When I was a little girl, I lay in bed and pretended that I was floating above myself. I looked down and saw me as just one of thousands and thousands and thousands of people on earth. I separated myself from myself and wondered why I was here; why was any living creature here on earth; what was life all about? With the logic of a child, I figured the best way to learn about life was to study it. Nature was life so I’d study that. I asked my older brother if there was a word for someone who studied nature. He showed me the word “naturalist” in the dictionary. I was stunned that someone else had thought of this before me.
From that moment forward I was on a trajectory. I was determined to understand life better by studying it. It did not matter to me what part of nature I studied – the processes that cause new species to evolve are the same no matter whether you study bacteria, trees, mammals, birds, or bugs. As George William Russell said, “We may enter the infinite through the minute no less than through contemplation of the vast.” I knew I would come to understand life better by examining it closely; by studying some small part of life on earth and asking why. I became an evolutionary biologist and study the evolutionary patterns and adaptations of arachnids.
When people ask me why I study spiders of all things, I usually give them a convoluted answer about working with an arachnologist in college and being fascinated by creepy crawly creatures in high school. But the real reason I study these animals is because they are alive. They are a key to the complex, colorful fabric and matrix of life on earth and I know that by studying them, I will be able to discover one tiny clue to how this whole fabric of being was woven.
I believe in curiosity. I believe in the passion that that drives me to look closely at the life around me. I believe in asking why and in finding a way to try and answer the questions. I will never find out the ultimate answer – how or why that first living cell evolved in the primordial seas. Finding the answer to life is not what drives me. It is the process itself that keeps me going. It is the pure joy I get in asking why.