The Roots of My Obsession

“When did you realize you that this was something that you were meant to write?” a friend asked. “Was there one thing that flipped the switch for you?”

Someone asked me the other day what it was that set me off, in the beginning. I’d probably been at it again, talking about tortoises in my circular-breathing style that makes it hard for anyone to get a word in edgewise.

“When did you realize this was something that you were meant to write?” the friend asked, waiting for a moment of weakness when I stopped for air. “Was there one thing that flipped the switch for you?” I didn’t have a good answer.

For sure, I feel certainty that taking a very specific approach to writing about tortoises is indeed my purpose, possibly the first of several future purposes. But where did the light bulb go off in my head? Do I have an origin story?

What I can do is point to two significant events, or influences, that happened to me within a two-year period. The first was a profile of Eric Goode in the January 15, 2012 issue of The New Yorker titled “A Manhattan night-life baron’s race to save an ancient species,” written by William Finnegan. The second was a trip to the Galapagos Islands in December of 2013.

The New Yorker article took me up and away — it was a compellingly well written and reported profile of someone working to save tortoises halfway around the world. I immediately recognized it as the type of story, and the kind of journalism, that I loved to read and more importantly that I wanted to write. Almost two years later I found myself at the front lines of ecological conservation and seeing the incredible tortoises of the Galapagos Islands up-close and personal. That experience sealed it, and by the time I got home from the trip I’d already jotted several pages of ideas about what storytelling about tortoises, from a global perspective, might look like.

The thought went dormant, and the notes shoved into a folder, where they remained for a number of years until my circumstances changed and I was ready for my new purpose. Then everything came to life again. It’s not any more complicated than that.