Bill Donahue: Aging with Intention


Heinrich examining a raven’s skull. (Jesse Burke)

Heinrich examining a raven’s skull. (Jesse Burke)

In 1951, when Bernd was 11, his family wrangled passage to the U.S. and landed in western Maine. They planned to grow pota­toes. Instead they were taken in for a summer by a kind family, the Adamses, whose ramshackle farm was a mess, a melange of dogs and cows and chickens and broken tractor equipment. To Bernd, the place was paradise, as he writes in his 2007 memoir, The Snoring Bird, recalling the adventures he shared with the two eldest Adams kids, Jimmy and Billy. The boys built a raft out of barn wood and spent countless hours watching baby catfish and white-bellied dragonflies. The Adamses taught Bernd English. He killed a hummingbird with his slingshot. He ran around barefoot and shirtless.

Bernd Heinrich is now 77 years old and the author of 21 books. The vaunted biologist E. O. Wilson speaks of him as an equal, calling him “one of the most original and productive people I know” and “one of the best natural-history writers we have.” Runners also revere him, for his speed and for his 2002 book, Why We Run. “He was the first person of scientific stature to say that ultramarathoning is a natural pursuit for humans,” says Christopher McDougall, author of the 2009 bestseller Born to Run. “He did the research himself, in 100-plus-mile races.”

Fascinating story of Bernd Heinrich's interesting and productive life.