I’ve always been taken by the tension between math, with its embrace of the abstract, and ecology, where the devil is so often in the details. In a sense, math and ecology are nearly opposites—the mathematician strips away detail and tries to distill a system to its essence, while the naturalist recognizes that the details often provide the crucial key to understanding. Sometimes, the push and pull between these impulses is irreconcilable. But at other times, when the balance is right, the mathematical expression of an ecological idea can be the most enduring. The art of mathematical ecology is trying to get that balance right, and the challenge captivates me. As a bonus, the math is portable, and so I get to interact with the most interesting people who study a whole range of fascinating ecosystems. To paraphrase the great statistician John Tukey, it’s a bit like getting to play in everyone’s backyard. It’s hard to beat.