David Carroll tracks turtles to reveal what nature has to say to humans
Scientist David Carroll doesn't publish academic papers but tells turtles' stories through his art and writings.
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His literary and artistic approach to science has inspired the theme for an annual field trip at Berwick Academy in South Berwick, Maine. Carroll visited the school several years ago. Ever since, the seventh-grade class goes to a nearby nature reserve to write, draw, and conduct science experiments each year.Skip to next paragraph
In March the New Hampshire Science Teachers' Association recognized Carroll by giving him an award usually given to the outstanding science teacher in the state.
"He's such a good storyteller," Dr. Fleegler says. "It's a pleasure to read, but in this very nice way, you're learning all these different things about biology."
Fleegler, himself an outdoorsman and artist, says Carroll's books have inspired him to learn more about the plants and animals he sees and to respect their environments. He's also more inclined to paint scenes he finds in the woods now.
"Following the Water" – a serene and informative book – becomes heartbreaking when Carroll describes people destroying natural habitats.
In conversation, Carroll is gregarious, with an inventory of well-tested anecdotes. But he becomes earnest and pleading when he describes how construction projects and human recreation are ruining the homes of wildlife.
In the past, he's conducted investigations for the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US National Park Service, and endangered species programs, and he's been a political advocate for environmental preservation.
He would like to see more pieces of land sealed off from human use and left as they are.
"These natural landscapes have a right to exist, under their own terms, not for their [use to] mankind," Carroll says.
Most of his time is spent working on projects that he'll never use or finish. His studio walls are masked with artwork that may never be framed or hung in a gallery. He studies Spanish, Italian, Russian, and German with academic rigor, but he almost never leaves New Hampshire.
His rich data set on the turtles fills hundreds of notebooks, stashed away in boxes in his house, piled up or shoved under pieces of furniture.
He offers a few flimsy explanations about why he bothers keeping the data at all. Maybe someday, he muses, someone else will be able to use it for research.
But such loose ends don't bother him.
"What good is it to be alive on earth and never come to know at least the place where one lives?" Carroll asks in "Following the Water." "We don't even try to know it with our senses, much less with our minds and spirits."