Before a very bright student planted the seed that grew into the Biodesign experience, I was unaware of the Jungian phenomenon known as “synchronicity.” These are events (scientific or other) that converge simultaneously with no known cause.
When I decided to break with tradition and initiate a high school advanced biology program, that did not focus on “massive memorization of minutiae,” there was no model to follow. However, as a student of John Muir, I was aware of one of his many famous quotes; “One day’s exposure to mountains is worth a cartload of books,” so I decided to employ the adage as a primary goal for the new class. The first semester curriculum would involve studying the life and work of Muir and include a 6-day trip into the Yosemite wilderness. If Muir were correct, the six days the students spent in Yosemite could provide visions, marvels and wonders that could help shape their lives. I am not so sure that the same could be said about memorizing all the parts of a fetal pig.
As a long-time follower of National Geographic magazine, I decided that another major theme of the Class would be to emulate the editors whose goal was to send photographers out into the world in search for the platonic values of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. The Geographic also championed the noble virtue of being dedicated to “the illimitable freedom of the human mind.”
During one of the early trips to the Yosemite wilderness a synchronicity began that conflated the two goals and it took 42 years to come full circle.
It was the last day of a 6-day Biodesign trip and the students gifted me with a copy of, “John Muir’s America.” The book featured stunning wilderness photos by Dewitt Jones and a brilliant text by T.H. Watkins. I was unaware of either man, but the book became a treasure trove of knowledge and beautiful images that I eagerly shared for nearly 30 years.
Several months ago, on a total whim, I decided to try to track Jones down in order to thank him for the huge contribution he made to my life and career. Through the magic of the internet, I found his beautiful website and a contact address at Molokai, Hawaii. By browsing through it I discovered that his extraordinary career went ballistic when National Geographic commissioned him to go out into the world and find “things to celebrate.” He became the magazine’s lead photographer for 20 years. Since then, he has written nine books, created several films and became, “a voice calling from the wilderness,” proclaiming the healing powers of Mother Nature. He also became a motivational speaker and produced extraordinary promotional ads for multinational corporations. More photos HERE.
I sent him a heartfelt thank-you letter and referred him to our book (and website) which he helped inspire. I could see by his website that he must be extremely busy and I did not expect a reply.
Several days ago, I was shocked beyond belief to see the following e-mail.
It’s ben far too long since you sent your lovely e-mail to me. I set it aside to be answered “in depth” and you know what happened? Life got in the way.
I reread your letter about a month ago and decided I would read the book before answering.
It took Amazon one month to get the book to me here in Hawaii. But it did arrive and I have been wandering through it delighting in the stories, mysteries and epiphanies. What an accomplishment.
I am delighted to be considered part of the inspiration for all of this. My love for Nature and the wilderness runs deep and I too have spent my life sharing its spiritual aspect with others.
I imagine if you follow me you will know about my tedx talk. If not, you can watch it here. https://dewittjones.com/pages/tedx-dewitt-jones
Let me know about your continued journey and I will let you know about mine.
Aloha from Molokai, Hawaii
As it turns out, Jones has become one of the most extraordinary people I have ever encountered. He belongs to a pantheon of a few of the finest Nature photographers in the world. I was deeply moved that a man of his stature (likely with a hectic schedule) would take the time to read about the wilderness adventures of a scattered group of high school students. Perhaps, like me, they resonated with his soul because they found a multitude of things in Nature to celebrate. Their individual celebrations were contagious and became group celebrations.
However, in my case, although visiting Yosemite, Grand Canyon and the Mendocino Coast provided countless scenic wonders, marvels, even miracles of Nature, none of the places compared to the mystery and magnificence of each one of the students I was so richly blessed to journey with. They transformed my life.
Paraphrasing John Muir, to me those students are immortal.