Bernd Heinrich is the author of more than 12 books and 100 scientific papers. His most recent book is “Racing the Clock, Running Across a Lifetime.” Bernd holds many records as a runner. He ran a sub-two-minute half mile, at one point he set the American national records for any age in ultramarathon distances of 100 kilometers, 200 kilometers, 100 miles, and the longest distance run in 24 hours, totaling 156.8 miles. For many years Bernd’s work focused on the comparative physiology of insects, where he studied bumblebee behavior. He studied moths. He studied caterpillars very closely and their ecology and their pollination. He later shifted to studying ravens and other birds. For many years, Bernd has lived in a cabin in the woods of Maine, one that he built himself by hand. He lives without running water, phone service, or refrigerator, and he eats solely with wood and relies on a solar panel to power his laptop and his wifi router. He’s just about to turn 82 years old and he’s still running about four miles a day.
In this interview on the School for Good Living Podcast, Bernd joins Brilliant to discuss many things, including having a plan versus enjoying life, love and its role in our lives, and balancing it with accomplishment. Bernd talks about finding our own path and figuring out who we are. Bernd shares about running, aging, and about writing. A theme that kept coming back was this one of just beginning. In running, as they say, the hardest and most important step is always the first one out the door. Everyone can do it and it counts.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:00] I mean, that’s the main thing is to go out and do the same say with running to it’s the hardest part is to just get out the door.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:09] Hi. I’m Brilliant, your host for this show. I know that I’m incredibly blessed. As the son of self-made billionaires, I’ve seen the high price some people pay for success, and I’ve learned that money really can’t buy happiness. But I’ve also had the good fortune to learn directly from many of the world’s leading teachers. If you are ready to be, do, have, and give more, this podcast is for you.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:33] Nature is God. The key to life is contact. These words are carved into the table at the home of my guest today. His name is Bernd Heinrich. He is the author of more than 12 books and 100 scientific papers. The one that I asked him about in this interview is his most recent “Racing the Clock: Running Across a Lifetime”. Bernd holds many records as a runner. In 1983, while he was in his forties, he set a record for the 24-hour run, running nearly 157 miles. 156.8. A runner of many talents, he ran a sub-two minute half mile, which, if you know about running, you know, running a four-minute mile is amazing. He ran half a mile in under half that time. He also at one point and still today holds records. But at one point he set the American national records for any age in ultramarathon distances of 100 kilometers, 200 kilometers, and 100 miles. And as I’ve said from that distance in 24 hours, which is remarkable and much of this later in his life. In this conversation, we cover many things, including having a plan versus enjoying a life. We talk about love and its role in our lives and balancing it with accomplishment. We talk about finding our own path and figuring out who we are. We talk, of course, about running. We talk about aging. And then we talk, as we often do, also about writing. For many years Bernd’s work focused on the comparative physiological ecology of insects, where he studied bumblebee behavior. He studied moths. He studied caterpillars very closely and their ecology and their pollination. He later shifted to studying ravens and other birds. In fact, in this interview, you might be able to hear a woodpecker. I think it stopped for the most part as we got into the interview, but we could hear the woodpecker that lives right outside his cabin. In this interview, I ask Bernd about running, I asked him about writing, and I asked him about how we can live responsibly in a way that makes a difference for the future of our species and this planet. A theme that kept coming back was this one of just beginning. I love the way that Bernd says this. In running, as they say, the hardest and most important step is always the first one out the door. Everyone can do it and it counts. For many years, Bernd has lived in a cabin in the woods in Maine, one that he built himself by hand. He lives without running water, phone service, or refrigerator, and he eats solely with wood and relies on a solar panel to power his laptop and his wifi router. He’s just about to turn 82 years old and he’s still running about four miles a day. I find it to be an inspiration. And if you don’t know him already, I think you will, too. So with that, I hope you enjoyed this conversation with my friend Bernd Heinrich.
Brilliant Miller [00:03:45] Bernd. Welcome to the School for Good Living.
Bernd Heinrich [00:03:47] Thank you. Nice being with you.
Brilliant Miller [00:03:50] Will you tell me, please? What is life about?
Bernd Heinrich [00:03:53] Well, I don’t know what it is, but I can only talk to myself. You know what I think it might be. I’m sure it’s different things for different people, but I think it’s being a part of life being part of it and participating in it, and getting enjoyment out of it. Bringing others enjoyment and having it being mutual and and and and trying to make a difference if you as a black man for the better. And not take it too seriously. Yeah, but, you know, I’m. You know, for me, I’m a biologist, and I’m really interested in life itself. To know as much as I possibly can about it. Because I think in order to make any difference, you have to know, you know, what’s going on. You have to know the truth. You have to know what’s going on. And before you can make the right decisions so you don’t act the opposite and do harm. And I think, yeah. So knowledge, I think is fairly important.
Brilliant Miller [00:05:24] Yeah. Well, and as I know, so much of the knowledge you’ve gained has been firsthand taught directly from nature. Living in the woods and growing up first for the early years of your life, as I understand in the east, is it east Prussia?
Bernd Heinrich [00:05:42] West Prussia.
Brilliant Miller [00:05:43] West first. So I want to come back to that for a moment, but I want to acknowledge we might have a guest in this interview, a woodpecker just outside of where you are now. Well, you tell me. And people listening, where are you right now?
Bernd Heinrich [00:06:01] Well, I’m on a small mountainous hill in western Maine in the mountains of western Maine. I’m in a beautiful part of the state. It’s all forested. And, you know, I’ve been here since I was 11 years old in this area. Wow. And so I’m really you know, I’ve been all over the place, you know, Africa, whatnot, and Alaska and all over the states. And but, you know, I always come back here, so I’m in this cabin which I built. While I was still in California, I was already thinking I’d come back here someday. And so now I am where I’d like to be.
Brilliant Miller [00:06:56] Wow, that’s beautiful. I think you are truly living the dream. So many people have a fantasy, so to speak, of escaping urban areas or suburban areas and having more direct contact with nature. And I understand that you’re sitting, you might now be sitting at a table where there are many people who have carved initials and even little sayings and there’s one in particular Nature is God. The key to life is contact. Do I have that right? And if so, what was that mean to you?
Bernd Heinrich [00:07:31] That’s correct, yeah. What? One of my first students carved it in there and I can’t even decipher the name now. I hope he’s listening to this podcast, so I hope he hears it because, you know, it’s in one corner of that table and there, you know, the hundreds of signatures in there carved into the wood and little pictures and sayings. And this is one of my favorite ones. And I quoted that and why we run or maybe racing the clock. I forgot which one.
Brilliant Miller [00:08:07] Yeah, that’s right. And this direct contact with nature is something that’s been a part of your life, as I understand from your very first day. Will you tell me a little bit about where you grew up and what the conditions were and maybe why you came to the United States and what life has been like since?
Bernd Heinrich [00:08:28] Wow. That’s a long story.
Brilliant Miller [00:08:31] And I can tell that it’s a focus on your contact with me staying close to in.
Bernd Heinrich [00:08:36] The location.
Brilliant Miller [00:08:38] Of birds and colors and so forth.
