The original thought behind today's column was actually to poke a little fun toward a gentleman I don't know who held an unusual obsession. The gentleman passed away this week and, while reading his obituary, I was struck by a sick sense of humor at how he spent his life. But the more I thought, the more I realized my approach to the column was all wrong. So here goes the tale.
Arthur C. Ryals died recently at the age of 81. Ryals had devoted virtually his entire life to charting the decline in the mountain goat population of Washington state. He has literally taken his sleeping bag without a tent into the mountains, eating when the mountain goats ate, sleeping when they slept. He had hauled salt licks to help them through the tough northern winters and had gathered their droppings to be tested for parasites. The total mountain goat population he monitored numbered just 115 in recent years.
And so for 45 years, Ryals devoted his life to mountain goats.
On the surface, I was amused by this lonely soul who would spend what had to be miserable conditions to monitor the daily activities of mountain goats of all things. And let's admit it, there's a bit of humor there if you look deep enough.
But then the more I thought, the more I realized that Arthur C. Ryals had something that many people lack. He had passion. He was so devoutly passionate to these creatures of the mountains that he devoted his life to their cause. Granted, his passion may have been odd and his calling unusual. But who's to question a man when he has a true and undeniable passion for something. For anything as far as that goes.
I'm not at all certain on the exact importance of understanding the culture and daily activities of a mountain goat. I'm not at all certain how - or even if - society and humanity are better served because we more fully understand the habits of a mountain goat.
But regardless of the details, I have come to admire Ryals for his passion. His calling just happened to be mountain goats and none of us are in a position to question the motives behind a man's passion.