A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Why Me?

By Jill Schensul

The fish flew out the car window. The car never slowed down. The fish hit the road with a thwump, 10 yards ahead of me.

What, again? I thought, as I sprinted toward the fish.

Not that fish flying out of cars into my pathway are a common occurrence. In fact, this was a first.

But whenever I travel, I seem to have one of these “why-me?” episodes.

The little country road had been deserted the whole time I’d been walking. It was one of the few paved surfaces I’d even encountered in this pastoral section of the Dordogne region of France.

I’d come to see 10,000-year-old cave paintings – breathtaking scenes of bison and horses leaping across the contours of billion-year-old caves. I’d come to walk in the footsteps of ancient humans, missing links, precursors to homo sapiens.

The Lascaux cavesYet circumstances had conspired to bring the one extant, opposably-thumbed creature currently in the vicinity, face to, well … face, right? … with this now-gasping creature.

To this particular why-me? moment.

I wasn’t prepared for an animal rescue mission; in heels and a skirt, I was just out for a stroll before a formal dinner at the inn. Then again, no matter what I’d been wearing, I wouldn’t have been ready for this.

But here was this fish, this animal, alive and gasping. In front of me.

And the question of why me was moot right now. I see an animal in distress, and I have to do something.

Another person may never have noticed the fish flying out the window – people focus on different aspects of the world around them, of course. But I notice – have always noticed – animals. Cute or sleek or joyous or mischievous ones. But also animals in distress, in chains, exploited. I was the one kid at the circus rooting for the tiger when the tamer came at him with the chair held high. The kid who, while everyone oohed at the “smiling” dolphins performing at the New York Aquarium, saw the soot-filthy Coney Island background and thought “There’s something wrong with this picture.”

Over the years, I haven’t learned a thing about turning away from such sights. As an adult, I suppose my affinity for animals, for the beauty of nature unscathed, has just created even more why-me moments. Especially since I have spent most of my adult life following another of my passions – travel. For the last 20 years, I’ve been the travel editor and columnist at The Record, a job that has given me the opportunity to see the world, from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle, from Nashville to Namibia. And during that time, I’ve intervened in all sorts of why-me situations.

And now, I feel incredibly lucky to be part of Zoe, to write about, and from, my experiences on the road. Including those why-me? moments.

I travel with the fervent wish for humans to be able to live, and travel, in balance with the natural world. I’ve seen wonderful, positive travel opportunities and options – more and more of them lately, with the increasing popularity of ecotourism, for example. But I have seen tourism, thanks to greed, poverty, corruption, and sometimes just plain ignorance, do real harm to nature, communities, animals. With the mainstreaming of “green” has come the phenomenon of “greenwashing” and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the tourism industry.

“I travel with the fervent wish for humans to be able to live, and travel, in balance with the natural world.”

I believe all of us, as travelers – as good human beings (homo sapiens, in fact) in general — are thinking more about how we can travel more lightly, and with more illumination, in this world. So I am excited to be able to air all sorts of issues and situations that exist for travelers who care about animals and the environment. And to steer people clear of the pitfalls I know are out there.

So, can I tell you what to do when you find the fish in the middle of the road? Well, I took it and ran — through the back yards of the few houses nearby, looking for any source of water – a pool, a full bucket, a hose, anything – in the direction I knew would lead me to the Dordogne River. It felt like forever, but it was probably about seven minutes till I saw the river. I kicked off my heels and slid, skirt flying, down the cliff, tossing the fish in before me as I descended.

The fish sank, never to reappear.

Jill Schensul is travel editor and columnist for The Record.