Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dad


This blog, these photos, and my passion for the wild would most likely not exist had it not been for the influences of my Dad. If we trace our life journey back to the beginning, invariably we find our parents tracks scattered all over the path we may have mistakenly thought was all our own.

My Dad planted numerous influences when we were young that gave rise to my love of the wild, and eventually my pursuit of wildlife photography. There were the family camping trips to Pentwater, Michigan, occasional outings to the Nature Center and Kleinstuck Preserve, and always choosing to live near a little patch of wilderness in the city that became a convenient playground (and perhaps a baby sitter) for me and my brother.

Dad too was a photographer of sorts - not a professional or avid shutterbug, but he was editor of the yearbook at WMU during his college years and a camera was probably hanging around his neck most of the time. He always seemed to have a camera around the house, so the SLR was a familiar tool to me from an early age.

Most significantly, Dad was a life-long birder, and retirement gave him the time to more fully pursue that passion. It suited his shy, unassuming personality as well as his penchant for categorizing, something he did for over 30 years as the head librarian at Kalamazoo Central High School. Birding took him all over North America, including Texas, Arizona, Florida, California, Nova Scotia and of course all over Southwest Michigan. For me, it was the birding trips he and I took to New Mexico and Alaska that really began to secure my fate as a wildlife photographer.

There was one incident though that I believe really etched a love of wildlife and wilderness into my soul.

I was around 12 or 13 and the family went camping up at Wilderness State Park at the northernmost tip of the Lower Peninsula. We camped, in tents, right next to the beach at the main campground, which was in and of itself a primal experience for a wee lad such as myself.

One morning we got up particularly early and began the day with a breakfast I'll never forget. It was at a little roadside joint outside the park where we had homemade, plain doughnuts that were deep-fried right in front of us. Best donuts I've ever had. I'm sure Dad and the adults washed it down with coffee.

We then drove due east to Waugoshance Point, the peninsula that really defines Wilderness State Park. We drove as far as we could and then hiked for a half hour or so, which was a long way for us back then. We knew we'd arrived when we reached the shore and could see the peninsula shooting out into Lake Michigan. It was vast and open, unlike anything I'd seen before. It felt like the edge of the world. My dad began glassing with his binoculars and spotted a bird down the shoreline, way up in the sky. He was excited. He handed us the binoculars but you still couldn't quite make out any details other than it was a big bird soaring high up in the sky. He told us it was a Bald Eagle. It was my very first sighting and I knew it was a big deal.

Not only are Eagles majestic birds, this was during the seventies and Bald Eagles were endangered and rare in Michigan. My dad knew this and understood the import of a sighting, albeit distant and small to the eye. He shared this with us and when I think back on that moment it sums up so much about my love of the wild. That Eagle was just a speck in the sky, but knowing what it was and that it was so rare created a mythological dimension to the wild that has never left. This is the special something about the natural world that is nearly impossible to explain, but easy to understand when you experience it. My photography and video have been the never ending pursuit of that moment and sensation. May it never end.

That sighting was one of my Dad's greatest gifts to us, whether he knew it or not.

Sadly, Dad passed away Monday, December 19th from bladder cancer at Rose Arbor Hospice in Kalamazoo.  I am forever grateful for all that he's given me.

8 comments:

  1. Condolences - it was my dad also who instilled in me a love of and reverence for nature. He was so much more observant than I, fascinated by the smallest insect as well as the largest animal. He could sit for hours watching wildlife scenarios play out. Once I got away from home on my own, comparing my childhood to others, I finally realized how lucky I was to have had him take me into the wild and show me the rare and the ordinary. My powers of observation have improved over the years, and I often think he would be happy that I'm finally seeing more the way he did as I pursue my art. Thank you for reminding me who I have to thank for all that. May your memories be a comfort to you.

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  2. Thank you Idaho Beauty for your condolences and reflections on your own Dad. It's a universal phenomena and part of being human. I'm glad we can share it with each other. Bless you.

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  3. Beautiful tribute to a wonderful man. Your father left a beautiful trail to follow. Holding you and your family in our prayers.

    Love,
    Jeff & Kathlene

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  4. I wanted to offer condolences from some of the Western Clysdales.
    I was blessed to have spent a few days with your folks in the Tetons
    and Yellowstone area. It was a trip I will never forget and I was moved
    by your Fathers love and knowledge of the wilderness. My father instilled
    in me a love for birding, fishing and enjoying and respecting wildlife as well.
    It is what drove me to search out the wild and wonderful in the big city and
    eventually led me to move to Idaho. I always wanted to thank you for making
    Animals Among Us. In Long Beach I was always watching and feeding the birds
    and wildlife that most people didn’t notice. As well as exploring all the various little
    waterways in my canoe. Please pass along my best to your Mother and family.
    W. Patrick Clysdale

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  5. Thank you Jeff and Kathleen for your warmth and support all these years. Having the lodge family has helped me through these trying times, and for that reason I'm all the more grateful for the two of you.

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  6. Patrick, I look forward to meeting you some day. What a pleasant surprise to read your comment and realize the Clysdale clan is looking out for us. I forwarded your condolences to my Mom and she thanks you dearly. Glad to hear my Dad connected with you in his lifetime. I will certainly look you up if I'm in Idaho. Sounds like we have more in common than DNA. Thanks again.

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  7. Judy Snyder VlietstraJanuary 1, 2012 at 7:55 PM

    Matt, this is Judy from the Credit Union. I talked to you occasionally while I worked there and had your Dad as my 6th grade teacher. I just found your blog and was so saddened to hear of your Dad's passing. The photo you posted of him bought back so many fond memories of him as my teacher and mentor for that year. There were only a few teachers that made a lasting impression on my life and your Dad was one of them. I never knew how fond he was of nature but I know where you all lived and it was a little piece of wilderness right in the city. My friends and I spent many adventurous hours up there and I have taken my grandchildren by that area and told them of some of the fun we had back there as kids. It came as no surprise to me that your Dad made such an impression on your lives because he truly shared not only his knowledge with his students but he shared himself with us. He wasn't just our teacher. He was our friend, our mentor and we got to see a whole world of wonder through his eyes! I will never forget him and thank you for sharing about you Dad with your readers.

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  8. Thank you Judy for your kind thoughts and memories. I'm only now coming to realize the ways my Dad impacted people.

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