Jim Fowler Interview

10/9/01

Back to Four Mile Run.
What was your job description for Wild Kingdom?
According to Johnny Carson, I was the guy who Marlon sent out to do all the dirty work. I always said it was to be dumb enough to do what Marlon Perkins said to do. Actually, I�m a zoologist...[meeting Marlon] I had travelled pretty widely around the world even before then, so I knew where to go to film wildlife. Marlon was more of a formal zoo director type. I�d get out there running around with animals in Africa, and I�d been in the Amazon for a while, so that�s how that came about.

I had the idea you enjoyed the job you had, though.
Oh yeah. Hard to beat that. Got a chance to see a lot of places all over the world. Then this guy Crocodile comes along. He could make a worm look dangerous. Had a lotta drama to him. 

When did you live in Falls Church City. I guess it wasn�t a city at the time.
It was a community. But I�ll tell you what, there was a lot of farmland between Falls Church and Washington. Seven Corners, Tysons Corners--they weren�t even there. I remember one of my first jobs, there was an old guy who had a fruit stand, I think it was Seven Corners; I helped him out one summer. I must have been in my teens then. My father was a soil scientist with the Geological Survey. He went around surveying a lot of the soils in the United States. He was based in Beltsville, MD, with the USDA. He moved from Georgia, where I was born, which is basically our family home, up to Virginia. It was just before the 40s. I have a lot of memories of Falls Church. I went to grade school in Madison Elementary School.

You left in 46, and you�ve only been back twice now, and the second time was to make this documentary?
That�s right. I�ve been through there a couple times. I just hadn�t been able to go back. [In �46] We moved over to Silver Spring, actually near University Park. Then we went back to Georgia. But I do remember the old Jefferson High School. Then they made a new Jefferson High School. There were some great baseball diamonds around there. I started to pursue a career in baseball. I was given a bonus offer by the Philadelphia Phillies and then the NY Yankees, but I got my knee all messed up playing football when I went to school. 

In the narration for Eckert�s film, you said you learned a lot of skills around Four Mile Run?
Of course, I got started down in Georgia. My father being an outdoors person, he used to take us on quite a few adventures thorugh the wild areas down there, introducing us to alligators and rattlesnakes and all the trees and plants. I remember very much there in Falls Church there was a creek that was flowing down into 4 Mile Run. I believe it�s now covered up where it goes under Columbia Street. I found a whole family of weasels down there. I also used to build dams along that creek and catch crawfish and all kinds of stuff. Along 4 Mile Run, there was a nice woods down in front of the house. I used to run around there. I was probably 10 years old. I used to take a bamboo pole and put a red piece of cloth on the end of it to catch frogs. Bullfrogs would jump and grab the color red. That�s where I first learned about that. It was great fun. Later on, when I was with the Indians down in the Amazon, living in some pretty harsh conditions, I was studying the giant harpy eagle. They�re the largest eagle in the world; they�ll eat a 30 pound howler monkey. They had a similar system, but they�d never seen taking a red cloth and catching things that way. Then a neighbor, Mr Smith, had a dairy cow and an couple bulls. He showed me how to bluff a bull. I was real young when that happened. I remember I was real impressed when a bull came rushing over a creek and I took off, but he stood there and kicked the bull in the head, bluffed the bull and made it stop. Later on, I had to do some elephant bluffing on Wild Kingdom; that might have had something to do with it. We used to play baseball back in that field and keep an eye out for the bulls. I learned a little bit about cooking and all kinds of stuff from them.
You compared Four Mile Run to the Zambesi at one point.
That�s a pretty wild comparison. I must have compared it with the fact that it was performing a similar function; that it was wild and a lot of life focused on it. The Zambesi is a big river; there�s no crocodiles on 4 Mile Run. What I probably said was that some of the things I learned on Four Mile Run came in handy later on when I was living along the Zambesi. To me, in those days, Four Mile Run was a pretty big creek.

Why were you interested in working on Dave Eckert�s film?
I was very anxious to get back and see what the old homestead looked like. I believe very much in one�s roots. Whenever I�d go to National Airport, I noticed that Four Mile Run came right there to that little lagoon. Even though I didn�t go to Falls Church that often, I could see that something was happening to it and that it was more or less disapeering. I really tried to keep in touch with Four Mile Run all those years. I�m a little different from all those conservation types. I�m looking at one of these messages for the new century: why do we need open space? I don�t want to save a creek for the creek�s sake, but what�s in it for human beings. I don�t think we�re going to save anything if we go around talking about saving plants and animals only; we�ve got to translate that into what�s in it for us. You�ve got to explain very clearly to someone working for their family why all this open space is important to us. I was impresssed that here�s a guy that�s interested enough in Four Mile Run to want to do something, and are interested in the same things that I had been saying. That�s why I went back to Falls Church when he contacted me. I consider myself a spokespeson for the natural world. That�s really the challenge of this century, to develop spokespeople. Sooner or later we�ve got to tie the saving of the natural world to our own public welfare. Almost all these hotspots around the world, most have been destroyed to the point where there is no wildlife and very little of the natural world left. How we treat the earth basically effects our social welfare and our national security. There�s no country in the world that�s more devastated from natural resources than Afghanistan. They�re able to survive with goats and sheep, but they�ve pretty much destroyed everything else. That�s true of all the other places where there�s been tremendous social tragedy. Haiti looks like a bomb hit it. Somali is turning into a desert. Rwanda, you can hardly find a place to plant a potato, it�s so crowded. It is tied very directly to our social welfare. The quicker we humans learn that saving open space and wildlife is critical to our welfare and quality of life, maybe we�ll start thinking of doing something about it. That film really has the potential to bring it more home locally why it is important. The most powerful argument of all for saving open space is economics; in most states, tourism is the number two industry. And nature tourism is right up near the top. Preserving a river or a creek can bring a lot of revenue. The other thing is quality of life; if you have a place where you can go and have a picnic with your family, it doesn�t matter if it�s a recession or not, you can include that in your quality of life. When all that�s gone, like in Eastern Europe, you can�t find a place to have a picnic or have the love of nature in your heart. That�s why four mile run, and other creeks like it are so incredibly important; it�s part of quality of life. I was amazed at the house that I grew up in; it looks practically identical to the way it was, but I couldn�t recognize it because of the size of the trees. Imprinted in my mind was a different kind of setting. It�s sort of spooky how similar it is. END

 

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