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The Paths We Choose

Ferry Home! San Juan Islands Archipelago, Washington State.

Decisions made, opportunities taken (or not)! A right or left turn. Friends made, lost… some still in our memory but not in our lives. A different road, path or tributary that opened or closed and led us to where we are today.

Sometimes, it is good to step back and look at why you made the decisions you did in life. Balancing priorities and schedules, finances, health, or perhaps the urge to just go another way – to discover new places or to travel down a completely new and different road.

We Live Here! Salish Sea Sunset, IPhone Photo. Washington State.

I’ve given thought lately to how I arrived at this place in life. Those instances, situations and people who helped mold and shape where and who I am. Who surround me now in the Pacific Northwest. How far I’ve traveled from my early beginnings in Pittsburgh.

Friends in college, wilder years filled with memories. But most of those friends I have lost all contact with over the years. Meeting my wife there and how she motivated me to move in in a different, better direction.

Mileposts including Stephanie and my first trip to the West. My first river trip in Pennsylvania, and my first trip to Alaska (and first bear), all decades ago now. The birth of our daughter (and now our granddaughter). Each a convergence of interests, people, and place. Each a confluence in life’s journey.

Serenity II! Squires Lake, Skagit & Whatcom Counties. Washington State.

A friend who came into our lives for a few short years, who then disappeared for many more only to show up on our doorstep on the other side of the country. A celebration of reunion, plans made for the future, and then another disappearance where even the magic of social media can’t find him. A friendship and opportunity lost.

Another friend, met on my first day in Bellingham, who immediately became a best friend to both Stephanie and me. Losing that friend in his surf trip to Mexico. Far too soon and an unfillable void, leaving me to wonder how our lives would be with that person (and others) still with us?

Autumn Sunlight! Squires Lake, Skagit & Whatcom Counties. Washington State.

Mentors who appeared at exactly the right stage in life to align my priorities and point me to the correct compass heading. Imparting wisdom or demonstrating the best way to do something, to be, to live my life. A boss who was eclectic and wild, and who put everything into perspective. Often brutally honest and teaching me to say what I mean and do what I believe. No compromise on the issues that matter. Whose wisdom I still channel with every important decision I make.

A co-worker who became a father-figure at the exact time I needed it. A newfound friend as I started in conservation work, who showed me how to be passionate about rivers, why they need protection, and why I needed to do that work.

Denali Range, Alaska. 2015

Learning to paddle, to love rivers, and joining the whitewater community. While I haven’t paddled whitewater in far too many years (or even my sea kayak) I will always and forever consider myself a paddler. Rivers and paddlers have ruled my world for a long time, and nearly everything good and meaningful somehow seems to find its way back to my relationship with water. I still consider paddlers, collectively, the best people on earth (our loves and ethics are usually spot-on). When my daughter first went off to college (around 2007), she was of course nervous about being on her own and far away. My advice to her, in case of trouble… find a car with a boat on the roof, introduce yourself, and ask for help! I would give that same advice to my granddaughter as she gets older.

My parents… with absolutely no experience or knowledge about the outdoors. Who never hiked a trail, paddled a river, or took a road trip west (although it was their biggest dream). How I juxtapose their life values into every decision I make. Often, with my different perspectives, making the opposite decision from the ones I know they would have picked – and now with increased wisdom, age, and insight – how every day I wish they were still here and that I could take them places and show them the wonderful world that I have discovered.

Driving West! Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. French, Swiss, Italian border. 2012.

Each of these instances and people has led me through life, through forty years of conservation work, and of feeling that I have accomplished something meaningful and worthwhile. To move and live in the Pacific Northwest. To my current passion with my camera, and my sincere gratitude for my time in the wilderness.

Each experience, and especially each person, rides along with me on my trips. Each gets a say as I sit at a new fork in the road. Do I turn right and over the high pass? Or left and follow the river canyon? While it is often crowded in my front seat, there are never arguments, seldom indecision, always harmony and concurrence. For while each experience has been different, each person unique and often having never met each other – they have one thing in common… me! The person I have become because of their knowledge, caring, and love. Their combined interests, passion, and dedication. Their cumulative impact into who I am, what I believe, how I act, and how I weigh my options for each new path that opens before

Summit View! Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. French, Swiss, Italian border. 2012.

With everyone I meet, it makes me consider my actions and how others will look at me in the future (especially true as a father and now grandfather). Was I helpful? Did I urge them in the right direction without telling them what to do? Did I impart some ethic and/or passion that will make them stronger, or this a better world?

As with everything, it makes me wonder about what my new adventures might bring, what great places I will see, what new chapters are yet to be lived? Mostly, given the chance, how can I offer friendship, mentorship, and an honest and positive example to everyone down that wonderful road of life with each of its myriad branches, offshoots, paths, and possible realities.


· The National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has just released a draft plan to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE), historical habitat for these bears for thousands of years. There is now a forty-five day public comment period on the proposal through November 13, 2023 and the link for comments is here. I’ll be writing my own comments and sharing those in a future blog. For more information, go to Conservation Northwest’s website.

· Up in British Columbia, the Raincoast Conservancy is undertaking a fundraiser to purchase the Southern Great Bear Rainforest commercial hunting tenure. This strategy has been successful in the past and will protect dozens of species from being hunted. Learn more about Safeguarding Coastal Carnivores in the Southern Great Bear, and join me in supporting this effort by making a donation here.

· Over the past few months, I had written about trips to the coastal town of Tofino, to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuay, and last week about my recent, return trip to Bella Coola and the Discovery Coast. Seems I am not alone in understanding the beauty and value of British Columbia, you can read a great article: British Columbia: On the edge of a wild world posted by Australian Geographic.

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