Bernd Heinrich [00:08:40] Right. Well. You know, my family came from what’s now Poland. And it was originally, you know, West Price and we were part of the big emigration at the end of the war fleeing to the West and. And we eventually made it. And that was a long trek with a lot of adventure with which if people are interested, they could read the snoring bird where I talk about it. But it was we ended up, you know, in northern Germany. And, you know, we had no place to really go. My father had a contact there. They said, if you have any trouble, come over and stay with us. But there were so many refugees there, it was all filled up. So there wasn’t any room and there was a forest nearby. And so my father was a wasp specialist. And he and my mother, well, the first thing they did went out there looking for wasps and they found this little hut, you know, a forest as a cabin or something in the woods. And they talked with the forest and says, Yeah, it’s empty. You can stay there. So we ended up staying there in the forest for six years and basically living off the land. Nobody had any official job or anything like that. You know, we picked berries and trapped mice and ate them and and and mushrooms and berries. And we had a couple of horses that we picked up on the way that we brought with us and a wagon, you know, all kind of what was running loose there. And we traded it to the farmer in town and the little village. And so my father. Was still totally of. In love with these wasps. And he went and I was helping him collect the wasps. So I got to know insects pretty well. And and and he had colleagues in the States, not only from his past but also from his expeditions to Sulawesi and Burma for the American Museum and for the Berlin Museum. And. And so, you know, he had contacts as well come to the States and he wanted to publish his WASPs. And he says, well, you could publish it here. And so that’s why we came.
Brilliant Miller [00:11:42] Wow.
Bernd Heinrich [00:11:43] But we were, you know, fairly happy. We were, you know, living in the woods. And I had a pet crow as a companion. And, you know, I’d have sometimes a J and a pigeon. And, you know, I was always out with him, you know, selling traps in the woods and catching insects and looking for berries. So, you know, I basically my first memories are are just, you know, with living in the woods. Wow.
Brilliant Miller [00:12:13] So I understand that there was a time, not long after your family came to the United States when your parents continued to do work abroad and left you in school here with your sister, basically in a school where all the other students didn’t have parents. It was a school for orphans, although you weren’t orphans. And that you just you conducted a correspondence with your parents. Is that is that true? And if so, what was that like?
Bernd Heinrich [00:12:38] Yeah, well, yeah, they were in June. They had a couple of expeditions to Africa, mostly to Angola and West Africa. And they were they would be there like years at a time. And so we were and we at the school, when they did come home, maybe for Christmas once a year or something, we were not even allowed to leave because other kids couldn’t do it. So why should we have that privilege? And anyway, it was, you know, the Goodwill School is in the founder was really into nature really. You know we had an Ernest Thompson seat and fireplace and and and so that was a good library. And the library helped me to find the books about Jack London up in the North. And so I and then we had cabins in the woods and I was. Becoming more and more bewildered in the woods, although we had to, you know, be in the cottage and wash dishes and wash the floors, stuff like that. And so I was kind of chafing on that after a while, and I ran away with a couple of other kids and we were going to go, right, exactly where I am right now. Wow. And we almost made it. But no, we walked all the distance, like about 30 miles or so, but got sent right back. And so I got kicked out. But so then I had the best year ever after, I guess just about because my mother happened to be home. Then they were going to go again, but she was home then. So I was back, back here and I had friends and neighbors who were associated with these woods and they were really tickled to have somebody who was really interested in the woods. And so they kind of took me under their arms. So I had, you know, like another sort of pseudo parents who were who are really, you know, supportive of me being out in the woods, going fishing and deer hunting and stuff. So, you know, we continued I basically continued that that same life that we had before, only, only much more so now.
Brilliant Miller [00:15:18] Oh, well, and I understand also, just from having read your book, Racing the Clock Running Across a Lifetime, which I’ll just also interject here. I love this book. I, I was touched by it. I learned so much about different aspects of nature, about running, life, and aging. So I hope that anyone listening, if any of those are interested in all of yours, that you’ll pick this book up and enjoy it as much as I did. But from this book, one of the things that that I took away is that you didn’t necessarily you hadn’t, even though you loved nature and you had a home in it, and you had this family, this little family on a farm that you were a part of. So you hadn’t necessarily found a way to distinguish yourself until you really began running as a competitive or maybe not even necessarily competitive in the cross-country. But when you talk about where and how did running come into your life?
Bernd Heinrich [00:16:20] Oh, well, it actually started at the school there. You know, I was probably one of the most near the nature idea that they were actually thinking about, but they had people working who, who worked. And so I. I was an outsider. And also, I was you know, I was speaking I was writing in German to my parents in Africa. And my house mother said, Call me a little hun because I had German heritage and I didn’t get along with her. And so what was I going to say?
Brilliant Miller [00:17:20] So somehow we were getting to how running was a part of running.
Bernd Heinrich [00:17:25] Okay. So that’s right. So I went out with a cross-country team, and the first year I did pretty well. You know, I hadn’t, I hadn’t run, or actually, I should mention one of the teachers had us read a book about Glenn Cunningham who got burned and became a runner. And so that kind of got the idea, you know, there was some value to running. And so I thought, well, okay, I can run. So I was running and I always became the mail boy and had to run back and forth between town. So I was getting in shape. And pretty soon I was winning all the meets and then I rehabilitated myself. And as the principal said, well, you are college material. And in the convocation in school, you know, Bernd Heinrich, he won five races in a row and he’s now an ace. And so I kept running. I made a ten in a row and then said, well, you’re college material. College material! I said you gotta be kidding! Yes. Well, I’ve got I didn’t want to go to college. I wanted to be on the farm. But my mother then said, well, you better go to college. You know, it’s good for you. Well, I want to live in the woods, you know. I don’t know. I wanted to be a farmer. So I’m glad she did. She insisted. And so I did go to college and I found out, you know, people were appreciative of what I knew, like some of the professors. I could talk to them for the first time and get people there who were really interested, you know, what I was interested in. And so that got me started on being a biologist, taking what I had from experience and making it into science from there. And, and that led to, by a series of accidents, almost, that I ended up being interested in, in basically exercise physiology of insects, you know, how they could accomplish such amazing feats of physical prowess. And I’d made discoveries in insect physiology that were just very inspiring. And so I just kept running. I seemed to be into that niche and I was just running for the fun of it later on. And I just often had injuries, actually, which I thought would be lethal, for running. And so I appreciated it all the more when I couldn’t run, but then I came back and would end up being even better than I was before because I appreciated it so much that I would put more into it. It was valuable, and it had always been.
Brilliant Miller [00:20:40] Yeah.
Bernd Heinrich [00:20:41] And thus continued to be.
Brilliant Miller [00:20:44] I understand that there was one injury that you had where you recognized what had happened and immediately went to the hospital and asked for surgery that day. Will you talk about that?
Bernd Heinrich [00:20:59] Yeah. Well. I had run a couple of races and had ended up going as far as a marathon. And then I ran this small ultra raise a 50 K and, and I ran, you know, right up near the front near, you know, somebody who held the American record for 100 K. I said, you know, I haven’t really trained for what if I really train? Maybe I could do it. And so I decided to really train for it. And I was I would be 41 years old at the time of the race. And so I started. And I was right here at this camp, right here in the woods that summer. And I had. I was chopping down trees with an ax because I didn’t yet know how to use a chainsaw. So I would be in the morning chopping down trees and then afternoon running. And I slipped and twisted my knee and broke cartilage. And so after I had decided I was going to try for the American recorded 100 K and, you know, I was really going to be committed to it and yet it was gone. So I said, Well, maybe I can recover. So I immediately went to the doctor says, Do it now. I say, You know, I want to get back out there. And they did it the next day. And ten days later, I was out running again. I had a medium meniscus broken in one of my knees.
Brilliant Miller [00:22:42] That’s amazing. And you said that was at age 41.
Bernd Heinrich [00:22:46] Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:22:47] And you and you did recover in subsequent to that. And there’s so much in this running career that I want to ask about, but I actually want to go back for just a moment to something you mentioned. You talked about this term, ace, that um, I don’t know if it was the principal or someone at the school who was in a position.
Bernd Heinrich [00:23:05] It was the principal, yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:23:07] That term, right. And the reason that stood out to me as a coach, as one who helps people achieve results that are important to them, that helps people to be the person they want to be, to live the life they want to live. Anytime I hear an identity statement, I know there’s a hole, there’s a history there, there’s a belief set, that kind of thing. But you even talk about this in your book that this this this term, this title ACE was really important to you. Right. And even it was, if I understand, it was the same principle that you had been in trouble with, for maybe lighting something on fire or blowing something up. And then he changed his feeling about you once he viewed it as an ace. Will you talk about maybe about the trouble that you almost got in or then the transition to this ace and how that label, that label impacted you going forward?
Bernd Heinrich [00:24:03] Just take. Well. As I said, I had run away and that was a no-no. And put me on the blacklist and. And I hadn’t any distinguishing characteristics showing at all. And I was also rather immature physically compared to others. I was a very slow grower and I was skinny and small. And here with these guys, no, they were men. And I was just a little kid, you know, even though, you know, I was 16, 17 or whatever. And so, you know, I could compete with them and so I could finally do something and be recognized. And it made all the difference. Like I said, like Kelly mentioned in Ace. And again, it went back to Miss Dunham teacher who we talked about, Glen Cunningham, who got an injury he used through he made a mistake to even a worse one. He threw gasoline onto a fire. He thought it was water, and he burned him and they told him he could never run again. Anyway, you know, that touched me. You know that he could come back and he came to the best American miler at the time. Yeah. Or a great miler anyways. And so, you know, he really faced some huge handicap and and and and because of the handicap, he became what is known for. If it hadn’t been for that, he probably wouldn’t have valued the ability to run as something that to be proud of and something to do that it’s worthwhile, you know, to do. You have a gift and you don’t even know it. You didn’t even know it until he tried it. Yeah. So that’s what I saw.
Brilliant Miller [00:26:40] Amazing thing. Thank you for sharing that. And then. And then. So you had this injury at 41, this torn meniscus. And it was shortly before that that you ran your first marathon. As I understand it, it’s 39 and you won, which is not a common thing. Right. We tend this is one of the things that I love so much about what you share. Is that my I think our view our view as whatever Americans or the Western world is that basically aging which by the way, I didn’t know this term senescence. So thank you for giving me some more vocabulary. Right. In this term of aging, I think we tend to have this view that you get old, you get decrepit, you get the disease, you lose function, and then life gets horrible when you die. But that’s not at all. But I think you’re living right. You’re still you’re in your eighties now, as I understand, you’re still running pretty much every day.
Bernd Heinrich [00:27:34] My 82nd birthday is in a couple of days. Wow.
Brilliant Miller [00:27:39] Congratulations on that. And in this example that you live of being active, being healthy, being vigorous, making a contribution to others is one that I think is such a is such a refreshing alternative to, you know, we eat a junk diet, we live a sedentary life, we take a bunch of medications to manage pain or disability, and then we pass away and we get put in a casket or something. But that’s not at all, you know, what you’ve been living in. So I just want to go back to the running thing for a moment because you’ve got this incredible spectrum, you’ve got this great range of you’ve you’ve run a sub two minute half mile, which is no small feat, but you also have incredible length where I understand and I think you still hold the record and maybe you can correct me of having run 156.8 miles in 24 hours. Do I have that right?
Bernd Heinrich [00:28:39] 24 hours? Yeah. Yeah, it was the American record, but I heard it’s better now. I forgot who it is. I don’t have kept track, but. Yeah, I had it. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:28:50] And as I tell that story in the book, you mentioned that your plan that day was just to run. Was it a hundred miler? But kind of spontaneously. You and your support partner said, Well, why don’t you just go for the 24-hour record and you’re like, okay, that’s not common. But what you talk about how that unfolded and what it was like.
Bernd Heinrich [00:29:12] Well, I would have. I had it was a 24-hour race. I didn’t want to run the 24-hour. I wanted to run 100 miles. I had set the record. I said, Well, I can do 100 miles in an effort in a 24-hour race. I talked with a race director that he would time the last bit. So I would do it. I would, you know, easily do 100 miles. Not easily. But I could do it and I could get the record.
Brilliant Miller [00:29:52] And how old were you at this time?
Bernd Heinrich [00:29:53] I was, I think. Ah, 45. Yeah. Okay. I’m not exactly sure. Yeah. Okay. But. But then we went to the race. It was a boarding college track in Brunswick, Maine. And it turned out when we went there, it was forecast like 90 degrees, a really hot day. So I know for sure, you know, I couldn’t. That would be too much handicap because, you know, I’d be sweating too much and losing weight. And you couldn’t do it. So I said, well, if I run slower, then I wouldn’t be losing that much water. And at night it wouldn’t be a problem. So I’ll compromise. And, speed up at night and go slow in the daytime or something like that. Anyways, I figured I wouldn’t have to have such a wicked pace. And so. So I switched over in order to take advantage of the night.
Brilliant Miller [00:31:06] Wow. Okay. Let me ask you this. You talked just a moment ago about studying the exercise physiology of insects. Right. What did you learn from studying insects that you were able to apply or share with others in ways? I mean, I understand you made some pretty significant scientific breakthroughs.
Bernd Heinrich [00:31:29] Yeah. I mean, for insects, but, you know, they don’t. You know, the thing is energy expenditure. You can’t. And and and speed etc. of contracts contraction rate and so the same problems. But of course, the insights are going to solve them in different ways that we can’t do the same way. But I did. But like I say, overheating is one of the big problems for longer distances and the sprint, of course, it doesn’t matter. But if you go a longer distance, you gather up the heat and then you lose water and then you dehydrate. So all of the systems have to be running perfectly if you’re going to set some kind of a record. So it’s just not the energy expenditure, it’s energy input and the water output, etc., and the waste output. So these are the same problems that occur in an insect only in different ways. But, you know, I remember there was there are some parallels. That is kind of interesting. For example, you know, looking at honey bees, I saw that they have a coil of the blood system in the patio and between a thorax and the abdomen, which meant that if they were going to circulate fluid into the abdomen to get rid of the heat in the thorax where the muscles are with the conductor and heat exchanger there, then then they wouldn’t be able to lose it. So they are built, they are small. So to maintain heat, they have to keep it as much as possible in the muscles. But. It turns out that that usually if they have enough fluid because they’re out there foraging for nectar and so they’re getting fluid and they have it in the stomach, a dilute sugar solution and which is basically water. And but I found that if they hated them, they would regurgitate from the honey stomach and spread the fluid over the head and their thorax. So, you know, in fact, I published a paper in science on that after I found it out. And then I found out that Jack Foltz, who won the Boston Marathon on one of the hottest days ever and was a winner. And what he’d done was he had a squeeze bottle. And then instead of getting liquid from the stomach that regurgitates on his head, he’d squeeze from the squeeze bottle. And he kept cooling himself and he won the race. So there’s a parallel, the same kind of problem and a different solution in a different way.
Brilliant Miller [00:34:41] Yeah. And we’re often, I think, not as intelligent as the insects or the animals around us, but in that case, that was pretty straightforward. That’s cool. I. I think you had a time when someone took credit for your work and actually published a scientific paper that was really based on your discoveries. Were you? Without naming any names or anything, you just share what that experience was like that you made a pretty profound discovery. And I think you were looking you were looking for a co-author, maybe, but then you found somebody who basically took your work and published it.
Bernd Heinrich [00:35:18] Well, I wasn’t looking for a coauthor. You know, I wanted expert advice. Says, you know, I’m new at this. I’m kind of new at this. And I think I have a really great idea. I wonder if it’s original, you know, I wonder if it’s worth publishing and I didn’t want to have somebody else take credit for it, especially since I was a total unknown. Sure, they would automatically get credit for it. So if you know, if he or she put their name on it because I was then a total unknown, total unknown in science, I was a runner, you know. So am I going to make a discovery? No. So. But anyway. So I, you know, I gave the talk and it was in a class and there were a lot of students there and everybody was really excited. And then the person came up to me afterward and said, you wanted to be a coauthor. And I said, No, you know, I’m not interested. I wanted to have you know, something that is worthwhile. And apparently, it is. And and and then I. He asked, Can you send me the paper that you wrote? Sure. So I sent him the paper, and what he did was he rewrote it in his handwriting and sent it out to all the other experts who contact attempts. Oh, you had a great idea there. Just exactly what I thought. Wow. That’s you know, that was an eye opener. It just really blew me away.
