There’s nothing like finding a kindred spirit. Sy Montgomery seems to find them everywhere she goes.
Montgomery is the author of 34 books for both adults and children, including The Soul of an Octopus, a 2015 finalist for the National Book Award, and The Good Good Pig, her memoir of life with her pig, Christopher Hogwood, which is an international bestseller.
Her most recent children’s book, The Book of Turtles, was released by HarperCollins in May 2023. It is a beautifully illustrated book filled with emotionally engaging and heartfelt descriptions about all that we can learn from our long-living, creaturely companions. There doesn’t seem to be any end to Montgomery’s love of and curiosity about the fellow somebodies inhabiting this planet. It’s a love that took root early and hasn’t given up its grip.
“I have always loved nature,” Montgomery said. Born in Germany, Sy’s parents took her to the Frankfurt Zoo before she could speak. For one short second her parents couldn’t find her, and when they did, “I was in the hippo pen with the hippo.”
“As soon as I could speak I told my parents I was actually a horse,” Sy said. “I never felt like people were my people. Most of us aren’t people; most of us are other species.”
In fact, according to Our World in Data, only 0.01% of life on earth is made up of humans, and only 2.5% of animals are humans.
Hope and Heartache Permeate Sy’s Work
Sy’s travels have taken her to every corner of the earth. She has been witness to the highest hope and possibility for what love can do for creation as well as the lowest lows of selfishness, greed, and desecration.
The hardest story Sy has had to write was Search for the Golden Moon Bear: Science and Adventure in Pursuit of a New Species.
“I traveled through Southeast Asia with a biologist in pursuit of a new, undiscovered species. We embarked on this great adventure. The biologist had seen a golden bear with tall, Mickey Mouse ears and a white V on his neck. No such description existed of a bear like this,” said Sy. The two of them happened to encounter the Deputy Director of Wildlife Protection from Cambodia, who showed Sy a picture of a golden bear just like the one the biologist had described.
In order to find animals in Southeast Asia, you have to go to the markets, where they have been kidnapped, and sometimes murdered. “We went into all these spirit destroying places. When you witness such suffering, you want to rescue every animal you see. But a lot of times they were already dead.”
But, according to Sy, “Places of heartbreak are where we find our courage.”
This latest book, Of Time and Turtles is full of hope and promise. During her research, Sy experienced a resurrection.
“I was raising baby turtles to give them a headstart for release into the wild,” Sy shared. “There were four painted turtles, and every morning I would turn on the sunrise for my babies, who are all named after painters. One morning, I could not find Monet. I looked under the kale and behind the filter and found him stuck in a suction cup. He had drowned. I screamed.”
Sy took the turtle out of the terrarium. She had heard about turtle CPR, which doesn’t involve respiration so much as moving their arms and legs back and forth to try to restart their hearts. This has been done in the past on larger animals, like sea turtles. So maybe it could be done on a baby painted turtle.
“He could’ve been in there for hours. He was just a little guy, no bigger than the size of a coin,” Sy said. “I did it for 45 minutes, and he came back to life!” When the painters were ready, Sy released the resurrected one and his brothers and sisters into the wild paradise.
Sy has heard of two other people who have performed CPR on turtles since her experience, one in the wild and one in her tank.
Writing to Save Lives: A Life Calling
Sy was born in 1958. At the time, if you wanted to make an impact on animals, you became a veterinarian. Instead, Sy found herself reading stories in The New York Times about all of the animals that were being hunted and killed, the over-harvesting of trees, pollution, and more, and she realized she could help more animals through stories.
In 1982, Sy made a conscious decision to follow Jesus as a young adult. All throughout Scripture, it is clear just how much God loves all of creation, from sparrows to cedars, from turtles to octopuses. The tales she shares from her relationships with the animal kingdom ignite and inspire wonder and love for those creatures.
“I felt these were my people, and I love them,” Sy said. “And we save what we love. We can’t do it alone. This is what I’m doing with this wild and precious life.”
“I think people who read most of my stuff somehow know that all my words are either prayers or praise,” Sy said. “I love all of these other souls around me. I want to show people—look!”
Sy Montgomery recently spoke at the Creation Care Summit in Grand Rapids, Michigan, hosted by the BioLogos Foundation. During the conference, Sy recorded a podcast episode live with the host of Language of God, which you can listen to here.
You can read more of Sy’s work and research at symontgomery.com.