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Wildebeest In A Rainstorm: A New Book

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Fifteen years ago, sitting around an open fire at Hog Ranch above the sprawling suburbs of Nairobi, junkyard dogs howling in the near distance, the now-mandatory 24/7 armed guards lurking in the shadows, I asked my friend Peter Beard how he managed to maintain even a slim modicum of optimism about his once-beloved Kenya given the urban blight squeezing out the African wildlife.

His response was perfect, Beardian: “I just hunker down like a wildebeest in a rainstorm and wait until the sun comes out again.”

As I often did during my six months as his Boswellian sidekick roaming the bush, I marveled at his late night profundity. And now I’ve borrowed from him for the title of a brand new collection of profiles of some of the adventurers, conservationists, shagbags and wanderers I’ve had the privilege of traveling with, writing about and befriending during the past two decades.

From dogsledding in the high arctic with Sir Richard Branson to rafting some of the last great whitewater rivers with Bobby Kennedy Jr., from an early profile of President Obama’s new energy czar Carol Browner to musings with David Brower, father of America’s modern environmental movement, I’ve often and fortunately been graced by the company of some of our most intriguing minds and imaginative explorers.

Read for yourself! And send me your reviews!!

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Queries of the Not-So-Innocent

I spent the past couple days in Vail, Colorado, invited by the very sophisticated Vail Symposium to do a talk leading off its six-week long Unlimited Adventurer series (two friends, Anne Doubliet and Chris Swain will fill the hall in coming weeks!).

It was another great night, 225 people filling the beautiful mountainside stone-and-wood Donovan Pavilion. While it may seem a stretch to come to 8,000 feet to talk about the health of the world’s seas, it was quickly clear that the crowd got the connection. No matter what altitude you live, if you vacation at the beach or eat fish or love watching the sunset at that place where blue meets blue, you have a responsibility to be concerned and interested in what’s happening to the world’s ocean … which this crowd definitely understood.

Earlier in the day I had visited the Berry Creek Middle School in near by Edwards, spending an hour with seventy-five seventh graders. Not too surprisingly, they got it too! At the encouragement of their fantastically energetic science teacher – Vail valley native, Michael Moser – they had each written out a question in advance. The show was so fun and over long I never quite got around to answering their written questions, but I’ve just spent an hour reviewing them. Here are some of the highlights, and responses:

Do you like to travel or do you travel because you have to?

Funny, I used to like the physical act of traveling a lot more. Now I far prefer the ‘being there’ versus the ‘getting there.’

Do you miss your house?

Absolutely. I have a beautiful home in the Hudson Valley that has grown and expanded during the past 20 years, getting only more home-like. It’s important to me to have a comfortable place to return to, given how much I travel … otherwise I’m afraid I might just never come home.

Is there any type of dangerous algae that you’ve had to confront?

No. Though in the Aleutian Islands we did try kelp salads, pulled straight from the sea.

Did you have to eat in your kayak and if you did, How?

We often eat snacks in the kayaks while we’re paddling – nuts, chocolate, protein bars – but never full-course meals. We did, once, have to sleep in them in Gabon when we ran out of land to camp on.

Have you ever been in the emergency room?

Not since I was in the seventh grade myself, when I slashed open my fingers on broken glass at Forest Road Elementy School.

What are some interesting stuff that you have learned throughout your trips?

Sharks don’t have skeletons, thus when picked up all their organs slide down. Not to pee too close to hungry sled dogs. And not to soak staph infected limbs in salt water.

How do you know all about the girls and boys?

Not sure I ever will.

Why do you write about your life?

I’m sure there are many adults who might ask the same question.

What is the most cool thing you’ve done?

Swimming in the 29 degree Southern Ocean.

By seeing the world in a different perspective, what do you think the biggest problem facing our world’s society?

That’s a big and important question. Given that my expertise is the world’s ocean, I think the biggest educational challenge around the world regarding our seas is to teach people that the ocean is not just some big trash dump where everything – everything – can be deposited.

How does it feel to know that people all over the world admire you?

Aaah, youth! It’s all relative of course. I’m 54, they are 12, 13. I’ve gained any assumed admiration solely by grace of age … and the fact, from their perspective, that I have a very fun website loaded with beautiful photos and videos which in their estimation equals … admiration.

Je va Senegal ouelle est joutin ides lile comte …

This from a French speaking, African native who wanted to talk about the health of the world’s islands.

Can I go to Alaska with you? Can I make money with you?

Influenced by our friend from Senegal, bon chance!

How do you become famouse?

See above, re: admiration.

Would you ever like to do something else from travel?

Like most, I think often about my choice of career and 99.9 percent of the time I feel completely thrilled by the path I’ve followed. On occasion, though, especially when exhausted by airplane travel, I gaze out the window and imagine trading lives with one of the baggage handlers. Which sounds good for about … three minutes … when I’m reminded of just how fortunate I am to do work that I truly love and that continues to school me.

Which book that you have written is your favorite? Why?

Well, I’ve never had children but I imagine in their heart of hearts most parents have a favorite … so I’ll go out on a limb and say the brand new WILDEBEEST IN A RAINSTORM, officially published tomorrow (February 1). A collection of profiles I’ve written over the past two decades of some of our most intriguing conservationists, adventurers, shagbags and wanderers … it reminds me, story by story, of just how lucky I’ve been, to see the world in part through the eyes of some of the greatest minds of our age.

Are you proud of what you have been doing?

Yes.

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