untamed critters. If more of them expressed it, nature could flourish in wider areas worldwide and man-made pollution disasters might decrease in kind. Can you imagine poisoning, torturing or intentionally running over a rabbit, squirrel or roadside crow? I can’t! Then how do corporations operated by people endlessly pollute the air, water and earth where wildlife lives?”
Q: And yet these practices not only continue to exist but also escalate. Are we sowing the seeds of our own destruction in our disregard for the planet and its non-human inhabitants?
A: Even as I was writing this book, my own concern for wildlife has grown so much that sometimes I have a very hard time reading, watching or listening to its incredible destruction during wide spread forest fires, hurricanes, oil spills, munitions explosions in war and after war or every day pollution of the air by nuclear plants, factories or just plain exhaust from hundreds of cars I pass by with my own car every week. And, yet for all of my working life I was a news reporter writing hundreds of stories of environmental disasters including investigative human health tales involving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The environmental decimation of those wars, particularly from radiation dust caused by depleted uranium munitions, will impact on nature, wild creatures and humans in the Middle East for untold numbers of years. Radiation is hard if not impossible to eradicate and some say its hazards can last billions of years. And yet it seems news reports about its repercussions as well as the health effects of depleted uranium contamination and other huge environmental disasters focus on harm to people but not wild creatures, the earth or the oceans.
Q: Is there any bright spot we can draw to?
A: The nature tales in this book look largely upon the positive side of the relationships among people and wild creatures. They are lively, poetic and funny stories all with a focus on interaction, not always friendly, among people and birds and animals. Some of them involve my own experiences at all ages.
In order to put those stories and the book in perspective, I open up with my own family background, not as an ego trip, but to show how I very gradually became a kind of minor league nature fanatic. On the other hand, however, the first short story, “Blueberries, Butterflies and The Pig,” explains, how only at a late age, as a so called senior citizen, I finally realized there exists a spiritual, fascinating and inspiring interaction among humans and wild creatures, in this case butterflies, and people. Of course, that only occurs if the person already has a sensitive and regular appreciation of wild creatures. After some weeks of thinking about these butterfly experiences, it occurred to me that I and some close friends had a reservoir of experiences interacting with birds and animals.
Just as inspiring still was doing some extensive research on communications among humans and wild creatures and discovering it was not just my imagination. My thinking wasn’t craziness, it related to the real world! That research is part of the introduction to the short stories and is necessary to create credibility with the reader.
Q: So what inspired you to roll up your sleeves and put pen to paper…or fingers to the keyboard?
A: I was picking blueberries one beautiful, sunny day in a patch 10 or 12 miles from home, when a butterfly suddenly landed on my out stretched hand. I began showing it first to my wife then to several other pickers before I saw two young children, a boy and a girl, just outside the patch laughing and rolling down a grassy hill. Loudly, I asked them if they would like to see my pet butterfly and warned the boy to stop running toward me, as his curiosity overwhelmed him. He rushed on next to me and scared the butterfly 30 or 40 feet into the air.
“See what I told you!? You scared my pet butterfly away,” I exclaimed. But a second later, the boy exclaimed, “No, it’s on your ear!” I told the boy he must be mistaken. Then, suddenly, my wife appeared from out of the patch and said, I thought with sarcasm, “Yes, it’s on your ear.”
So I walked carefully over to the blueberry selling shack and asked the sales lady if she could see my butterfly. She confirmed its presence and quickly warned me that her two friendly dogs were approaching. Sure enough, one of them scared the butterfly up into the sky and away forever. Two days later, I was shocked when I remembered that about ten years earlier I had experienced another wild butterfly episode in Barnard, Vermont. There on a porch near a pond on a beautiful day, a local character took me by surprise and started telling me a wild tale. As he did, two white butterflies began flying just over his head with their flights matching the excitement of his tale. They did so until he finished and then quickly disappeared into the sky and over the pond.
Q: Would we be right to assume that you’re an animal lover?
Q: When do you recall first taking such an interest in creatures of the wild?
A: I have followed the flights and eating habits of all sorts of birds on my feeders ever since I was a little boy. I loved seeing moose and bears in the forests of Canada and the Wild West.
Q: Did you work from a formal outline or did you allow the content to just flow from consciousness once you started to write?
A: In writing the book, I composed each story soon after it was told to me. Then I sent a copy to those being interviewed to make sure it was accurate. Then, I organized the investigation of the reality of interaction and communications among wild creatures and people. Next, I felt I needed to explain to the readers about my own life and family experiences as they related to my love of wild critters.
Q: How much research was involved in pulling all of the elements together?
A: My research on the Internet about interactions among people and all sorts of animals, birds and fish went on for months. Of particular help in proving the book’s thesis was the Internet’s YouTube which has dozens of videos showing wild creatures communicating and interacting with all sorts of people.
Q: Was it your style to do all of the research first or to start writing and do the research as you went along?
A: I did this research before I wrote the book to prove the existence of these extraordinary relationships among humans and the wild creatures of all sorts.
Q: By profession, you’re an investigative reporter. How different are the experiences of investigative reporting and the nuts and bolts of being an author of a book?
A: My investigative reporting for almost five decades was instrumental in writing the book because credibility, particularly involving this rare subject, is essential. Since the book involves short stories, the ability to write them was not that much different from checking out, interviewing and writing a news story.
Q: Who do you see as the book’s target demographic?
A: I believe the book is intriguing for most lovers of nature, but it is particularly inspiring for young adults because they need to learn that wild creatures can and do interact and communicate with people; and once they do, they may have more respect for preserving the environment, not only for themselves and other people, but for birds, bees, bears, butterflies and other beautiful wild critters.
Q: What impact did the development and writing of this book have on your own life? Do you feel that you see things differently now than you did before?
A: This nature book increased my appreciation of wild creatures tenfold because I had not the slightest idea that they had this people-inspiring capability to be so spiritual and friendly. As a result, I now often have trouble even thinking about swatting an annoying insect!
Q: What is the most amazing interaction you have ever heard about between humans and wild creatures?
A: I believe the most amazing interaction ever was the one shown on 60 Minutes in which Anderson Cooper followed “The Sharkman” into the ocean without being in a cage below South Africa and played a simple game of letting white sharks, the most dangerous of those creatures, bump them with their noses. After a couple of bumps, The Sharkman grabbed one of the shark’s fins and took a short ride. This is all on film!
Q: Why is it important to realize that wild creatures indeed interact and communicate in their own manners with humans?
A: As I hinted earlier, it is critical for humans to realize the communication skills of wild creatures because it makes them think that all environments need to be preserved, not only for us, but for animals, birds, fish and insects.
Q: How did you go about proving to yourself and, ultimately, to your future readers that these dynamics are critical to understand?
A: The content of the nature book itself deals with stories that prove this reality, and that is why I think the younger the reader, the better. So it was my investigation, leading up to the writing, that convinced me of the truth of what I was to compose. That probe is written into the book to convince others as well that these dynamics of nature are indeed critical to understand.
Q: How can readers benefit the most from this realization and which ones might benefit most?
A: If people begin to accept this inspiring reality, it means maybe we will have a remote chance of keeping the earth healthy and livable.
Q: Spirituality is an overarching theme throughout the book. What is your own definition of this state of being? Do you believe it exists in the animal kingdom or is it an anthropomorphic trait we ascribe to them?
A: Spirituality is the essence of keeping this thought forever in your mind and doing all you can possibly do to think of kindness and to think of helping others to include all living things including plants. And, indeed, spirituality is a reality for any living being desiring to communicate and preserve any other living being.
Q: It’s often said that our dogs understand more of what we’re saying to them than we understand about what they’re trying to say to us. Do you believe this same disconnect exists in the “wild” world?
A: There is no question that, like pet dogs, wild creatures frequently understand much more than people ever think they do. Although children with imaginations, sometimes know how pets and wild creatures communicate with them.
Q: Can hunters truly say they’re concerned about survival of critters in the wild when they are, in fact, hunting them?
A: Within the book, I describe the rather complicated ethical thoughts and actions good, competent and caring hunters have about killing animals and birds. American Indians taught some of them these lessons. We must remember that long ago, in order to survive, cavemen killed animals and hunted them, much as animals do to other creatures. During those times, however, it seemed from all the ancient tales that those ancient hunters only took down what they needed to survive. They didn’t go out and plant almost tamed pheasants in wooded areas, and then grab their shotguns to pursue the game they had just released.
Q: Environmental change, habitat destruction and human intervention have collectively contributed to the extinction of countless animals since the dawn of mankind. An alarming number of these have been within the past century. What’s your reaction when you encounter such statistics and what do you think we should be doing about it?
A: My reaction to this incredible destruction is partial disbelief that some people, many of them political leaders with powers to pass laws and enforce them, are incredibly egocentric, ignorant, thoughtless and cruel. Those leaders, aware of the potential disasters of the future, need to assemble in the United Nations or elsewhere, anywhere, and create a plan to stop the slow disintegration of our planet.
Q: Now that you’ve written your first book, what do you know now about the world of publishing that you didn’t know when you first began?
A: The writing, publishing and now the marketing of this nature book was indeed one of the toughest experiences of my life. Very, very few in the publishing business have any time at all to help a first-time author. Many agents and publishers don’t answer emails, phone calls or letters. For a first time author to get a book published and marketed they must be famous, infamous, rich or lucky beyond belief.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: My book plate of the future is empty and I would find it hard to believe I could ever create another one. But if the inspiration hits me hard enough, I will! It sure helps to have been an investigative reporter because the tasks involved with that job are often so difficult and nerve wracking that patience and determination are the only qualities allowing one to get all the tasks done.
Readers can learn more about The Spirits of Birds, Bears, Butterflies and All Those Other Wild Creatures at http://birdscrittersbutterflies.webs.com/.