words by JANE GOODALL  photographed by BRUCE WEBER

 

Jane Goodall PhD, DBE Founder – the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace

When I think of the powerful influences in my life my mind at once goes to my family and friends. I was fortunate to have a supportive mother, etc. And today there is my sister, a very powerful influence as she lives in the house where we grew up, the house we jointly own, and “keeps the home fires burning”.  Otherwise, as I travel 300 days a year, I would have no home base of any sort. This is where I am writing from, and this is where all my belongings are, books not only from my own childhood, but my mother’s and aunts’ as well. Family and home – indeed a powerful source of strength. When I was a child, books exerted a powerful influence over my life. This was especially so because Television had not been invented then, and we could not afford the cinema. When I read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes (I found a very cheap copy in a second hand bookshop), I fell in love with Tarzan. (I was insanely jealous when he married the wrong  Jane!). And that was when I determined that when I grew up I would go to Africa, live with wild animals, and write books about them. Once again, my mother supported this dream, though everyone else laughed at me, told me to focus on something I could actually achieve. Music and poetry have always played an important role in my life. I was never tempted to learn an instrument, but my grandmother played the piano, self taught, and the notes of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata drifted through my window on the warm summer nights of my childhood. I was first moved to tears by Mendelsohn’s Violin Concerto, when I was about 17.  After that I went to concerts of classical music as often as I could, and was always uplifted. There was a time in my life, after my divorce from my first husband, that I was very depressed. And this was when I was almost overwhelmed by the power of music. As I went early one morning into Notre Dame, in Paris, the sun was shining through the great Rose Window, and just then the organ sounded the stirring notes of Bach’s Tocata in GMinor. (It had been chosen by a young couple for their wedding service).

And I was overcome by a sense of the meaning of life, all life, my own life.  The reason I was on Earth.  My depression vanished, I metaphoricaly rolled up my sleeves, went out into the world, and tackled life head on.

And what power is given when people believe in you. Dr. Louis Leaky chose me to study not just any animals, but chimpanzees, the ones most like us. His faith in me kept me going in the very difficult days when the chimps ran away from the peculiar white ape that was me. And at the same time there was my mother. She came for 4 months (the authorities would not, at first, take responsibility for a young girl on her own in the forest). She boosted my morale, pointing out all the things I was learning from The Peak, a place from which I could look out over two valleys and observe the chimpanzees through my binoculars. “Jane, I know you can do it!” I wonder how many times I heard that from Leakey and Mum. Another hugely powerful  forces in my life is Mother Nature. It is when I am on my own in a forest (especially my beloved Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where for so many years we have studied chimpanzees), that I am so aware of  the wisdom that emanates from ancient trees, and sense the interconnectedness of all the myriad forms of plant and animal life that contribute to the forest ecosystem. And lying on my back at night, on the sandy beach of Lake Tanganyika, and gazing up into the beauty, the awe inspiring immensity, of the star studded night sky. One final word – the love I have for animals, the bonds between them and me. It was not only the scientific desire for knowledge that kept me out in the field, year after year. It was the connections I felt with some of the chimpanzees in the early years of my study. Old Flo, the wise supportive mother who dared anything for her children. Poor timid Olly, with a goiter on her neck, who tended to avoid big groups. And her little daughter Gilka who become wild with delight when they did join a group, and “showed off” like crazy, turning somersaults and pirouetting for sheer joy. And  then there was David greybeard, my favourite chimpanzee of all time, who showed me that we humans are not the only beings who use and make tools, thus helping us to cross the barrier once assumed to exist between us and all other animals. And as I gradually learned the life histories of so many others, watching how coped with life in the forest, found their place in society. Played and laughed when food was plentiful.  How they grieved over the death of a family Indeed one youngster, Flint, could not cope after his mother passed on. He died of grief. But my real love was for Rusty, the dog with whom I shared my childhood. The wise teacher who enabled me to stand up to the professors at Cambridge who told me that I should have numbered and not named the chimpanzees, and that I could not talk about them having personalities, minds or emotions as those were all unique to us. My love for Rusty, and his for me, was one of the most powerful forces in my childhood, along with the love we had for each other within my family.