The Fish of Henrys Lake was the first topic I wrote about for the Post Register Nature Column.
Twenty years ago, I answered an ad in the Post Register. It was a call for “nature writers” for a new column starting in the Post. I gathered up some writing samples from a few national magazines I had been published in and drove down to the Post Register office on Northgate Mile to meet with editor Tom Szaroleta.
Myself and three others were selected. With a B.S. in fisheries science, I was chosen to be the aquatic specialist and my first column, almost 900 words on the fish at Henry’s Lake, was published 20 years ago this month.
At that time, I could have never envisioned where this column would go. I hoped it would last for a few years. The first sign of change was when David Hayes, in my opinion the best writer among us, took his own life. The three of us continued on, filling in the blank. Not long after, the two other men, whose names I have long forgotten, either quit or moved and it was left to Charlene Kaserman and I. For several years we tag-teamed the column.
When Tom left for a gig in Florida, Maggie Walsh became the editor followed by Rob Thornberry. With Rob came some changes—for starters, he wanted the column to be only 400 words. I successfully argued for 500 words, but he wouldn’t budge on even one more word. Painful though it was, I think that made me a better writer. About this time, Charlene took her leave and I became a weekly columnist.
In the ensuing years I have written over 900 columns. I have written on a variety of topics, covering the full gamut of nature. Based on the many responses I have had, I think I have been on target much of the time. There were a few columns that I wasn’t especially proud of, some I could not write while I was employed by Idaho Department of Fish and Game and on a rare occasion, I repeated a topic, but I have never re-submitted the same column.
Since I have been keeping accurate records (invoices were another Thornberry innovation—thank you Rob) beginning in August 2004, the column has only missed being printed weekly a total of seven times. Two were because Christmas fell on a Thursday and there is no paper on Christmas, and three were because I just couldn’t get to it. Two others were a decision by the paper. I am okay with that record.
Did I do it for the money? I still get paid the exact same small amount as I did 20 years ago except these days I add a photo and a caption. The average price of a gallon of gas was $1.06 back then, compared to three times that today. Looked at that way, I have taken at least a 33% cut in pay since I started. Not a great business model. So, while the extra cash has been great, it has rarely been the motivator. The chance to write, to entertain, to educate and perhaps to influence a mind or two on the importance of nature have been the motivations.
In 2013, I wrote a book, The Best of Nature, a compilation of 109 of my favorite re-worked columns. The book wasn’t a best seller by any means, but I did appreciate those who bought it and either read it or gave it as a gift.
In truth, I have gained far more than anyone from these efforts. Despite my profession as a wildlife biologist, most topics required significant research to ensure accuracy and I learned a lot.
Today I want to thank all those who made this ride possible—the Post Register and the editors, to be sure, and especially my wife for tirelessly proofreading and occasionally offering painful but necessary criticism. Mostly though, I would like to thank faithful readers over the years, welcome new readers and especially thank all those who have, in person or by email, contacted me when a column struck a chord, inspired an adventure or recalled a memory. I have appreciated the kind words and support. I also value those who took my occasional mistakes and misstatements in stride, gently correcting me when needed. Thank you for taking the time to let me know that my efforts haven’t been in vain.
I don’t know what the future of the nature column will be. The paper is now under new ownership and I have had two different editors since Rob left the paper. Both have been great but they don’t control the show. From my perspective, I will stay with it for as long as you the readers and the paper will tolerate me.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho