Back when I was studying in Australia, I was part of a group of 15 students traveling around to different ecosystems and learning about the natural and cultural ecology. Being me, I was completely fascinated by the natural world around me, but my enthusiasm was apparently too much for the other students on the program (many of whom seemed to be more interested in the night life at the clubs than in the forest). As such, it was a bittersweet time for me, a blend of pure joy and discovery coupled with an ostracized loneliness. I felt so different than the other students, I often wondered if I was an alien.*
But there was one night when the other students had their own experience of feeling like outsiders. We were nightspotting for possums high in the rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands. We each head headlamps that lit the trail dimly, and shared between all of us three powerful spotlights that could light up a tree like day, but only had 20 minutes total of battery power.
We all quickly burned through our higher powered lights, checking out every rustle and branch for possums. After that, we couldn’t spot much wildlife and the other students became loud and rambunctious, laughing and playing as we wound our way through the dark velvet of the dense trees. I soon started lagging behind the others, both because I was annoyed at their volume, which was scaring away any wildlife and because I had to keep stopping to check out insects and spiders next to the trail. The professor stayed back with me, rolling his eyes at them.
Mist slowly closed around us. I could still hear them down the trail ahead of me and I could faintly see the light through the trees. Then I heard one student shrieking. She was loud enough that I could hear her clearly. “I think it was a boar!” she exclaimed (we had been warned about how dangerous the invasive boars were earlier that day), “I heard it rustling in the forest!”
The students clustered tightly together, sweeping the forests around them with their dim headlamps, giggling and talking. The professor looked at me and put a finger to his lips, then he vanished into the forest. I was intrigued, but I stayed where I was. I moment later I heard a roar and several screams, and then the students came sprinting back past me along the trail, white as ghosts. The professor followed slowly a few minutes behind them, looking pleased with himself.
I later learned that he had leapt out of the forest at them, shouting, “Was it like this?!” and roaring at the top of his lungs.
As a class, we decided to make t-shirts commemorating that moment.
*One of the professors on the trip once took me aside to kindly explain the situation, “The reason that nobody likes you,” he said, “Is because you’re a know-it-all. You answer too many questions. You’re too eager.”
“Nobody likes me?” I responded, teary-eyed. Alas, poor young SOIMF. So awkward among humans. So comfortable in the forest.
Some things never change.