Thursday, January 7, 2016

Marty Crump

Marty (Martha L.) Crump is Adjunct Professor in Biology at Utah State University and at Northern Arizona University. She has been a herpetologist for more than 45 years, and for at least that long has been intrigued with the folklore of amphibians and reptiles. She is the author of In Search of the Golden Frog, Headless Males Make Great Lovers, Sexy Orchids Make Lousy Lovers, and Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder’s Fork and Lizard’s Leg. She is one of six co-authors on the textbook Herpetology, and a coauthor with James P. Collins on Extinction in Our Times: Global Amphibian Decline. For children, she has written Amphibians and Reptiles: An Introduction to Their Natural History and Conservation, Mysteries of the Komodo Dragon, and the award-winning The Mystery of Darwin’s Frog. She lives in Logan, Utah, with her husband Alan H. Savitzky and their long-haired dachshund, Conan.

Recently I asked Crump about what she was reading. Her reply:
As a field biologist for nearly 50 years, I have studied ecology and behavior of frogs in Costa Rica, Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile. In another world, I must have lived in the Neotropics, for I am passionate about the region’s landscape, people, and fauna. I enjoy reading about the area, from W. H. Hudson’s novel Green Mansions to the travel/adventure tales by Wallace, Bates, Belt, and others.

I am currently halfway through Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon by John Hemming (2008). Hemming, one of the world’s experts on the Amazon and its indigenous peoples, has given us a profound gift: the definitive story of the history of the region. Hemming’s writing, reflecting great scholarship and stunning prose, is serving as an inspiration to me in my nature writing—his is a superb combination of authoritative and vivid.

The first paragraph of Tree of Rivers reads: “The ancient certainties, the relative tranquility and the isolation of the Amazon’s indigenous peoples were shattered forever in the year 1500. Strange craft appeared at the mouth of the great river and sailed up it for a few days.... This was an ominous portent of misery in store for the native peoples.” The last paragraph of the book, a description of the beauty of the Amazon Basin, reads: “... In tall, undisturbed forest I find the cathedral-like gloom protective and comforting. There are always surprises, in baroque tangles of creepers, powerful buttress roots, fallen trees like sarcophagi, stands of palms, patches of thick undergrowth, or mysterious and silent streams. You gaze up great tree-trunks to massive branches with sunlight glittering on the leaves of the canopy. On rivers, every hour of the day brings different beauty. At dawn and sunset there is a brief pyrotechnic display of gold, crimson and silver; in the early morning, lovely mists rise from the water; and the reflections of vegetation and clouds are always sublime.”

In between the first and last paragraphs we learn about the intrepid early explorers, the fanatical Jesuit priests, and the greedy rubber barons who changed forever the native cultures and enslaved the peoples. We also learn about rain forest natural history—a naturalist’s paradise. Reading the book makes me yearn to return to South America.

My other reading passion focuses on the Philippines during WWII. Beginning in 1939, my dad was a geologist working for the Philippine Bureau of Mines on Mindanao. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. After Corregidor fell and the surrender order came through, his commanding officer decommissioned him and a few others and told them they could surrender or not. Dad and four others took to the hills and lived among the Filipinos until Mindanao was invaded. He then joined the organized guerrilla organization (American Guerrillas of Mindanao) and spied on the Japanese. After I finish Tree of Rivers, I plan to re-read They Fought Alone (by John Keats), the story of Wendell Fertig, leader of the resistance movement, and the other Americans (including my dad) who refused to surrender.
Learn more about Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder's Fork and Lizard's Leg at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue