Dunrovin Ranch, in the strangest of ways, is like coming home for me along a winding path even though I was born on the other side of the planet in a small African country called Zimbabwe. As one of my favorite poets, David Whyte says, “ Think about a road going through a landscape. How it appears and then disappears. The beauty of the path is that you see it and then you don’t.” To say my path here has appeared then disappeared is an understatement.
I met SuzAnne Miller, or Lady Dunrovin as she is known to many of you, a few years back but I had heard of her and the Dunrovin Ranch long before. She’s a larger than life figure in our Missoula valley. I would often hear tales of fun things afoot at Dunrovin Ranch and thought to myself, “One of these days I need to go there and see what all the fuss is about.” As it happened our paths kept crossing in the entrepreneurial community and after urging me to come and see what she was up to, I finally took a drive out to the ranch.
The smell of cut hay and horse manure with the sinking sun kissing the mountaintops on a lovely fall afternoon stirred that indescribable sense of homecoming in me. Montana is everything, yet nothing like Zimbabwe all at once. The two places offer vast open, wild landscapes, a distinct shortage of crowds and frequent encounters with wild characters of the feathered and furred variety. There are no elephants, hyenas, kudus, impalas or cobras in Montana, but there are bears, lions, beaver, otters, moose and plenty of deer and elk. We humans are not at the top of the food chain in Zimbabwe or in Montana, and that for me, is oddly comforting. I prefer a landscape that keeps us in check and reminds us of our place in nature.
The smell of horses at Dunrovin took me straight back to my childhood. I grew up riding. Even competed in show jumping, dressage and cross-country equestrian events. Though I was never spectacularly great at it I did win a few ribbons here and there. Competition was not my thing, I preferred spending quiet, solo time riding out in the country. I even had the great honor of “breaking in” (never really liked that term) my young gelding Double Ace and together we learned to form a strong bond whether my feet were in the stirrups or on the ground beside him. I rode almost daily until I went to boarding school in Johannesburg, South Africa for my last two years of high school. After completing a BA in Fine Arts from Natal University in South Africa, I left Africa never thinking it would be a permanent move. While I came back at least every year to visit my family, I never went back to Africa to live permanently. Nonetheless, I will always be an African girl at heart but grateful that Montana stole at least a part of my heart.
I moved to Montana in 1986, after a two-year stint in London and then Connecticut where I managed to finesse two extraordinary photography positions at Yale University. The second position, in the Department of Ophthalmology, afforded me the opportunity to train not just as a Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technician and Certified Retinal Angiographer, but also to work on a one-of-a-kind research project on Glaucoma. Not exactly the skill set I needed to work at an eye clinic in Montana but advantageous nonetheless for my move west. After four years at Rocky Mountain Eye Center in Missoula, I needed a new challenge. More importantly, I had become deeply engaged in conservation efforts to protect wilderness in Montana. I was offered a position at the Craighead Wildlife-Wildlands Institute (CWWI) where my days were soon filled with advocacy and lobbying for Montana’s wild places (especially Grizzly bear habitat), my nights studying for a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies and my weekends and vacations training for my white-water rafting guide license. In 1994, I left my secure, forty-hour/week paid position (that I actually loved) to start my own environmental non-profit organization, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) and work double the hours for about a quarter of the pay on a good day (and zero security). The gamble paid off. Today, WVE is a thriving organization protecting women and children from toxic chemicals.
Twelve years later, I left WVE to do the same crazy thing all over again—start another non-profit. My long-time friend Janine Benyus, author of the book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, was eager to share her game-changing discoveries with the world but was so busy responding to speaking requests from around the world, consulting offers and invitations from dignitaries like Prince Charles, she didn’t have a minute to think about how to launch an educational institute. My reluctance to create another start-up was no match for Janine’s persuasive charm and compelling message of hope. In short order she had persuaded me to co-found the Biomimicry Institute with her and become its first Executive Director. I was back at the drawing board, creating plans to take Nature’s design genius to engineering and design programs at universities around the world. I told Janine I’d give her two years of my life. I gave her eight. With biomimicry programs now established at universities in Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and South America and many states across the US (including many other exciting projects such as AskNature, an on-line database of Nature’s designs) I left the Biomimicry Institute in the spring of 2014.
Clearly unable to resist the challenge of starting new ventures, I took an even more radical leap and decided to build Kindkudos, mobile app to spread love and kindness, even though I knew nothing about developing mobile apps. I incorporated the company, raised some capital and hired two brilliant developers to code the software. Kindkudos went live in the Apple app store in late 2014 and the Android version was up and running in early 2015. However, I soon learned the hard way that this is a highly competitive business (there are more than two million apps on the market) and that while it is so important to promote love and kindness, it is hard to make a living at it. So last year I went back to doing what I know best…growing non-profit organizations but this time as a consultant with the Seattle based company Altruist Partners.
Grounding myself at Dunrovin Ranch and working with SuzAnne to help grow and develop DaysAtDunrovin further, excites me for many reasons. I will be able to use my experience at Women’s Voices for the Earth and the Biomimicry Institute to build fun and educational workshops for our DaysAtDunrovin community. So keep an eye out for workshops on biomimicry, cooking (another passion of mine), fly-fishing, yoga, photography and much more coming your way soon. I’m also excited to find ways to incorporate Kindkudos into our DaysAtDunrovin community—growing a larger global community committed to loving-kindness. Last, but not least, I am so happy to be back amongst horses and have the opportunity to ride again. With ospreys overhead, foxes, deer and elk in the fields and the beautiful Bitterroot River right at my back, I know I have come home.