Book review: ‘How to Become a Good Creature’ by Sy Montgomery


“How to Become a Good Creature” is subtitled “A Memoir in 13 Animals.” The author, Sy Montgomery, is a naturalist and prolific writer of animal books for both adults and children. During an interview, she was asked what she had learned from the animals. Her answer is the title of this book. The book explores what thatphrase means.

Four of the animals, described as her teachers, are dogs. One is her childhood dog. Three are border collies, and that is about the only thing they have in common. That, and the deep love they shared with Sy and her husband. The dogs ranged in age and disposition, but all found a way to fit into the family routine, or maybe it was thatthe Montgomerys found a way to fit into theirs.

A few years after college, Sy Montgomery was assisting graduate students with their research in Australia. Her attention was drawn to three strange, tall, majestic birds: emus. The emus became the focus of her time in Australia. What do they do all day, where do they sleep — standing? And more.

As it turned out, it was impossible to hide from the birds and observe them. So, the first task was to build trust and learn their habitat. With their long legs, there was no way to keep up with them when they left an area, so Montgomery had to learn where they were likely to go. Sy collected literally thousands of pages of data, information for further study.

Two quotations from this chapter are quite insightful:

“I learned a great deal in the Outback, from how to conduct a behavioral study to how to urinate outdoors without peeing on my shoe.”

“To begin to understand the life of any animal demands not only curiosity, not only skill, and not only intellect. I saw I would need to summon the bond I had forged with Molly [childhood dog]. I would need to open my mind, but also my heart.”

If you came into your chicken coop and found a favorite hen lying dead, would your first reaction be to admire the ermine responsible? I had a similar experience with a mink, and that certainly wasn’t mine. Montgomery does use the chapter to convey an important message, but I still wonder if she ever plugged the hole that allowed the ermine entry into the coop in the first place.

“How to Become a Good Creature” is a small book and a quick read. There are lessons to be learned. How do you build a bond with a tarantula or an octopus or, perhaps easier, with a pig? You may even be able to develop a definition for a “good creature.”

Comments are closed.

  • County Line delivery delayed to rural Ontario customers

    July 3rd, 2020

    The U.S. Postal Service has not delivered this week’s County Line to rural Ontario subscribers, and we haven’t been able […]

    Brookwood graduation is July 24

    July 2nd, 2020

    Brookwood’s graduation is slated for Friday, July 24, but the nature of the ceremony will be determined by Monroe County’s Coulee Covid-19 Compass risk rating on Wednesday, July 22.

    Book review: ‘Winterkill’ by C.J. Box

    July 1st, 2020

    Joe Pickett is a game warden in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains.

    Ontario Public Library to begin phase two of reopening plan

    June 30th, 2020

    On Monday, July 6 we will begin phase two of our reopening plan, which allows you to make an appointment to use the library internet, computers, and printing services.

    Phase one of Wilton Public Library reopening starts July 6

    June 30th, 2020

    On July 6, Wilton Library will begin phase one of reopening by taking limited library appointments.

  • Kendall Gathering and All-School Reunion canceled

    June 29th, 2020

    The Kendall Gathering and All-School Reunion has been canceled for 2020.

    Motorcyclist severely injured in Wellington crash

    June 27th, 2020

    A motorcyclist sustained possible life-threatening injuries in a Thursday crash on Midway Avenue in the town of Wellington, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

    Two hurt in town of Forest motorcycle accident

    June 26th, 2020

    Two were injured in a single-motorcycle accident reported at 5:30 p.m. Thursday on Highway 33 at County Highway V, according to the Vernon County Sheriff’s Office.

    Royall graduation set for July 11

    June 25th, 2020

    Royall will host an in-person graduation Saturday, July 11, but it will not be open to the public, staff and other students.

    Book review: ‘The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World’s Greatest Library’ by Edward Wilson-Lee

    June 25th, 2020

    First, some housekeeping: Hernando Colón (1488-1539), illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, is the main subject of this book, and this is the Portuguese version of his name.

    Royall Education Notes: Staff, students met numerous challenges during closure

    June 24th, 2020

    Wow – Wow – Wow – What a crazy couple of months we have endured.

  • Archives