In His Element | Books & Authors | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
Pin It

In His Element 

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:56 pm

Page 2 of 2

“I started writing about expeditions, then going on them,” he explains. In the introduction to his anthology Alone Against the Sea and Other True Adventures (2004, Lyons Press), he states, “I am a writer, first and foremost. Which makes these stories, and their sharing, the most valuable part of my wanderings.”

Bowermaster’s latest book, Wildebeest in a Rainstorm (2009, Menasha Ridge Press), is subtitled Profiles of Our Most Intriguing Adventurers, Conservationists, Shagbags, and Wanderers. His profiling technique is simple: Spend as much time as possible with your subject. For a Harper’s profile of Native American activist Winona LaDuke, Bowermaster slept on her couch for three days. He learned this approach from legendary rock photographer Jim Marshall. “I asked him how he got that intimacy with people who’d been photographed so often, and he said, ‘It’s about time,’” Bowermaster recalls. “We’ve moved into an era where if you get 30 minutes with someone, you’re lucky. Marshall went on the road with [rock musicians], lived with them, changed their kids’ diapers. When you have that kind of access, people get comfortable. They forget they’re being recorded.”

Indeed. Bowermaster’s long profiles are sometimes so frank that friendships have suffered. “People are more unguarded when they’re being interviewed by someone they know, they feel like you’re just hanging out,” he says, adding ruefully, “Even if the piece is 95 percent positive, that other 5 percent is what they’ll remember. It’s just how it is.”

Bowermaster met his partner, naturalist and photographer Fiona Stewart, on a kayaking trip to an island near Tasmania. “We were there for a big bird migration of short-tailed shearwaters, also called muttonbirds. They’re incredibly noisy and really bad fliers—they’ll use you as a way to stop,” he says. Flinders Island is populated by 800 people and 2.5 million muttonbirds. Bowermaster had contacted a local abalone diver and kayaker about using his house as a base. When the expedition arrived, the diver sent his friend Fiona to check them out. Clearly, she liked what she saw. “It’s really great to be with someone who comes with you,” says Bowermaster, citing the heavy relationship toll of the itinerant life. “Most adventurers have been married and divorced three or four times. The issue’s impossible to avoid. It comes with the territory.”

He admits to spending more time on the road than at home—in his busiest year, he stayed in Stone Ridge only 77 days. His travel essentials include “a comfortable pillow and Tabasco sauce,” the latter because expedition food can be tasteless; some polar explorers subsist on a diet of seal meat and butter sticks. Bowermaster’s favorite expedition meal was smoked fish and a smuggled flask of plum brandy; the worst, “some kind of pig-knuckle thing at an end-of-the-road in Nicaragua.”

Between adventures, he gives lectures and slide shows all over the country. “In places that are far from the ocean, say in the Midwest, I remind audiences that we’re all connected. I’ll ask, ‘Have you ever been for a holiday on the beach?’ A bunch of hands go up. ‘Do you ever eat fish?’ More hands go up. Even if you’re not one of the three billion people within 60 miles of the coastline, you’re involved with the ocean,” he says. “We’re a pretty rapacious species, and we’ve really damaged the ocean. Everywhere we go, we see overfishing, plastic pollution, the impact of climate change—not just rising seas, but more serious storms. We see it everywhere. Everywhere.”

Bowermaster shades his eyes with one hand, squinting up at a northbound line of Canada geese. He wears two silver bracelets over a wristband tattoo, which he got after spending a month on a cargo boat in French Polynesia with a heavily tattooed local crew; the design symbolizes land, sea, and sky. He notes that some tourists get tattoos as souvenirs. “I’ve seen people sell trips to get a tattoo in Antarctica,” he says, shaking his head. “There is no tradition of tattooing in Antarctica. Nor bared skin.”

Though he’s currently working on a collection of profiles of environmental and ocean activists, including Jacques Cousteau’s heirs and Obama’s energy czar Carol Browner, Bowermaster’s also mulling a radical concept for a new book: staying home. The adventurer would spend 365 days without going anywhere, making an exploration of his home base. “There are small towns around the world I know better than my own—I’ve spent more time there,” he says, gazing out at the Hudson as if he’s comparing its slate-blue waves to some of the wild seas he’s seen. “For me, this place says ‘calm.’ I’ve lived here for 21 years. I come home to recharge.”

Pin It


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Hudson Valley Events

submit event
Where Schoharie & West Kill Meet by Kim Do @ Windham Fine Arts

Where Schoharie & West Kill Meet by Kim Do

Nov. 23-Dec. 31, 12-4 p.m. — Kim Do is a New York based artist-educator, focused on an observational,...
Man & Machine: Figurative Group Art Exhibition @

Man & Machine: Figurative Group Art Exhibition

Mondays, Wednesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Nov. 29 — Man & Machine October 14, 2020 through November 29, 2020 Carrie Haddad...

View all of today's events

Chronogram on Instagram

Latest in Arts & Culture