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article imageProfile of a Digital Journalist: Megan Hamilton's earthy life Special

By Michael Thomas     Dec 2, 2015 in Internet
Think of an animal. Chances are Digital Journalist Megan Hamilton has encountered it face-to-face, has an encyclopedic knowledge of it, or both.
Hamilton — who joined Digital Journal in April 2014 and has since contributed more than 500 articles — has been around animals all her life. They're even the reason she moved to Costa Rica, where she now lives.
“I'm sort of weird. I like the idea that I get big spiders in my house,” Hamilton says. “I get scorpions and snakes around here. I like knowing that I can hear toucans in my yard and even see them. That's what brought us [to Costa Rica]. It gave me the opportunity to know creatures on a much grander notion than I ever imagined before.”
Hamilton considers herself “semi-retired” and spends a lot of her free time writing, which is naturally just an extension of the majority of her career.
One of Hamilton s first paintings: a mixed-media painting of orchids
One of Hamilton's first paintings: a mixed-media painting of orchids
Megan Hamilton
She was born in Ventura, Calif. In 1959. Her father, a civil engineering professor in nearby Port Hueneme, cultivated her love of animals early. She recalls being “transfixed” by dinosaur fossils when her father took her to the Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles. She began painting prehistoric creatures shortly after, something she still does today. She also hunted for fossils with her father in Arroyo Verde park in Ventura, and when she was seven until her preteens, the two visited the zoo and natural history museum in Santa Barbara twice a year.
She also says she drew a lot of inspiration from the hippies of the 60s and 70s.
“They helped to teach me to learn to care about everything, whether it's poor people, whether it's environmental issues,” she says. “When it comes to nature and the environment, we're all connected. It's one thing that connects us the most. Nature is like a giant puzzle. If one piece goes missing — a species goes extinct — the puzzle isn't complete anymore.”
Though she had plenty of wonderful experiences during her childhood, it wasn't all fun and games. Her mother, a housewife, was mentally ill and sometimes physically abusive, while her father was an alcoholic. It didn't help that Hamilton began to suffer from arthritis at the age of 15, and it took years of tests and medication to finally receive a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Later on in her life, she was diagnosed with Mixed Tissue Disease.
Despite this, Hamilton says she enjoyed her childhood, and her curiosity extended into her academic pursuits in high school and beyond.
As Hamilton tells it:   The local kids asked if we d like a nine-banded armadillo.  We
said   uh...u...
As Hamilton tells it: '"The local kids asked if we'd like a nine-banded armadillo. We said, ''"
Megan Hamilton
“In high school I studied health quite a lot and took many classes on anatomy and physiology, but my true loves were always art, art history, English literature, and anything to do with writing,” she says. In college in San Francisco's Bay Area, she earned a certificate in technical writing and freelanced for the San Jose Mercury News. She later moved to Modesto, Calif. with her then-husband, doing two stints learning journalism at Modesto Junior College. She credits two professors with really awakening her news sense.
During her first crack at the program, her professor taught her to always question why anyone is telling a journalist anything, while a professor during her second stay taught her about the cultural aspects of journalism and how to write a story fairly quickly.
“My main takeaway from all of this was that you really need to question why anyone or any corporation or any government is telling you what they're telling you,” she says. “Also they taught me, when I'm writing feature stories, to bring a sort of warmth to the issue when you're interviewing the person. If you're interviewing a mother whose child has died, it's okay to cry with them a little bit. Basically to treat every living thing like it has value.”
A red passion flower in Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo  near Hamilton s house
A red passion flower in Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo, near Hamilton's house
Megan Hamilton
Following her journalism education, she worked at the Modesto Bee as well as the Tracy Press (Tracy, Calif.), the Manteca Bulletin (Manteca, Calif.), and the Manteca Bee. She was attracted to the crime beat especially (she recalls covering a story about thieves using tow trucks to steal vehicles), and also writing features, which had her getting to know people in her community.
She began taking on work as a security guard later, first for American Protective Services. She was posted at Pacific Bell, near Modesto, and her job was primarily patrolling at night and keeping trucks and equipment safe. She says, “ I saw things most people never have to see,” most notably an incident involving a nearby methamphetamine lab and two addicts fighting over a woman — one ended up shooting the other.
“Then a whole stream of panicked people came filing out of the house and I comforted people and called 911,” she recalls. “The dispatcher told me to stay in the building, which I did.” As though out of an absurdist play, Hamilton told the dispatcher the building had no windows, followed by the dispatcher asking Hamilton what she could see happening outside.
She was also at one point a residential crisis counselor at Turning Point RTP in Modesto. She was in essence a mental health counselor, and also ran a suicide prevention hotline.
“I counseled people on the suicide line, and they would tell me that I made them feel better,” she says. “That's a wonderful feeling.” On her very first night at work, she had to deal with a woman known for cutting herself. She stopped doing so after Hamilton patched up two “softball-sized” holes she had cut into her skin.
Her last job before retiring was working with boys with developmental disabilities.
A green iguana in its breeding colors  seen in the village of Bribri  near the Bribri Indian reserva...
A green iguana in its breeding colors, seen in the village of Bribri, near the Bribri Indian reservation, not far from Puerto Viejo
Megan Hamilton
She got involved with Digital Journal in 2014 after seeing an article on the site. Since then she's written hundreds of articles, mostly related to crime or the environment. She says she chooses stories based on their importance.
“I write on environmental issues of the day and about wildlife as much as I can manage,” she says. “My main goal in life is to help the planet as much as I can, and to remember that I am still a part of nature, as we all are. I have shared much of my life with wildlife, as much as I possibly can, and I feel lucky that I have been able to do this. I feel like all living things are in crisis, and I'm doing whatever I can to help.”
Her experiences with living things are far too many to mention in the space of one story, but just to name a few: snorkeling with bottlenose dolphins in Florida; meeting Guaymas in Mexico; spending time with foxes, elk, prairie dogs and more in the U.S.; interacting with sloths in her own backyard (and even house) in Costa Rica.
A malachite butterfly
A malachite butterfly
Megan Hamilton
“They are what inspire me to write,” she says. “I want to help this planet we call Earth as much as I can, because there is no planet B.”
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