Sy Montgomery, internationally known writer and animal lover, had to put down the phone to take something off the stove.
She was cooking up meals for her husband, fellow writer Howard Mansfield, to eat while she flew across the country to speak in Clallam County this week.
“It’s the least I can do,” she said on the phone Monday from her home in Hancock, N.H. Montgomery, author of the current Clallam County Reads selection “The Soul of an Octopus,” has brought home a lot of creatures. Parrots, the landlord’s cat, two rescued border collies, baby chicks and a sick runt baby pig have all come to live in their 150-year-old farmhouse.
It was a few years ago when Montgomery, deep into her research quest for the “Soul” book, wanted to add a home octopus. This would mean a tank of at least 100 gallons. It would weigh as much as a moose, she writes. Costs and logistics would be complicated, and Mansfield would have to deal with them all while his dear wife traveled.
“In the end, I decided that, as great as a personal home octopus might be, it would be too risky for both the octopus and my marriage. Besides,” she writes, “I loved going to the [New England] aquarium” in Boston. There, she’d not only formed inspirational relationships with the scientists on staff; Montgomery also befriended the octopuses.
The author will talk about all of this and more when she appears Thursday at the Sequim Library, 630 N. Sequim Ave., and Friday at the Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St. Both talks are at 6:30 p.m.; both are free and part of the Clallam County Reads project. Everyone, regardless of how much of “Soul of an Octopus” they’ve read or not read, is welcome. Copies of the paperback will be available at the libraries while more information is found on the North Olympic Library System website, NOLS.org.
In this 2015 work, Montgomery sought to convey what she’s discovered about cephalopods, those mysterious, ocean-going invertebrates. A big realization: They have personalities.
“Come and meet another kind of mind,” Montgomery said by way of invitation to the book.
“Just imagine something stranger than a space age-alien; stranger than science fiction. Then imagine having someone like that as your friend.”
In “Soul of an Octopus,” a New York Times best seller and one of her 21 books, Montgomery sets out to show “how our world constantly dazzles us.” The writer has traveled to aquariums around the United States, getting to know octopuses named Athena, Octavia, Kali and Karma. She’s also dived the south seas around Moorea, and mingled with the wild ones.
Besides the dives, Montgomery travels across the land. While she knows all too well how the world’s oceans are suffering from pollution and climate change, she’s meeting the people who, as she puts it, “keep me from going off the deep end.”
There’s Heidi Bell, now 11, who raised several thousand dollars for the New England Aquarium’s marine animal hospital by selling her turtle sculptures, metal straws and cloth shopping bags.
“She cannot drive. She cannot vote, but she can think,” Montgomery said.
“Heidi hands out calling cards with sea turtle facts, and facts about what you can do” to help them survive. Her comrades include Connor Berryhill of Microactivist.org and teenage whale-mosaic maker Izzy Goodrich of Boston.
“People like them keep me going,” along with the other youngsters she encounters as she roams the nation.
Montgomery’s projects include the forthcoming “Condor Comeback,” as well as a book on turtles.
“They are so ancient. They have voices: Some can croak, bark, or whine. And they can survive almost anything. A turtle can have a cracked shell. An eye can be hanging out,” yet the animal can be rehabilitated and lay eggs for another 50 years.
Such resilience, for Montgomery, translates into hope not just for turtles, but for everybody on this blue and green planet.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.