She's just Dr. Jane
June 25, 2008 · Updated 11:29 AM
"Photo: Dr. Jane Goodall listens to the guitarist Raffi as he sings a theme song he wrote for Goodall's Roots & Shoots organization.Matt Johnson / staff photoStart a Roots & ShootsTo learn more about starting a Roots & Shoots organization on South Whidbey or about how to become involved in the JGI, call the Jane Goodall Institute at 1-800-579-JANE. Or, if you have Web access, dial up the organization's home page at www.janegoodall.org.Dr. Jane Goodall says she would have made a better wife to Tarzan than the Jane who actually married the wild, vine-swinging jungle hero in the movies.For starters, she told more than 600 people gathered in the South Whidbey High School Auditorium Wednesday night, she would have understood much more of what Cheetah the chimpanzee was saying than Tarzan's mate could have.For more than 40 years, Goodall has studied a group of chimpanzees living in a 30-square-mile national park in Gombe, Tanzania. She has been the subject of documentaries, magazine articles and books, and has herself authored groundbreaking research articles about the life and society of African chimpanzees.She has the credentials. Of course, with Tarzan being a bit of an introvert around his own species, he might not have appreciated all the people who share Goodall's life, or her world-wide Jane Goodall Institute (JGI).It's almost like having a family around the world, Goodall said.Goodall likely added some family members last week when she told her own story on South Whidbey during her talk and at a JGI retreat held at Clinton's Chinook Center. If summarized, the story would go something like this: Although mankind has done a frightening amount of damage to the Earth and its species, there is still has a chance to save it, especially if children get involved. Roots & Shoots helps save EarthGoodall used her talk and the retreat to promote and grow Roots & Shoots -- a 9-year-old youth organization sponsored by the JGI and charged with making the Earth a better place for people and animals.Every individual matters and makes a difference, she said of the organization.Thursday night, just a few minutes before giving a presentation about Roots & Shoots to a small gathering in the Chinook Center's farmhouse, Goodall -- who refers to herself most often as Dr. Jane -- sat alone in the cafeteria adjoining Thomas Berry Hall.It was easy to see it was a rare moment of relaxation for the primatologist. Bundled up in a turtleneck sweater and sitting atop a table next to the cafeteria's woodstove, Goodall still looks much like the woman she was when she spent most of her time in the Tanzania jungle until about a decade ago. Her hairstyle is the same as it ever was, pulled straight back into a short pony tail, although her auburn locks have long since turned gray and white. Her voice and manner are familiar too: even, patient,and very sure, just as they were in a half-dozen National Geographic documentaries filmed during her Gombe field studies.Living life on the roadThose documentaries bear little resemblance to her present life. Goodall spent 300 days on the road last year and had time for only a brief visit to Tanzania and to her home in England. She is a fund raiser these days, trying to build an endowment that will perpetually fund studies at Gombe and of several other African chimpanzee populations. Her visit to South Whidbey was just one of scores of stops she will make around the world this year.I don't like it, but I have to do it, she said. If it didn't make any difference, I could stop.Places like South Whidbey are as important to her cause as big cities. Less than 24 hours after her talk at the high school, Goodall received word that four Roots & Shoots groups would form on South Whidbey in the coming weeks. Being from what she called the small island that is England, Goodall said people with drive can come from the smallest of places.Of the people who made their mark, how many of them are from small places, she said.Goodall remains as driven as she was when she first set foot in Gombe. Clearly exhausted during her few moments of rest at the Chinook Center, she frequently rubbed her hands over her face. But when it came time for her meeting at the farmhouse, she put on her coat, strode out of the hall, and fixed her eyes on South Whidbey's starry sky during the walk down the path. Though it was dark outside, save the pinpoints of the stars, anyone could see that it was the hope for a better world for people and animals that illuminated Goodall's face, even in the late evening.With virtually no money, we've made it, Goodall said of her institute.While her reputation and work have for decades been enough to bring in funds for the Gombe research and other JGI causes, Goodall said she must plan for a time when she can no longer be the front woman for her portion of the environmental movement.If Jane dies, said the 66-year-old scientist in a way that causes her admirers to hope she never does, there has to be money in the bank for the work to go on.And, of course, to preserve chimpanzee habitat in the wild and to end the cruel treatment of those in captivity. After all, in Goodall's eyes, hurting chimpanzees and many other animals is akin to hurting people.What they teach us is our place in nature, she said. There is not a sharp line differentiating us from other animals.Goodall left South Whidbey Friday on her way to other speaking engagements."