LITCHFIELD — Where to begin to describe Gerri Griswold? She is Director of Administration and Development at White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield. But she is also, among other things, a bat specialist, a wildlife rehabilitator, nature conservation advocate, seasoned travel guide, oh, yes, and the noted local traffic anchor. She also lives on a small farm and tends to her menagerie of animals before her hectic day begins.
So what keeps this energizer bunny ticking all the time?
“I’ve always been a wildly curious person,” said Griswold, “ and I’ve had these little moments in my head that define who I am. Growing up I wanted to be an astronaut; I had a great crush on Alan Shepard. And animals. My father was a forester and he was always bringing home orphans to rehabilitate and help them get back into the wilds again. We were rehabbing before there were laws about it. I got interested in taxidermy when I was three-years-old and I still collect some of it today. Whatever I was interested in, I pursued.”
That includes, among many other things, singing.
“I wanted to be a singer and I did sing for a while,” she said. “That was how I supported myself through college. I had nearly a full scholarship to attend NYU, but I still needed money to live in the city, so I started a band called the Rhythm Method. We had a regular gig at a little club near NYU.”
Griswold is also an inveterate traveler, a fascination that began in sixth-grade when she saw Stonehenge in a history book.
“The first time I got on a plane in 1981, I went to England not just see Stonehenge but to see all those other Neolithic circles that had inspired me,” Griswold explaind. “I pursue whatever it is that I am interested in and try to learn as much as I can. I’m not an expert in anything, but I love sharing what I learn. And I do have the gift of gab and I think I can pretty much convince someone to like something that I do.”
There is little that Griswold has not pursued in her search for knowledge, her zest for adventure, and her desire to teach others what she has learned. Before settling in at White Memorial 12 years ago, she carved out a career as a chef and then tried broadcasting. What is amazing and significant is that Griswold succeeds in whatever she pursues.
“My then-husband said I should go to broadcasting school,” Griswold recalled. “It was a six-month program and I was putting together a tape that would hopefully get me a job. I broke into a news and traffic organization in Hartford called Metro Network. That was the beginning of my broadcasting career and I was there for nine and a half years. Then White Memorial called me and said they had this position they wanted me to apply for.
It turned out to be an offer that was better than anything I could ever have had in broadcasting.”
While Griswold does not have a background in environmental science or biology, White Memorial pursued her because of her vast knowledge and experience with bats. Yes, bats.
“I have a different set of skills than anyone at the organization. In1992 I found an orphan bat in my backyard in Winchester. I raised her to an adult, thinking everybody had the same positive feelings about bats that I did. In getting permits, I realized the world was woefully uneducated about the importance and significance of bats,” she remembered.
“I was embraced by the scientific community and the Connecticut DEEP, by doing something positive about getting into schools and educating people about this animal. When White Memorial came to me, it was to capitalize on my knowledge about the lives of bats. Additionally, since I was also working in radio, White Memorial thought that would be a good way to get the word out about the organization and the amazing work it does.
“We have about 300 big brown bats that live in our green barn,” she said. “I normally do a buffet for kids and parents after my lectures. The celebration of the bats is very important because it is one of the most significant creatures on our planet, responsible for pollinating, seed dispersing, and insect eating. No other animal touches us more and yet we still don’t know enough about them.”
One can hear Griswold’s excitement and enthusiasm for life and living, as she describes the various phases of her career and her life. Part of her curiosity is fed by the fact that, while she lives in a beautiful little cottage in Winchester, on the land that was once her grandfather’s farm where she grew up, she is intensely curious and eager to learn new things and see new places; Iceland, for instance.
“I first became intrigued by Iceland in 1992, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that I made my first trip and I was hooked,” she said. “Since then I have been back 51 times. In 2010 I made up some luggage tags and started a little business called Krummi Travel, named after the affectionate Icelandic word for “raven,” my favorite bird. I have carved a niche for myself by meeting locals — artists, musicians, farmers, people from all walks of life. All of these people are woven into the fiber of my tours. You are actually meeting Icelanders. You can’t know a country until you have experienced its people. People define nations.”
“I want it all and I want to do everything,” Griswold said. “But there isn’t enough time, life, or money to do what I want. I have had two death scares in the past year and prior to that, I almost died of sepsis infection. When you almost lose your life your realize that you need to get moving, but COVID-19 has clipped my wings in terms of travel.
“White Memorial is closed, and I suspect this virtual programming will be with us for quite a while. I feel as if I am in a cage, but what it does allow me to do that I couldn’t do live is reach out across the world,” she said. “I am now doing a series called ‘Postcards from a Pandemic Planet,’ where I am tapping into people I have met from all over the world, and talking to them about how the pandemic has affected them and their country.
“With this virtual opportunity I can bring the world to White Memorial and vice versa. I care deeply about people. This has been so difficult for so many and I feel that I am so fortunate to have been able to continue my work,” Griswold said. “If I can come into people’s lives and make them feel better during this crisis, then that pleases me tremendously.”
For more information about programs at White Memorial visit www.whitememorialcc.org.