A former feral child, trying to be a helpful older adult conservationist, using a camera, and now a blog.
I took an outdoors childhood for granted. Then I saw the natural resources that filled this childhood with beauty and wonder disappearing. Now in my 7th decade, I record and share what I’m now seeing, the best that I can in photos, to raise awareness of nature’s vulnerabilities and the wonders of nature that can yet be lost from from our lives. Especially, our everyday lives.
I have had the good fortune to travel to many places around the world for both business and pleasure – fishing, rafting, hiking, camping, photographing. I love to travel, including wild and remote places, and have a wife and children that love it just as much. That said, many of my photo shoots over the years have been in our City of Decatur, Georgia (ITP – ‘inside-the-perimeter’ Atlanta) yard, neighborhood nature preserve, our lake cabin in the northeast Georgia mountains, and nearby wildlife management areas and refuges.
This was long due to convenience during my most active work years, but it was also in many ways an extension of my childhood. I have always enjoyed learning about the natural world in my immediate surroundings and in doing so finding out that a lot of it is pretty exotic. Even if it is just in our backyard.
Early in life the enjoyment from learning was a reward in itself. Learning was like playing, just plain fun (maybe because the two are connected). As I grew older, I have to admit, the enjoyment expanded to include straight up escapism from all the literal and figurative noise of adulthood. I could (can) deep dive into all of the mental aspects of ‘getting the shot’ and ban all the other news-of-the-day’ crap from my mind. I can get a high pleasure signal-to-noise ratio even if I’m just sitting on our front porch photographing a blue jay harass the feeder birds for the umpteenth time.
What hasn’t escaped me while experiencing my outdoors adulthood, are the changes in my local environments and ecosystems since the days of my childhood spent outdoors. As I’ll explain in another post, I spent most waking hours as a child outside. I also had the good fortune to be in the company of competent self-made naturalists, including, most of all, my Dad.
I was pretty much feral. A part of nature in many respects. Then I grew up and grew apart in many respects. I didn’t totally abandon the outdoors. Enjoyable and enriching times, most focused on and shared with our kids, continued. But, the decline in the robustness of nature was evident even in these brief encounters.
Fish counts were down and going further down each trip. Bird species checklist counts down too. Native species being overrun by invasives. Wild places being overrun by cookie cutter housing development. Many of these observations of declines were across a broad base of habitat and ecosystems. Worse though by far, were the places where the species counts and wildness went to zero.
I concluded that we, the collective ‘we’, had not been and were not being very kind to our outdoors. There were many unkind acts, even though ‘we’ were – and problematically continue – well intentioned in seeking out and delivering innovations that made our lives ‘better’. Progress was indeed making the planet more livable. For us.
This new, modern, livability, however, in my opinion and observations, was taking a toll on nature. In a compounding personal opinion, the toll was at first both being observed and accepted. Acceptable collateral damage as it were. I think this acceptability rose from two generational sources. For my parents generation it was acceptable because they were children of the Great Depression as well as experienced the emotional and material sacrifices of WWII. For many, the good-ole-days were not that good and actually quite hard. Modern conveniences quickly became justified payback for the losses and sacrifices.
Us boomers had a different cost-benefit calculation. We seemed to believe we were born-to-the-manor of modern benefits. We seemed to believe that we somehow earned them as mass new entrants into the middle class. Modern mass marketing, scaling at the rate of TVs entering every ranch-style house, ramped up this born-to-be-consumers belief system.
A belief system not burdened with the fully loaded costs of all resources consumed in making and distributing what were ironically called consumables. We had a skewed understanding, often intentionally skewed by skillful lobbying that rivaled mass marketing, of environmental costs. Direct costs of the natural resources lost were not priced into the products. Costs of intentionally (or unintentionally as collateral damage) removing these resources from nature were not accounted for as direct costs. Or, even indirect costs for that matter. A sure way to make a cost-benefit ratio high – and therefore more than acceptable – is to not include costs.
‘We’ weren’t knowingly being bad people. Many of us, most of us, believed that nature was ‘infinite in its bounty’. A cost of consuming something infinite is infinitely small. So our consumption wasn’t costing us much, if anything, from a loss or replacement of nature perspective. A view reinforced when ‘we’ went outside and saw a couple of beautiful blue jays. Not realizing, because many of us had been inside more than outside, that 20-30 years ago we would have seen a couple dozen blue jays. This brings me back the point about seeing and photographing blue jays from my porch in 2020.
As is all too familiar, we spent the last 9 months of 2020 in various states of sheltering-in-place or flat-out quarantine. Most of us non-essential workers, at least the ones taking the social distancing and restraint from gathering in groups seriously, built a bubble around our homes and yards. It is our work and entertainment space.
We keep entry closely controlled. A noticeable exception being the wildlife, notably birds, that freely come and go according to all the natural impulses that have guided their behavior for millennia. Many folks took (are taking) notice. Some for the first time in a long time. Some for the first time ever. Evidence of this is in the rapid growth in self-declared bird watchers and the corresponding growth in money spent on bird feeders, seed, and binoculars.
Most important, in my opinion, is this growth in interest is resulting in a better understanding their backyard natural environments. As they – ‘we’ – learn to ID more birds, ‘we’ learn about which birds are likely to be in our yard in a specific time of year which leads to understanding behaviors like residency and migrations. We learn about preferred nesting sites and foods which informs us about preferred habitat.
And, as we learn more about bird preferences we can’t help but to cross paths with the reports about the past and ongoing loss of the preferred natural world attractors and sustainers. We are shocked, shocked we say, for example, to learn that we have lost 3 billion birds in the last 40 years. With this enlightenment we become birders. Birders aren’t content with just watching. They tend to commit to helping. Many commit to being a naturalist which naturally leads to becoming a conservationist.
So here we are at the beginnings of the RushingOutdoors blog. People with yards, big and small, urban and suburban, and people that enjoy leisurely walks in local preserves and greenspaces are a primary target audience. Because, if there has been an upside to sheltering-in-place and time not spent in cars (buses, trains, planes) and offices, it is a new found awareness that nature continued outside even though many of us went inside for most of our living.
What is really important to me is the growing awareness of what is going wrong in our own yards – in our own bubbles, our spheres of influence. This is important to me because this bifurcates the problems in our natural world into the existential and the ‘start-solving-them-today’. We can and should commit to changing over the long run the course of climate change. And, and this is important, we can and should commit to fixing now the things we do in our everyday lives that damage our yards, our neighborhoods and our local green spaces. We can stop mowing, blowing, and manicuring. We can leave some leaf litter. We can plant natives. As examples.
So my motivation is simple. Capture and share as much of nature’s beauty and its place in our lives as I can in my photos and commentary in hopes that they act as motivators and helpful resources for all the emerging everyday naturalists turning into committed conservationists. Starting in the simple acts we can all do in our own yards and neighborhoods.
By the way, if my explanation of how I approached the shot(s) and the photographic techniques I used help nature photography enthusiasts improve, especially Olympus users, that’s a bonus.