Ever since I first picked up a camera and pen and headed out into the wilds, my personal mission has been to convey critical messages about the natural world to as many people as possible. Through my photographs and writings, I seek to encourage a sense of love and commitment to natural places; to promote better understanding of natural systems and the threats to them; and ultimately, to inspire people to take action to protect the environment.
Through 40 years of working as a writer and photographer, I have had numerous magazine articles and 25 books published about the environment, the outdoors, and adventure travel. In my writing, I like to introduce the reader to places and issues through my travels and adventures. I find that in the context of my personal exploring, I can best describe the distinctive character of landscapes and how their natural systems work. I can also explain and analyze environmental threats and highlight peoples’ efforts for better stewardship.
In my photography, I try to capture images that make nature come alive in people’s minds. I like to show not only what nature is, but also what it does and how it works. For example, I search for dynamic scenes that illustrate all the great cycles of life, such as snowstorms, flooding, and fire. This photographic approach is evident in my recent book, Rivers of America. I strive for intimacy in all places and in all conditions—in short, to capture the essence of special places as they really are.
I do not use photoshop or any other means of manipulating my pictures after I take them. I do not change the color or content of my images in any way. I like to show what is actually there. I don’t like the idea of people looking at pretty photos with amped-up colors and then heading out into the real natural world and being disappointed by what they see.
I’ve shared my photographs with others primarily through publications and through slideshows, where images and words come together with an immediacy that stirs emotional response.
Ultimately, I want my photos and writing to instill a sense of wonder, passion, and commitment to caring for the earth and all its life.
Outdoor adventure forms the backbone of my work. I am thrilled by the physical nature and excitement of paddling, rowing, backcountry skiing, hiking, climbing, and biking, but mainly, my adventuring enables me to travel to wild, natural places and to see and know the earth I love more intimately.
For 22 years, until 2003, I literally structured my entire life as an adventure by living principally in my van and traveling wherever my writing projects took me. Half of that time was with my wife, who is also a writer specializing in environmental topics.
With its two canoes, kayak, raft, skis, bikes, and backpacking gear, our van is well equipped for the many wilderness adventures that I pursue as I travel. As we explored the Coast Range for Pacific High, we took sea-kayaking journeys in the Gulf of California and in Glacier Bay, two 200-mile-plus wilderness river expeditions in Canada and Alaska (the Tatshenshini and Copper), as well as several shorter backpacking, bike, and back-country ski trips.
Although I am drawn to wild and natural landscapes of all types, throughout my career I’ve had a particularly strong love for rivers. I have canoed or rafted on 300 different rivers in the United States and Canada. I am thrilled by whitewater paddling and by the beauty of the chaotic churning flow of rapids.
However, ever since I did my first long river trip--from the headwaters of the Susquehanna to Chesapeake Bay--I’ve been most enthusiastic about long expeditions. I have done trips of 420 miles on the Salmon River through the wilds of Idaho, 460 miles on the Green River through Utah, 700 miles on the Teslin and Yukon through the Yukon Territory, plus many other trips of 100 miles or more. I find spending more time out enables me to travel more slowly, to get to know a river more deeply, and ultimately to shoot better photos.
In 2002, we bought a house, which allows us to be more productive with our writing projects in the winter and also to participate as environmental caretakers of our region—the south coast of Oregon to the west of the wild Siskiyou-Klamath Mountains. But I still spend about half my time traveling in the van with Ann often joining me.
My life’s work has been to encourage better care for the earth with all its life forms, its land, and its waters. This goal has defined my existence ever since college when I directed Earth Day at Penn State in 1970.
At first I pursued this goal through a career in planning. With a grant from Trout Unlimited, I put a watershed protection plan to work along Pennsylvania’s Pine Creek. Then I worked for 8 years as a county planner, instituting progressive land use policies in the north central portion of the state.
Through those years, I recognized in myself the urge to work toward my goal in a more creative vein. In 1980, I began a second career as a full time writer and photographer specializing in books about the environment, rivers, and adventure travel.
Conservation groups have used my books to educate not only their staff members and volunteers but also political leaders and public officials. I was particularly proud when Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus brought my Snake River book up to the podium to read a paragraph at a statewide conference about salmon issues. Similarly, I was delighted when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered 20 copies of my book, California Wild, to give as gifts to his cabinet members.
Through the years, I have given hundreds of slide shows based on my books. I recently worked in collaboration with the California Wild Heritage Campaign to do slideshows throughout the state about the value of wild places to help build support for a wilderness bill. I have also often been the featured speaker at the large annual conferences of the national conservation groups River Network and American Rivers, of a dozen statewide river conservation groups, and of other conservation organizations. I frequently speak and give slide shows at colleges and universities. I have also been the keynote speaker for professional organizations, such as the Ecological Restoration Society, the American Rivers Management Society, the International Erosion Control Association, and groups of water supply engineers and planners—professionals whose work directly affects the well-being of rivers.
Aside from my central work of writing books, taking photos and giving slide presentations, I’ve also done consultation work for conservation groups under contract and for free. For example, I have written citizen-sponsored studies for the Stanislaus, Kings, and South Yuba Rivers in California as well as brochures, pamphlets, and display packages with photos. My work on the Kings and South Yuba was instrumental in getting those streams designated as wild and scenic rivers.
I have served on the Board of Directors of two important national conservation groups: American Rivers in the 1980s and River Network from 1995 to 2004. I have also helped many other smaller groups with media advice, political strategy, and as a special guest at donor events from cocktail parties to river expeditions. I have helped groups in Canada as well. I’ve spoken at national and provincial conferences there and advised Canadian leaders on river conservation policy. I have also testified on behalf of conservation groups to the U.S. Congress in Washington and at field hearings, to the Pennsylvania State Legislature, and at many hearings held by various public agencies in Pennsylvania, California, Idaho, Oregon, and elsewhere.
My writing, my photography, and my adventure travel are all dedicated to conservation, and each project I undertake is designed to reach people with an inspiring message to motivate them to care about the fate of our earth.