Brilliant Miller [00:37:12] Yeah. So what did you learn from that? Because on the one hand, as you’re saying, it can be very valuable to socialize and share our ideas and get. Yeah. But and perspectives and at the same time being careful with, with what we have. So there’s a balance there, of course with people you trust or whatever. But. But what did you, what did you ultimately learn from that experience or how did it change how you went forward from that point in your career?
Bernd Heinrich [00:37:41] Well, from that point, when I have something I present, I publish it myself. And. And. But I also collaborate. You know, I have good collaborations and. But that is if we start at the beginning together. Yeah. You know, like. Like, let’s do this together. He has this problem. Let’s solve it. But if. If one already has it solved, there’s no point to have it published. With somebody else, just they rewrite it because most of the value is not in the writing, it’s in the idea and in the work that is done to get the data. So if you help get the data, that’s totally different. But if you don’t provide any data, you know, that’s not it.
Brilliant Miller [00:38:42] Right? Then it’s not much science if there’s no data. Right.
Bernd Heinrich [00:38:45] Yes. So when you. So this was an exception. I mean, I have to say that just about all the other colleagues I had, you know, we have the best relationships. And then I got huge inspirations from my professors and I had and I just loved them and they helped me a lot. So I was totally taken aback in this case.
Brilliant Miller [00:39:13] Yeah, understandably. When you were first looking for a school or a place maybe to land, so to speak. This was around the time that the DNA breakthrough to Crick and Watson. Right. And people were enamored by that and focused on that. But you tell a story in the book about someone who may be derisively used the word naturalist to describe you. Do you did you see yourself as a naturalist? And if so, what did that mean for you? And how is a naturalist different from a scientist, if it is?
Bernd Heinrich [00:39:51] Yeah. Oh. Well. Naturalists would not be considered probably, you know, molecular biologists. You have to deal with machines and complicated experiments. And the naturalist is someone who is more in direct contact with nature and sees problems. And, you know, I felt myself to be a naturalist, but also a scientist in the sense that I see the problem and then I bring it up, brought it into the lab. And I do the experiments. And most of the neat problems that I mean, the problems that are solved that I’m really proud of are the ones that I saw in the field and then brought in and did the experiments to prove it. Yeah, this is what it looks like. But let’s try to disprove it, first of all, and, and, and see if it really stands up. And so actually, after I retired from the University of Vermont, I, came up here and I didn’t have to have a lab. And I, you know, for a number of years, every year, I would at least find something that I could get the data out in the field that didn’t require machinery, lab equipment, and so on to do it. But I could make the observations and get the data. And I published one paper a year pretty much, and I’ve published them in the Northeastern Naturalist because I want to give credit to this is where you really find what’s new is by being out in the field, not in the lab, unless you are really into the mechanism of DNA or something like that. And. So. So I call myself a naturalist because I go back to everything that even the physical physiological stuff came from the field. So, you know, I want to give value to that to be out there. I mean, rather than just theory. I mean. Well. I see something new every single day. Every single day. There’s something that could potentially be pursued and that nobody would ever come up with from a theoretical point. And if they did, they would know where to begin to get the data.
Brilliant Miller [00:42:55] Yeah. I mean, that’s all the way back to what we talked about at the beginning of the key to life is contact. Right. Right there being direct contact. Something else that I was really touched by in your book is this experience you shared about basically having, I don’t know how you would call it developed sort of pain for one, maybe disability at some point in your career when you were pursuing a course of study. I think by this time you were at UCLA and then you actually went home to Maine and a lot of and you found a path and there are ailments that you were experiencing went away. Do I have that right? And if so, will you talk about that a little bit?
Bernd Heinrich [00:43:42] Okay. Yeah, I was. I, I had started my master’s degree was in the lab, actually, with cells. It was cell biology and my professor was James Cook. And we collaborated. He, he, you know, he was the main he basically had the problem and he put me out of the problem. And, you know, it was just a wonderful collaboration. And he said, you know, I ought to go on with molecular biology because this was a hot thing at the time. And like I say, I went he said, well, you ought to go to UCLA because he had gone there. So but actually, this was after I’m getting a step ahead of myself. I was. Doing a respiration metabolic expenditure of these cells. And they said, well, you ought to go to such and such a place and apply there for a Ph.D. I was doing a master’s. So went there and they asked me, you know, why do you want to become a biologist? And I said, well, you know, I remember when I was a kid, I was about six years old and I was in the woods in Germany. And I came across this brook and there was this big willow tree, and it was full of bloom. And there were birds there catching flies, and there were bumblebees on the flowers. And he jumped up. He said you’re a naturalist. And, you know, so this was not respiratory physiology.
Brilliant Miller [00:45:44] And this was not a compliment. Is that right? He didn’t mean this.
Bernd Heinrich [00:45:47] Not meant to be a compliment. Yeah. So I well, I feel the opposite. I feel that this is a compliment. Yeah, sure. And so that’s where it came from.
Brilliant Miller [00:46:05] Okay. And then and as you were following this course, basically suggested by someone else about the molecular biology, and you’re trying to find your place in the problem and what your contribution can be, it ultimately it led to some maybe not so healthy outcomes for you, but then you made a shift and yeah, yeah.
Bernd Heinrich [00:46:25] So I went to UCLA and I was going to do, you know, extramitochondrial DNA, I mean, extra chromosome or DNA like DNA from chloroplast DNA from mitochondria. You know, these are potentially ancient symbionts that became parasites that that are now part of our body. And it’s very exciting stuff. And but the the methods are extremely intricate and and and and it depended on on huge machines and stuff. And I went into this lab to try to do it, and I didn’t get anywhere. And in fact, I had, you know, basically I didn’t know what the hell was going on for a year. And I totally, you know, bummed out. So.
Brilliant Miller [00:47:32] And I think at this point it even impacted your ability to move physically. Right. Like you had run?
Bernd Heinrich [00:47:38] Yeah. Yeah, it was a whole year. And at the end, I think I was so stressed out that something I was I was ill, but I couldn’t find out what it was. And I had, you know, joint problems and pains. And I didn’t know what they were. And and and. But you know, I had. And so that was another one of these injury problems that basically led to an appreciation of of of of when you are healthy, you know what a gift it is. And like I say, I had changed my topic and I started working with caterpillars. And then from caterpillars to miles. And I was in my element and made discoveries and then I recovered. So I think it might have something psycho-physical was involved there.
Brilliant Miller [00:48:45] Yeah, it certainly seems that way, the way you describe it in the book. And to just point out that this love of caterpillars was something from a very young age and that you had made little cages with screens and even, as I understand, still do to this day, that it’s just been a passion and part of maybe who you are.
Bernd Heinrich [00:49:07] Yeah. So that was who I was. And I wasn’t being. I was being something else, trying to be something else. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:49:13] Yeah, there’s I think there’s something very powerful in, in that for all of us, just finding what is true for us. What do we love? Where do we belong? You know, that kind of thing? Yeah. So that’s wonderful. Okay, so the last just the last few questions I have in this part of the interview. Uh, one thing that I want to ask you to make this statement is a few things in here I found really fascinating. There’s a sentence in your book. You say, One lesson I have learned is that life is a journey and a too careful planning of the road ahead can lead to a dead end and frustration. So what’s your take on that, on Mike having a plan versus, you know, just being on a journey?
Bernd Heinrich [00:50:00] Well, I think, you know, there are so many opportunities that come up all the time. And if you’re totally on a highway going 60 miles an hour, you’re not going to see. And and and kind of wandering around and going slow. You’ll see a lot more. I mean, for example, this morning, I was wondering why I hadn’t seen the woodcock here. Every spring there’s a woodcock year that displays and I know they get worms that are coming out of the ground now. And we had robins here and they all left. So what the heck was going on? Well, they both feed on. Angler worms. And us as well, I wonder, see the angle worms. So this morning I spent about half an hour just raking leaves to see if there would be the angle worms under there that they should be they should be pulling the leaves down into the ground. And and and I spent half an hour and I found four angle worms. So if it took me that long, I mean, there’s obviously they can’t find any. So right now, I have a problem right here. What happened to the angler worms? Why didn’t they find any angle worms? You know, it’s totally unexpected. No, it’s I was totally involved in some other project, and I needed to get to the end. And it might not be going that well anymore. I might still be stuck with it, but that maybe this is more important. Maybe I should look at this little bit more. So in other words, things are coming up all the time. And sometimes it’s it’s nice to have a choice.
Brilliant Miller [00:51:50] Yeah, absolutely. And the power of being present, being attentive. Yeah, right. That’s another thing that I wanted to ask you about was you share a story in the book about a time when I think you were part of an effort that was from the was probably from the State Department of Forestry to spray for months. Right. I think they were spraying DDT, but and you can correct or add anything here that I might have wrong. But what I found so powerful was this idea that they were spraying to solve a problem that ultimately wasn’t really a problem. Yeah. Will you talk about that?
Bernd Heinrich [00:52:28] Right. Yeah. Well, those are the gypsy moth. They will, you know, the foliage. And. And so. They have these population outbreaks and. But they have natural. Controls. Normally, I mean, they’re parasitic wasps and they find the caterpillars not an egg. And they keep the inside the data and then the floor is the same thing. And then there are birds that feed them, and then there are bacteria that get them and they have viruses that get them. So once the population gets high, boom, then, you know, just like, like, like Colbert, if lots of people have it and they’re managed together, it spreads like crazy. And so here that’s what happens normally in nature all the time. And then they get knocked out and they all get killed. So they, you know, unless they have some remedy and these caterpillars usually don’t. So anyway, they were going to see if they were Gypsy Myers up there, northern Aroostook County in Iowa, as I got a job just driving the roads and putting out little traps where they had a scent that attracts males, and then they get stuck on glue. And then, you know, how many if they were there and if they were there, they were going to spray the hell of it. But, you know, tell you the truth, right here where I am right now, I’ve been here for four years, and I see a mass of gypsy moths almost every year and a few caterpillars. They’re here. They’re here all the time. All the time, but in very small amounts. So they are being controlled by, you know, if if if you spray just because they’re there, you would be spraying everywhere all the time now.
Brilliant Miller [00:54:49] And then, all that. But unfavorable consequences.
Bernd Heinrich [00:54:52] If there’s an outbreak that if there is an outbreak, then the predators and the viruses and the bacteria, they will come in and they’ll raise hell and get rid of them.
Brilliant Miller [00:55:03] Yeah. And DDT, we’ve since learned, is really not a good thing to be introducing into the environment. But at the time we didn’t know that or even believed it was safe. But I was just I was just really struck by this because I have this kind of theory as I go through life that very often we’re trying in life, we’re trying to solve problems that either don’t they’re not really problems. It’s just a perspective we have of something we don’t like or something we think shouldn’t be. That way is A and B, the solution is often worse than this kind of the cure is worse than the disease kind of thing is kind of remarkable.
Bernd Heinrich [00:55:41] Definitely. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that’s that’s where, you know, contact is required. You know, if they had known that there was a place, you know, where somebody had seen these laws every year, at least some of them for for for two decades, they’d probably think twice about because they were assuming that once you get a few there then that they wouldn’t explode and go into a population explosion and have defoliation. But you know, if you know what happens in other places, then you can have a better idea of what the mechanisms are. And nature has some pretty good solutions.
Brilliant Miller [00:56:25] Yeah, no doubt.
Bernd Heinrich [00:56:27] Keep your hands off. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:56:29] Yeah. Something else I’d love to hear you talk about that. This was one that for me was a bit of a like a mind expander that you say there is no absolute state of being alive. There are degrees of it from that of the surviving yeast cells in our bread dough to the hummingbird. And I had never thought of that. You talk about frogs that freeze to the point of basically being dead, but then they come back and so forth. And that just resonated with me as a 44 year old who by the mid afternoon needs a longish nap, right of life past the state of aliveness. There’s some days, some moments I feel way more alive than others. But this idea that in biology and life itself, there are degrees of being alive for all you talk about that.
Bernd Heinrich [00:57:15] Yeah. I mean, I mean, they found seeds in Egyptian tombs, you know, for thousands of years. I mean, they were they were not living, you know, they were dried up and there was that. And so with seeds, you can kind of understand that, you know, you plant your garden, you get these dried peas and so on, and they’re dried. They’re not doing anything well. So yeah, I mean, are degrees. I mean, the bears who hibernate, they are more alive, but they’re still not really doing much. And, and so there are, you know, woodchucks and brown squirrels who who are just barely breathing and having one heartbeat per minute or something. So, you know. And so that’s, you know, is that really being alive? I don’t know. Yeah, but. Interesting.
Brilliant Miller [00:58:17] Okay.
Bernd Heinrich [00:58:18] So there was, for example. His name was Hinton. He was an editor of Insect Physiology. And he had on his desk a jar with midge larvae, some fly larvae from Africa. They normally dry up in pools, and they might there might be, you know, 20 years before the rain come again. But in the meantime, they’re just totally like like dry chaff. And he could take them out for them and get them wet. And immediately, you know, they come alive. So you have instant insect. So. So. So same with the frogs that I’m hearing right now. As a matter of fact, down in the pond, you know, they’re frozen and they were under the snow and they certainly had no senses at all. And. And you would. It’s hard to say whether you call him alive or dead.
Brilliant Miller [00:59:25] Yeah, well, and I realize here I’m maybe kind of attempting to bridge the scientific realm with the philosophical realm. But that insight about degrees of aliveness, because I tended to think it’s binary. Like, as a human being, you’re there alive or you’re dead. But clearly, we all have energy, you know, and we can see through glucose and metabolism and other things that are, we’d say, Oh, I’m having low energy. I’m having high energy. And there is some correspondence, some correlation with the physical energy systems in our body. But it had never really occurred to me that in all of life there are. It’s maybe not as black and white as I had thought it was. And and then that’s where the philosophical side is. What can we do to live with with greater levels of aliveness? Right. And I’m asking this, I guess, against the backdrop of a society that seems to have a lot of addiction, a lot of depression, a lot of disease, that is really not what I see as aliveness. So I don’t know if you have a view on that, but how can we as individuals, even in maybe what could be considered a sick society, how can we live with greater levels of aliveness? Yeah.
Bernd Heinrich [01:00:33] Well, I think. You know, I totally agree with you that that there are different levels of aliveness. And, you know, I think we want to live. Everyone wants to live at the highest or high higher levels. And and and and there are certain things that. They tracked. You know, we could potentially, you know, maybe get get a shot that knocks us out totally and we can hibernate or something. But I don’t think I’d want that. Yeah, I don’t care for a thousand years that way. I would prefer, you know, living 10 minutes in a thousand years being knocked out. Yeah. So, yeah, it’s, it’s a good thing to think about.
Brilliant Miller [01:01:31] No doubt about. Okay. So then I just have three last questions in this section. One, I want to ask you about road kill. So I understand that you and well, you tell me about your relationship with roadkill.
