Thesis Journey: Remembering a Past Life

This post details events that took place in Humboldt County, California. Oregon Ensatina Showing Unken Reflex by Natalie McNear. CC BY-NC 2.0

I said in an earlier post that my final thesis topic, while unforeseen, was strangely appropriate. I also wrote that I would explain why that is – as well as how I ended up studying wildlife television. I will now attempt to do so without being completely boring.

As I have claimed before, I long suspected that my future career would be in environmental and science communication. So when I finally accepted that studying in Belize was not the best option right now, I decided focus my master’s thesis on environmental communication.

While my time at Humboldt State had led to some great experiences, I was ready to get on with my life. Here are some skunk tracks I saw during an Acoustic Ecology workshop.

My first inclination was to keep my thesis as simple as possible. I had been in school for far too long, and I wanted out.

Consequently, I selected the rather unglamorous option of doing a literature review. I would gather as much of the published information on environmental writing as I could, synthesize it, and so uncover the most effective ways to write about the environment.

Then one day – I truly do not remember when – I saw a flier about a talk being held in Humboldt State University’s (HSU) Wildlife Building. It would be about wildlife filmmaking.

Despite my enthusiasm for the natural world, I have mostly lived in suburban and urban areas. Even when I resided in rural locations, like Humboldt County, I had limited access to the stunning natural spaces nearby. Thus, wildlife and nature-oriented television was often my escape; shows like Survivorman and River Monsters allowed me to ‘see’ remote locations that I would probably never get to visit.

Even though the ‘Lost Coast’ of northern California is gorgeous, transportation difficulties and school responsibilities meant I usually had to stay in town. This photo was taken during one of my rare forays into the mountains.

There is also the matter of my old hobby of filmmaking. My high school started a film club while I was there, and they began to make feature-length films two years before I graduated. I helped out with both of the films we tried to make (only one of which we finished): serving as an actor.

While our efforts were amateur and clumsy, I found the filming process to be quite fun. We would gather after school, stumble through the day’s scenes, and have a good time; the camaraderie that we developed on set was well worth the baggy eyes and rushed homework assignments.

As a result of my enthusiasm for wildlife television and my past life, I decided to attend the talk at HSU. It was fantastic.

The speaker was Will Goldenberg: a graduate of HSU’s wildlife program who went on to study wildlife filmmaking at the University of Bristol. Will touched on the history of wildlife filmmaking, his own background, and the nature of the industry. His brief discussion of live wildlife television, including Big Blue Live, got me thinking.

The joint BBC – PBS series Big Blue Live filmed out of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in California. Big Sur by NOAA’s National Ocean Service. CC BY 2.0

For years, I had watched a live wildlife program called Wild SafariLIVE. Since I was already watching SafariLIVE, and enjoyed doing so, perhaps I could study it?

I approached Will after his talk, told him who I was, and explained that I was designing a master’s thesis about environmental communication. Perhaps we could schedule a time to chat about ways to include wildlife filmmaking in my thesis? Will agreed immediately. I did not know what the result of our discussion would be, but I felt like I was headed in the right direction.

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