A question of who, not what

When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an animal keeper when I grew up and have an animal farm.
That was going to be my life’s work—taking care of animals.
Maybe that dream was a spin-off of the “animal hospital” my mother always talked about. She said it was where all my toys went to get their “play wounds” mended when I went to bed at night.
And she was right. When I woke up in the morning, my teddy bear would have a neat little row of stitches and a Band-Aid, or perhaps a little white bandage covering the spot on his leg where the stuffing had once spilled out.
“Raggedy Anne” would have her eye sewn on again and the arm on my walking doll would be re-attached.
I believed in that imaginary animal hospital for a long time and planned my own such sanctuary for when I grew up.
I would build a cabin back in the woods on an old road known around here as “Blueberry Mike’s,” and I would look after dogs and cats. I think I was 10 years old.
I also dreamed I’d be an actress in Hollywood. I’d be “discovered,” given the dramatic role of my life, own a fur coat and a convertible, be famous, and be nominated for an Oscar.
I researched acting schools and modelling schools, and planned a course for myself that would take me straight to the red carpet. I was 11 years old, I think.
I would be a biologist, too.
I used to sit in my dad’s canoe in the creek by our house as a young environmental observer and seine minnows, water spiders, and big, fat bloodsuckers (you know the kind—the flat, wide black ones that slink in the tannin depths of creek water).
I studied mice and insects and birds and fishes and amphibians, and by the time Christmas rolled around in 1972, my enthusiasm did not go unrewarded.
Under the tree, wrapped just for me, was Anna Botsford Comstock’s “Handbook of Nature Study.” It was 937 pages long. I was 12 years old.
I treated that book like it was made of gold. I collected cornflowers and leaves and four-leaf clovers, and pressed them between the pages. I learned about wolves, and katydids, and salamanders, the Earth and the skies.
Ms. Comstock swept me away on a carpet of possibilities. The book’s yellow cover was worn off long ago, but the book remains on my bookshelf to this day—well-loved and holding very old, flattened remnants of those pressed plants.
I’ve never lost my interest in all things “nature,” even though my desire to be a biologist waned long before I reached my mid-teen years.
No matter. I had other dreams of “what” I wanted to be and the list grew to include a bush pilot, psychologist, flight attendant, and travel agent.
What I am today is no one of those careers. I am a mosaic, pressed out of many experiences and, in fact, I don’t think I will ever have an exact answer to the “what” I am.
However, who I am is getting clearer every day.