Bernd Heinrich [01:01:48] Well, I mean, you could eat it, but, you know, and I have but not I don’t need to anymore. But I have. But I used it to feed my ravens. So actually when I was training for the 100 K or the 24 hour I, you know, I had these long runs. I was always looking for roadkill because I had ravens and I needed to feed them. So. And then I started burying beetles, really in questing behavior. Bring the roadkill if it’s small and you watch and bury it wasn’t transported and I made another discovery there how they can change themselves almost instantly and in appearance from. To look like a bumblebee an amazing if. Oh so again that was all aside. Show from roadkill. And I just published a little paper on maggots and how they dispose of of a carcass and how they sometimes coordinate their own behavior. So all kinds of live things going on with these dead things, you know, so the like once you get one mouse and you get a thousand flies, so they’re converting to other life. And so you see the cycling so that, you know, the animal isn’t really dead, it becomes something else. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:03:38] Absolutely. And that leads to another thing I want to ask, which is you kind of close your book with this description of how you want your life to go and being buried on the property there in Maine and so forth. Will you? I don’t mean to be morose or take the conversation somewhere you don’t want to go, but I really appreciate your view of life persisting. And I just want to ask you, what do you see? Like, how do you see the next stages of your life going? And what do you want? As it is, it transitions.
Bernd Heinrich [01:04:14] Oh. Well, you know, definitely a. I think about the future even after my body is dead. You know, it’s going to be converted to other life. And that gives me some. Pleasure, I guess, in the sense that satisfaction that that life continues. And it it continues in other forms. I mean, how is it different from a cat, a fella turning into a butterfly? How is a different you know, we don’t think of that as an end, so why not? You know, us, you know, turning in to end to and to plants that get turned into deer. So that’s a conversion as well. And we don’t think of it as an end. It’s just the beginning of something else. And I don’t have any. So I think for me, you know, looking at it that way, you know, the last thing I’d ever want is to be put into a casket and make it sterile and underground and so nothing can get at it. You know, I, I, I want to be converted through it to the rest of life. I want to join the party. I’ll be continuous, you know, just be something else.
Brilliant Miller [01:05:40] That’s a it’s a beautiful view, I think, and one very different from what many of us have who maybe fear death or don’t see the interconnection of all things. And there was a passage in your book that that I was I was really touched by where you say, I’ve seen my father sleeping with a bear cub and my mother, with her dearly loved monkey writing on her shoulder, have had crows, owls, wild geese and ravens as companions, lived with a raccoon, a skunk and several dogs. I’ve nurtured innumerable caterpillars to adulthood and routinely fed chickadees from my hand. I’m an advocate of close interspecies associations through mutual, not just one way interactions. Ingesting them is about as intimate as it gets. And I have eaten many mice with chickens and would never pass up roadkill unless I had to. Eating other life is what every one of us does every day. I don’t think I would mind being eaten myself. It’s just that what a wonderful like all out view.
Bernd Heinrich [01:06:41] Well, I’d forgotten that. That I’d written that. Huh? Yeah, well, that’s what I believe. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:06:49] That’s cool. Well, thank you. Thank you for letting me ask about that. Okay. So the last I said, I had three, and I really have just two. So in the book you talk about love, you talk about and I want to find this exact thing. It’s not as long as that. So it’s it’s pretty short. But you do say toward the end of the book. That you say, pardon me? You say, having now passed my 80th birthday, I’m no longer the runner or the scientist I once was, but I’ve had most of my dreams come true. Both rose, both roles had until recently captured my focus and my energy. I’m sorry that I was all too often unable to give more attention to relationships and friends. My new race in the last passage of my life is to learn to love more deeply. So I just want to ask you about that, about learning to love more deeply. What does that mean to you? How are you going about it? Why is that important to you? Just anything about. About learning to love more deeply and.
Bernd Heinrich [01:07:52] She’s just being considerate. I mean, I think to to to think not from your own perspective, but you know what? Others might be thinking, you know, you know, to be a scientist. You often have to be so concentrated on something on this problem. And there, you know, it’s total immersion and, you know, and that takes away. I mean, I had good relations and they were lost because of that, especially since, you know, I spent like ten years working on the trees, tree swallows. I had to be out there, you know, from the morning till night it is away from my partner. And that might feel like abandonment and and and it in a way it was or is, but, you know, so it feels like a relief. I don’t have to be out there now, 24 hours a day, and see what that swallows going to do. You know, it’s thinking about somebody else. And that is, you know, I was loving the swallows or the Ravens and they took all my attention. So a lot of it is a matter of paying attention and being open to something else rather than oneself or or or maybe even something. Know whether not to swallow or raven or whatever.
Brilliant Miller [01:09:36] Thank you for that description. Okay. Well, thank you for letting me go there. I know we.
Bernd Heinrich [01:09:44] Covered it up. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:09:46] I know. We’ve covered a lot in a very short amount of time. But I do just want to ask you if there’s anything that we haven’t touched on or anything that you want to talk about before we transition to the other parts of the interview. Now’s the time we can do that.
Bernd Heinrich [01:10:05] No. I can’t think of a thing.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:08] Okay, good. All right. Well, we’ll go ahead and transition then to the Enlightening lightning round. How are you doing, by the way?
Bernd Heinrich [01:10:16] Good.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:17] Good. Okay. All right. So this next one is again, it’s a series of questions, I think there are nine questions here that my aim for the most part is to ask the question and be quiet. You’re welcome to answer as long as you want. I might pull on a response here or there, but my goal is to keep us moving. Okay. All right. So question for one here. I’m borrowing a line from Forrest Gump. Right. Which is I’m asking you to please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a.
Bernd Heinrich [01:10:53] Journey.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:55] Okay. Question number two, once something you’ve changed your mind about in the last few years.
Bernd Heinrich [01:11:06] What is the most important?
Brilliant Miller [01:11:10] Okay. Question number three, if you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it, or a phrase or a saying or a quote or a quip, what would the shirt say?
Bernd Heinrich [01:11:24] Mother Nature.
Brilliant Miller [01:11:26] Okay. Question number four What book, other than one of your own have you gifted or recommended most often?
Bernd Heinrich [01:11:38] Other than what?
Brilliant Miller [01:11:40] Other than one of your own.
Bernd Heinrich [01:11:42] Okay. Of Men and Martius. I forgot the author at this point. I think it’s Errington. Errington his love for growing up with Martius and the nature of men and Martius. I think that’s what it’s called. I am completely in my mind because it was something that influenced me a lot when I was a kid. So I don’t remember too much about it, but except that it was important.
Brilliant Miller [01:12:22] Yeah. Of Men and Marshes by Paul Harrington, published in 1957. Does that sound right?
Bernd Heinrich [01:12:27] Oh, my God. Oh, my God. You got.
Brilliant Miller [01:12:29] It? Yeah, I just found it on the Internet right there. The collective brains are right there. Yep. Wow. Okay. Well, thank you for that. Okay. Question number five. So in your life, you’ve traveled a lot, although you’ve been in Maine a lot, too. What’s one travel hack? Mean something you’d take with you when you travel or something you do to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable?
Bernd Heinrich [01:12:56] The camera.
Brilliant Miller [01:12:58] Okay. Any particular kind in any specific way you use that camera. Nope. Okay.
Bernd Heinrich [01:13:05] I just have a little, little tiny camera. Uh oh. Got a digital one, and I had one. My first camera was a little box camera, a square one, Kodak. And so I’ve had a camera ever since I was ever since the things that I wanted to see again.
Brilliant Miller [01:13:28] And you’re sure to take it with you when you’re going from here to there? Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Question number six. What’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age? Well.
Bernd Heinrich [01:13:42] I can’t. I. I guess I’m aging well, but I. I can’t remember anything that I changed, except I’m not running as much.
