Sandra Steingraber, PhD
For nearly two decades, I lived the life of a gypsy biologist—investigating the interactions between organisms and the environments they inhabit in places as varied as Costa Rican rainforests, Sudanese deserts, Mexican tidal pools, and Minnesota pine forests. I slept in tents, dormitories, farm houses, huts with grass roofs, and at least one military bunker. I left for airports at 4 am. I never balanced my checkbook.
And then I eloped with a sculptor and got pregnant. Now, well into my forties, I am wife to a man with a lot of power tools and mother to a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. Now, I live in a log cabin in rural upstate New York and have seen the same basswood trees bloom four times. Now, I make my living as an environmental writer, analyzing the data of other scientists rather than generating my own. These days, my field research extends about as far as the backyard birdfeeder, which services migrating songbirds heading north to Canadian pine forests or south to Latin American rainforests.
"I'm no longer one of you," I laugh while watching them refuel for their journeys. I teach their calls to my daughter Faith, to whom I have bequeathed my grubby ornithology guide. I whisper their names to my son Elijah, as I nurse him in the old rocking chair that is stationed near the picture window. And when we all sleep upstairs in the big bed together—one child holding on to my hair, the other flung across my chest—I know that I have never lived more symbiotically. A source of food, a place of comfort, a mattress for napping, I myself am now a habitat.
And I balance my checkbook.