Tim Low is a biologist and author of seven books. His bird book, Where Song Began, became the first nature book to win the Australian Book Industry Award for Best General Non Fiction. It was recommended by Scientific American and praised in the New York Review of Books. An earlier book, Feral Future, inspired the formation of a conservation group, the Invasive Species Council. Tim writes a blog for Australian Geographic and has a lizard named after him.
is In Wild Air
Donald Duck Comics
The most powerful creative influence on my life have been the Donald Duck comics by Carl Barks that I encountered from the age of four. With Donald and his nephews I became Lost in the Andes and a visitor to Old California. I discovered how powerfully the imagination can be stirred by words and images. I consider myself a story-teller for nature and from Carl Barks I learned about the nature of the story. I still have more than a hundred tattered comics dating back to 1959. I was only mildly surprised last year when the incoming president of Austria, the 72 year old economics professor Alexander Van der Bellen, declared his love of Donald Duck comics.
The Western imagination is cannibalising itself as today’s fantasy writers, overwhelmed by so much cinematic interpretation, invoke destiny and quests and special keys and rings and all the other stuff we know so well. Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki has an imagination far outside the mainstream. His Oscar-winning film Spirited Away offers an amazingly original vision of a fantasy world with a powerful ecological theme and no clear villain. His Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle are surprising as well. The forest glades, meadows, and gardens he portrays have a sublime and comforting beauty. Carl Barks made me receptive to good animation including the Miyazaki oeuvre, which deserves a bigger audience in the West.
The White Place
I spent one night on Antarctica, not enough to completely accept that bare white place as real. I sat in the twilight near the water’s edge as calving ice struck the sea sounding like cannon fire. A nearly dead continent today, Antarctica once had lush forests with marsupials, rainforests and even eucalypts. Now it has snow petrels that rise from icebergs as if large flakes of snow had suddenly come alive.
Much of the beauty around us is tiny and magnification can transport us to a different world more quickly than a flight on a plane. Sculptured seeds, armoured beetles, growths of mould, and furry leaves become dramatic when magnified. Some mosquitoes look extraordinary, with silvery scales and metallic sheens.
Beware of Confirmation Bias
We should always be challenging our beliefs. The western world is very conflicted today because of confirmation bias, the habit we all have of seeking out information that reinforces our existing beliefs while downplaying contradictory evidence. With the internet multiplying sources of information many Americans could convince themselves that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring from a pizza restaurant. Absurdities like that encourage the rest of us to think that confirmation bias doesn’t apply to us when it does. If we can recognise the weaknesses in our own belief systems we are better placed to understand those we would like to sway.
I like the adrenalin rush from a close encounter with a deadly snake. Brown snakes are dangerous but busy roads are much worse if you don’t know how to negotiate them. Because their venom operates slowly snakes gain nothing by harming us and almost never do. Roaming snakes have a liquid beauty that most people can’t enjoy because fear interferes. There are more snakes living among us than we realise but they are so skilled at evasion that an audience with one is a privilege.