Brilliant Miller [01:13:55] You still doing about four miles a day?
Bernd Heinrich [01:13:58] Yeah, something like that.
Brilliant Miller [01:14:01] You know, that’s a way more than most people run, right? Anyway, as I stop that, I’m so inspired. Okay. Question number seven. What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Bernd Heinrich [01:14:19] That life is everlasting. Life is everlasting.
Brilliant Miller [01:14:24] Yeah. Me too. It’s beautiful. Okay, question number eight. What’s the most important or useful thing you’ve learned about making relationships work?
Bernd Heinrich [01:14:36] Talking.
Brilliant Miller [01:14:38] Any particular time or manner or topic to talking being.
Bernd Heinrich [01:14:47] Open to. To where the ideas or the unexpected and being tolerant.
Brilliant Miller [01:15:00] Hmm. Okay. Question number nine. So this one relates to money and it’s aside from the power of compound interest. What’s the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about money?
Bernd Heinrich [01:15:16] She says I don’t think I’ve learned anything about money. I’m still pondering it. It’s not it’s not the answer. That’s one thing I know. It’s enough is enough. That’s it.
Brilliant Miller [01:15:35] Okay. Awesome. And then the last question here. Is if people want to learn more from you or if they want to connect with you something you’d be okay with, they did. What would you have them do?
Bernd Heinrich [01:15:51] You mean like from the audience?
Brilliant Miller [01:15:54] Yeah. Anybody listening? Except, of course, they could buy one of your books. They could look on Wikipedia. They can search YouTube for some videos. I don’t think you really have a website necessarily. Or social media presence.
Bernd Heinrich [01:16:09] Yeah. Well, I know I don’t know how to answer that question because I don’t. I don’t really want to influence anyone. You know what they should do. I mean, it’s whatever it is they feel like doing and that seems appropriate to them. So I don’t want to make any recommendations.
Brilliant Miller [01:16:31] Okay, fair enough. That’s fine. All right. So as an expression of gratitude to you, one thing I’ve done is I’ve gone online to a microlending site. It actually started in San Francisco. It’s an organization called Cuba Board. And what they do is disburse loans to women entrepreneurs in developing countries to help them grow their business and improve the quality of life for their family, their community and themselves. So through Kiva dot org, I’ve loaned $100 to a woman in east Kenya named El Severe. El at least severe and she will use it to buy more seeds that she will then sell. So when that loan is repaid, by the way, I won’t I wonder in any interest it’ll go to facilitating more loans. So hopefully this is a virtuous cycle that we’ve been able to put a little momentum into just from the simple act of having a conversation. So thank you for giving me a reason to to do that.
Bernd Heinrich [01:17:33] Well, thank you. Thank you.
Brilliant Miller [01:17:36] Yeah. Okay. So the last part the last part of the interview here is is just it’s about writing. It’s about creativity, habits, routines, mindsets, tools that that can help us to complete our own writing projects or our own creative projects. And I want to I just want to start with the question. When did you first know you were a writer?
Bernd Heinrich [01:18:05] Oh. That was. I know. I remember when I was still in high school, I thought about how neat it would be to write a book. And I thought and I now know precisely what book it was. I wanted to be up in a tree and spend a year up in a tree and document everything that happened to that tree in that tree, around that tree. And and because I felt there’s so much going on and just focus on it on a tree. But anyway, and then I, I know the next thought was, well, actually, most of what will be going on would be down in the roots. And I won’t be able to know at all. I have no idea what’s going on in the roots. So I said that would probably be the most important part and I’ll miss the horse. And so I can’t be a writer because I don’t know enough. And then then I did my first book, Bumblebee Economics because I had all kinds of information now on bumblebees because all of the studies that I had done and. So and I wrote it and it was a hit and it was touted by The New York Times. And it was my first book and it was, you know, it was quoted nominated as best book in science or something like that. And, and holy shit. Nice. You know, so I said, well, maybe I am a writer. And so I wrote. So I saw then wrote a book about my, my idol and me. And so so that’s that’s when I started the first book.
Brilliant Miller [01:20:02] Well, you’ve also published more than 100 scientific papers. And my experience is it’s somewhat rare for someone to publish meaningful scientific work or academic work and to write books that reach a large, popular audience. And you’ve managed to do both. What I wonder is what is your writing routine like and how is it different if it is between the writing you do or you’ve done scientifically and the writing you’ve done, that’s more personal. Like a book about you and an owl.
Bernd Heinrich [01:20:35] Yeah. Okay. Up the ladder. Comes after. I have a whole bunch of information, you know, usually, it’s basically always stuff that I already know about and I want to learn more about and, and, and I want to get a better grasp of because I figure if you write for a general audience, you have to have a broader perspective rather than just pinpointing. You have to have the context. And so, like, right now, I’m working on a book on beauty and nature. And so every once in a while, I have an idea and I write a few paragraphs and see where it goes and just see where it flows. And then I stick it in a pile and, and, and I don’t force myself to oh, I have to keep going and going. So I write, you know, what, what seems to come up. And a lot of times I think of things, you know, like after I go to bed, suddenly I have an idea. And so I have a piece of paper there and a pen, and I write it down. And if I don’t, then the next morning I would have forgotten it. So I just gather bits and pieces and then I start to read and find new things. You know, it goes in bits and pieces and and it gradually grows branches like a tree. And after a while, it takes root.
Brilliant Miller [01:22:20] About the great, great description. What tools do you find to be helpful or maybe even indispensable in your writing? Do you write longhand? Do you have a do you use Microsoft Word or something else? Is there a way that you organize your research in folders, either physical or digital? Basically, what tools do you use that help you to actually get your books done? Yeah.
Bernd Heinrich [01:22:46] Well, I have a folder. You know, if I’m going to write about. In the northern forest or something. Stick things in there as they come along and. Oh. Yeah, that’s about it. I. Now. What’s the question again?
Brilliant Miller [01:23:10] So it’s about what tools? What tools do you find? Tools?
Bernd Heinrich [01:23:14] Yeah. Like I wish I could type I my only tool is basically, you know, I don’t have much of a tool except my pencil and I wish I could type, but I’m only now starting. I had somebody I pay someone to type for me and now, you know when they’re really late and don’t do it. So then I have to do it myself. And it’s so painful because it’s so slow. But now I’m gradually getting into the swing of it and starting to it learn to type now in my old age. So I wish I could type better.
Brilliant Miller [01:23:54] Yeah. By the way, are you using a MacBook? In Albania. Yeah. You know that in Microsoft Word and some other applications, there’s a really great speech-to-text feature where you can basically dictate to the computer to text.
Bernd Heinrich [01:24:13] Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I’ve heard of that. I’ve heard of that. But the thing is, I don’t quite believe it yet. You know, I can’t quite believe that. But, you know, maybe, maybe, maybe it really is true. I know there’s a lot of magic out there and yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:24:29] It’s not perfect, but it is.
Bernd Heinrich [01:24:31] You know, I’d be mumbling all over the place and.
Brilliant Miller [01:24:35] Yeah, well, there’s another. There’s another feature that one of my interview guests told me about that he will say one of the things he does when he writes is he will have someone read it aloud to him so he can hear it not from his own being, but he said that sometimes when there’s no one available, he’ll actually have the computer read it aloud. So not only can you speak to it and dictate, but you can also in another mode have it, read it back to you. Just kind of cool.
Bernd Heinrich [01:25:05] Yeah. So well, you know, I am very computer incompetent and I went kicking and screaming when they made us out of a studio when I was at the University of Vermont, we had to get a computer. I just hated it. So I’m only starting to get used to it a little bit, but I’m still finding it’s just, you know, I don’t understand that there’s too much going on, too many options.
Brilliant Miller [01:25:35] And yeah, there’s a.
