Genius is not the manifestation of education, practice and experience; genius is the net result of heritage and chance.
William Edward Haast was born on December 30, 1910 in Paterson, New Jersey to parents of german descent, Gustav and Otillia Haast. He had two brothers, Arthur "Art" and Jack, and sister Victoria, "Vic". From an early age he exhibited remarkable energy, and it wasn't uncommon for him to be seen running around the perimeter of the house, burning off energy and calling out upon occasion, "Mom, make me an egg!". Bill Haast embodied the characteristic for which his genealogical line was known and for which his family name was given; the word Haast in dutch translates to "hurry" or "haste", and by all accounts and throughout his entire life, Bill Haast was a man in a hurry.
It was that boundless energy, determination, and perseverance that allowed him to accomplish so much for so long, and from the standpoint of sheer volume of daily productivity, he was unmatchable. Even the accomplishments of his distant relative, famed explorer and geologist of New Zealand, Sir Julius Von Haast, while impressive and for whom a town, river and even an extinct giant eagle was named, could not equal that of his later relative, Bill. Both of these men were adventurers with a purpose, different ones to be sure. The world has been made better by the existence of both.
That endless well of energy and curiosity made school instruction difficult to endure for Bill, and he was often found studying books on astronomy in english class, or reading the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam, a book considered blasphemous at the time, much to the dismay of his teachers. His english teacher, did however, after recognizing the unique quality of Bill's interests, tell him that if he could stand in front of the class and answer all the questions put to him about astronomy or snakes, she would pass him in english. He did, and she kept her promise.
"A book of verses underneath the bough
A flask of wine, a loaf of bread and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness
And wilderness in paradise now."
~ Omar Khayyám
They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahram, that great Hunter -- the Wild Ass
Stamps o'er his Head, but cannot break his Sleep
"Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
On thing at least is certain - This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies -
The Flower that once has blown forever dies."
~ Omar Khayyám (The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám)
Heady reading for one so young; oddly, Bill was keenly aware of the proper use of the english language, and it was difficult for him to hear or see references to his accidental snakebites as having been "bit", instead of "bitten" or other incorrect terms often heard today. That english teacher knew her student well.
Bill found school so confining in fact, that one year, after his family moved to another neighborhood, his sister Vic took him to register at the new school. As soon as she left, he promptly ducked out the back door, and for an entire year his mother was unaware that her son Bill did all his learning somewhere else but in school. Needless to say, he did not pause long enough to graduate from high school either; he was simply too impatient to begin experiencing life to the fullest, and full to the brim it became.
In later years, he expressed regret at not having a better education which he felt may have enabled him to use his intuitive knowledge more effectively, but the Haast drive in his youth to get life going in a hurry just could not be denied. In spite of the lack of formal education, however, his basic scientific nature and precise approach to venom collection and chromatography (a biochemical process of separation of the various proteins and enzymes found in venom), earned him the respect of scientists and laymen alike.
He was considered an equal to many in the hallowed halls of scientific research, and his intuition about snake venoms was recognized by many then, as it is today, as genius, but some among the more learned class found it hard to comprehend that a "snake handler" with no formal education could conceive of a cure for polio*, and a treatment for multiple sclerosis*, arthritis* and other inflammatory diseases, when they, with all their learning and resources, could not.
Envy is the sorrow of a fool; pity the fool who does not recognize his folly.Bill Haast
* While Bill's work in these areas occurred many years ago, It is important to advise that the treatments for polio, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and other inflammatory diseases are not being produced at the Miami Serpentarium Laboratories. Sadly, today new drug development in the pharmaceutical industry is on the decline, and it is hopeful that a "pharmaceutical spring" will emerge where barriers to new drug development are removed, and new exploration, especially into the healing powers of venoms, will begin anew.
In 1927 At the tender age of 17, he wrote:
The art of living is not an instinct; it must be learned. Isn't it a pity that it takes all of it before we know how to use that which we no longer have.
Bill developed an interest in snakes at a very early age, and maintained that interest to the point of obsession his entire life.
His favorite haunt was a ramshackle cabin in the woods at Greenwood Lake, with spaces between the slats in the walls that offered little protection from the cold winter wind, and he took every opportunity to take the long walk to the mountains whether in summer or winter. He enjoyed the solitude, and the physical challenge of the walk, and would swim the entire length of the lake and back in all seasons. It was in those beautiful mountains that his admiration and appreciation of venomous snakes really blossomed, for it was there that the venomous snakes were found, and he experienced their power firsthand.