Intrepid adventurer, award-winning journalist, prolific writer and filmmaker, and six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council.
Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?
I am a writer, filmmaker, and adventurer — eleven books, hundreds of magazine and web stories, more than thirty documentary films — who appreciates the wide variety of subjects I’ve had the luxury to discover and learn about, all driven by a singular concern for the health of our environment and the beauty of the remote corners of the planet. Passion? No matter the media, storytelling.
How did you discover the Hudson Valley?
Like so many creative persons who end up here, I came because I much preferred waking up surrounded by green than by the cement of the big city. I started visiting Woodstock from Brooklyn in the mid-1980s and in 1988 officially made my escape to Stone Ridge. Though I’ve traveled quite a lot since then (90 countries or so), lived off and on in France for ten years and have made films on every continent… I always kept my home here, always ready and happy to return.
Walk us through a typical day.
No such thing. Though I do seem to spend a fair amount of time these days chained to a desk chair… too much time, actually.
For the past ten years I’ve mostly been making documentary films, of varied subjects: Two films about the environmental messes of Louisiana; two in Antarctica, including the first 3D film shot there; three films in my anti-fracking “Dear” series (Dear Governor Cuomo, Dear Governor Brown, and Dear President Obama); Ghost Fleet, about the tragic truth that many commercial fisherman, especially in Southeast Asia, are slaves.
For the past five years my team and I have produced a series of short films about the Hudson Valley (www.hudsonriverstories.com), which has happily kept me closer to home.
Each film is different: Different storytelling techniques, different funding, different filming teams, different distribution, different locations. All of which is a way of going back to that query about “ordinary days.”
Do you have a go-to coffee or beer order, and from where?
I’m a big fan of the tasting room at the Suarez Family Brewery outside Hudson.
Where do you do your best creative work?
When I was writing more, and traveling more, I always enjoyed the physical act of writing. Making notes. With paper and pen. No matter what kind of day it had been — for ten years I led a series of National Geographic-funded expeditions by sea kayak that took me and my teams around the world, so many of those end-of-days were on river banks or ocean coastlines — I liked looking for some shade, a place under a tree to record the day.
I hesitate to call what I was doing under those various trees “writing”; more like note-taking, or in modern nomenclature, journaling. The truth is I don’t really enjoy the process of writing, whether a story or book. For me, that is hard, painstaking work. I love having written. Whenever I hear someone say they “love to write,” I question them.
How has the Hudson Valley influenced or impacted your creative work?
I went to a small private university in the dead-center of the country. But for some reason that I can’t recall or explain on my dormitory wall I had a poster of a painting of the Hudson River by Albert Bierstadt, one of the original of the Hudson River School. I’d never visited the Hudson Valley, not sure what attracted me to that poster, but like so many creative people, going back a couple centuries, the Hudson Valley has lured an incredible array of musicians, artists, writers and, now, environmentalists.
I am out in public often, sharing our short films about the Hudson River Valley and I am convinced, though have no empirical data, that there are more environmentalists per capita living here than anywhere in the country. That is in part because the Valley is legitimately known as the birthplace of American environmentalism, going back to the 1960s and a series of laws that sparked groups to form, activists to congregate, voices to be raised. Sometimes I think we take for granted the level of environmental activism that surrounds us; few regions have the abundance of groups, big and small, working on these issues, day in, day out, on our behalf.
What’s surprised you most about living and working in the Hudson Valley?
After three decades it seems I find a new road every day.
What’s been challenging about doing your work here?
When I was traveling a lot, the fact that the airports were so far away. I joked that if I’d known I was going to travel that much I would have bought a condo across from Newark International.
What do you hope to see for the Hudson Valley in the next five years?
A continued move to renewable energy and energy efficiency. While New York has lead the way nationally in keeping fossil fuel development like fracking out of the state, the Hudson Valley is still home to pipelines, railways, and barges carrying crude oil, each of which comes with the risk of serious accident. There are also proposed new gas plants hoping to be built along the Hudson River, which would be taking any clean energy plans promoted by governors, legislators, or environmental groups backwards rather than forwards.
Are you part of any local groups or communities you’d like to mention?
We are lucky to have some 300 groups working on environmental issues from Albany to NYC. Follow your local groups but also the bigger ones too (Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper, Clearwater, the Natural Resources Defense Council); there is an incredible amount of information out there about what’s really going on in our backyard, if you just pay attention.
Anything you want to plug or promote?
Everyone who cares about the Hudson Valley should watch our series of short films, The Hudson, A River at Risk and Hope on the Hudson. One will make you angry, the other make you smile. They work well together.
I also do a weekly radio show on Radio Kingston, the Green Radio Hour with Jon Bowermaster, live at 3pm on Sundays, or archived at radiokingston.org.