Bernd Heinrich [01:25:36] Lot kind of scary to me.
Brilliant Miller [01:25:38] There’s a lot. Well, I’ll tell you, just from my view, I’m actually really encouraged by what you’re saying, because if if I can for myself know or I can share with others with confidence that, hey, you don’t need a fancy computer, you don’t need sophisticated software, you can take a pencil and you can write your thoughts. And my friends back in the woods in Maine has done this and published more than 12 books. And I think it’s closer to 20 now. Is that.
Bernd Heinrich [01:26:05] Right? Yeah, they’re all handwritten originally. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:26:09] That’s amazing. That’s so great. Well, tell me, if you will, a bit about when you are writing a book, what is your routine like? Do you write in the morning or are you a night owl? Do you write with coffee? Do you listen to music or just out in nature? Like, what is your routine like as a writer?
Bernd Heinrich [01:26:28] Yeah, yeah. With a coffee first thing in the morning.
Brilliant Miller [01:26:37] Okay. So do you. Do you just wake up naturally? Do you have an alarm clock? Right with the sun? How does that all fall type?
Bernd Heinrich [01:26:44] When I wake up, I don’t. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:26:46] Okay. Yeah, cool. When you’re writing, how connected do you feel to your reader? How aware are you of your audience in the act of actually writing?
Bernd Heinrich [01:26:58] I think I am a lot. Yeah, I mean, I figure. Yeah, I’m. I’m thinking, you know, is this going to be. Too complicated, or is it going to be too simple. You know, I don’t have any particular reader in mind, but I definitely have, you know, this is going to be read and this is going to be interpreted. And so I have to aim at too. I think of people that I know, you know if they were reading it. So I have, you know, some. So I’m actually speaking to someone, you know, real.
Brilliant Miller [01:27:53] Yeah. Yeah, I know. That can be helpful. What do you find is the most challenging part of the writing of writing and how do you face it? How do you overcome it when it happens?
Bernd Heinrich [01:28:09] Most challenging. Oh. I think. I think it’s mostly. Finding connections because you have an overview and you have all these papers. I think some good ideas. How is it connected? Is it connected? And. And. You know, how is someone going to be interested in it? What will they want to get out of it? What do I want to get out of it? Do I want, let’s say, and where did it come from? So I think about things like that.
Brilliant Miller [01:29:01] Mm-hmm. What is for you the most rewarding part? What’s the most enjoyable part or rewarding part of writing?
Bernd Heinrich [01:29:11] Well, I mean, that was very rewarding to me, what you just said, you know, about what I wrote. Because I had. I had forgotten it. And it sounds good to me now. Yeah. And you know, and that is very satisfying because, you know, I don’t have those thoughts all the time. They don’t you know, they come up and and and they gather. But it’s rewarding that it saves, you know because it only went through there once. And I mean, the background might be there, but it’s not articulated until it’s down, you know, it doesn’t really exist. So, you know, it’s a keeping. Yeah. And had it spread like a tree, growing branches, and so on. It’s, it’s life.
Brilliant Miller [01:30:14] Yeah. That’s pretty cool. Right. Well with that, I think I’ll just ask you what advice or encouragement would you leave anyone listening with who is either in the situation of being in what’s sometimes called the messy middle of their own book or their own project, or it’s a dream they have harbored for a long time, but they haven’t really started. On what advice or encouragement do you say to anyone listening to help them get their own books done?
Bernd Heinrich [01:30:45] Yeah. Well, I mean. I think the advice is to just start. I mean, you just got to start and not be afraid to. To think that it has to be. Perfect. I mean, it’s just like. And. Like building something. You just take one piece at a time and see what’s attached and not be afraid to do. I mean, that’s the main thing is to go out and do the same say with running to it’s the hardest part is to just get out the door and just get it started.
Brilliant Miller [01:31:38] Yeah, no doubt. I and I think I would be remiss if I didn’t also ask what have you learned from running that has served you well as a writer?
Bernd Heinrich [01:31:53] Just exactly that, what I just said, because I think that’s a good analogy. Is it? It’s like running. You have to get out the door and it’s going to be a long way and keep at it. And, you know, every little bit counts. And, you know, some days are bad. You don’t feel like it. And other days you suddenly flow. And and and. It’s. You know, I don’t expect miracles. But that you know, I look at a book so many words, so many pages. How can you just I mean, it’s intimidating when you look at the whole thing. You just have to take it a little bit at a time and keep adding. And the way once you start it, you automatically when things come up, they’re related, then they will you find a place for them. But the main thing is to get something up there that you can attach to and have the idea first. That’s the main.
Brilliant Miller [01:33:11] Thing. Yeah, that makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. Well, as that’s a conversation here comes to a close. One thing I also realized that I want to ask your perspective about that I haven’t touched on yet is just about human beings living in a world that’s full of environmental and ecological challenges. Right. Some of these that all of these we’ve created collectively, but any one of them is seems way, way too big for us individually to solve, whether it’s climate change or deforestation or overfishing or this kind of thing. Yeah. And I personally and I know many people I think feel this way, that we’re all screwed and there’s nothing we can do. Right. But obviously, there is something we can do because together we created this. But what I’m trying to go with this kind of poorly worded question is just what’s your view about what like what we should do, how we should live, what the hope is for us as a species or the or life and the earth, you know, so forth. Do you have anything to share? Any thoughts about that?
Bernd Heinrich [01:34:20] Well, I think. I think. Contact nature and know more about nature. It’s necessary in order to have an appreciation for it. The feeling of. Of. Of connectedness to it and. And love it. And then. I think one would automatically do things that take that into consideration. I think the main problem is that you know. People who would be throwing, you know, plastic all over the place or whatever, you know, they don’t know enough what they are actually doing and that it has an effect. And or they just. They don’t have contact with enough nature to appreciate it. So, you know, I put a bird feeder out there and I’m enjoying watching the birds. It’s not going to make any big difference, but it makes a little difference. And, you know, if a million people do it, then it’s going to make a big difference. So it starts small. The same with running the first step out the door. You got to do that first step. And then usually other ones come after that and they kind of. It kind of come over themselves. But the main thing is to start on something and be, you know, conscious.
Brilliant Miller [01:36:21] Yeah. Well said. Thank you for that. Okay. Well, I know we’ve spent a lot of time. I’m grateful to you for making time in your day to talk with me and everyone listening. As I mentioned, I really loved this book, “Racing the Clock: Running Across a Lifetime” and a lot away from it. I shared passages with my wife on our last night.
Brilliant Miller [01:36:50] Hey, thanks so much for listening to this episode of The School for the Living podcast. Before you take off, just want to extend an invitation to you. Despite living in an age where we have more comforts and conveniences than ever before, life still isn’t working for many people, whether it’s here in the developed world where we deal with depression, anxiety, loneliness, addiction, divorce, unfulfilling jobs or relationships that don’t work. Or in the developing world where so many people still don’t have access to basic things like clean water or sanitation or health care or education but live in conflict zones. There are a lot of people on this planet that life isn’t working very well for. If you’re one of those people, or even if your life is working, but you have the sense that it could work better, consider signing up for the School for Good Living’s transformational coaching program. It’s something I’ve designed to help you navigate the transitions that we all go through. Whether you’ve just graduated or you’ve gone through a divorce, or you’ve gotten married, headed into retirement, starting a business. Been married for a long time. Whatever. No matter where you are in life, this nine-month program will give you the opportunity to go deep into every area of your life, explore life’s big questions, to create answers for yourself in a community of other growth-minded individuals. And it can help you get clarity and be accountable to realize more of your unrealized potential and can also help you find and maintain motivation. In short, is designed to help you live with greater health, happiness, and meaning so that you can be, do, have, and give more. Visit goodliving.com to learn more or to sign up today.