CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL
Featuring Sandhya Satia
Portrait Photography by Andrew Yee
Words by Sandhya Satia
Sandhya Satia reflects on how her passion for the animal world has led her to greater insight into humans, unexpected adventures, self-understanding and friendship.
My love for the natural world began many years ago and thousands of miles away. All children want to be something when they grow up, and my ambitions ranged from astronaut to detective to marine biologist (despite a proneness to seasickness). I was born in Kenya where life amongst wild creatures was as natural as breathing. I was an introverted dreamer who wore prim dresses and behaved perfectly in company.
Yet I was a wild child at heart - a wanderer and tree climber, who only ever felt free around the animals that shared my world. Kenya’s exotic beauty shaped my inquisitive nature. Why was a drop of water round? Why did a spoon look bent when I put it into water?
"Yet I was a wild child at heart - a wanderer and tree climber, who only ever felt free around the animals that shared my world."
Nature always transfixed me. A newly shed snakeskin, appearing like a perfect ghost with the eye caps miraculously intact, was stronger than the lure of any doll or toy. I would spend endless hours observing chameleons as they gingerly moved a small amount, rolled their eyes 360 degrees independently of one another and finally fixed me with their intoxicating stare.Over the years, life took me far from this dreamlike existence and eventually I realized I was working demanding jobs to serve a single purpose - give me the chance to travel in order to see animals in the wild. My passion and background in science led me to a volunteer position at New York’s Natural History Museum, allowing me to learn so much about life from frogs, spiders, crocodiles and the annual favorite, butterflies.
Looking at books one day, I caught a glimpse of the cover of The Soul of an Octopus, transfixed by the sight of a curved tentacle reaching across the book’s spine. As the pages began to turn, the throngs of New York faded away and I found myself utterly captivated by author Sy Montgomery’s writings about these fascinating, beautiful and intelligent creatures.
Behind these fastidiously researched pages, which captured the Octopuses’ empyrean intelligence, was a human whose perspective on the natural world reflected my own. She dared the reader to change their myopic view of the world through her own experience and passion.
"The animal world, I realized once again, is responsible for the quintessential parts of my life."
Uncharacteristically, I reached out to Sy with a note explaining the effect her book had had on me, not realizing that a simple act of making contact with a kindred spirit and fellow animal lover would lead to an ongoing friendship. Sy eventually gave me one of the most priceless gifts of my life when we went on a behind–the-scenes-visit to the New England Aquarium.
There, I finally saw, touched, and fell deeply in love with an octopus. It was one of the most mesmerizing experiences of my life - one that reignited my passion for all creatures great and small. The animal world, I realized once again, is responsible for the quintessential parts of my life - bestowing insight and knowledge, travel, adventure and unexpected friendship. A defining passion indeed.
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