Story and photography by Jim Clark
A few years ago I was invited by the Wood County Reading Association in West Virginia to speak at several elementary and middle-schools in the county. I jumped at the opportunity to speak to these young folks, especially since I’m a native son of West Virginia.
From the moment I arrived, I was treated like royalty, even being chauffeured from school to school. I visited eight schools, spoke to more than 1,000 kids, and although the facilities varied from school to school, we made it work each time. I also gave a program to the local community on my first night. While that was fun and well-attended, my time at the schools touched my heart.
My program for the kids included my journey in life from growing up in the poverty-stricken coalfields of southern West Virginia to my careers as a wildlife ecologist and professional nature photographer and writer. The one story that resonated with them, however, was how my son Carson (at age eight) and I photographed, wrote and published two children’s books.
Many of the kids were from families of lesser means and from situations that no child should ever have to endure. My hope was that I would motivate them to keep pursuing their dreams. I was not disappointed as many of them came up to personally thank me. Several students even asked me to thank Carson for inspiring them as well. How does it get any better than that, you ask? Well, hang on. It does.
At the last school, a little girl remained after the program. She cautiously walked up to me and thanked me for sharing my stories and nature images with her. She asked if I would stay a little longer so she could go to her homeroom to get something. I looked at her teacher, who nodded her approval.
When she left, her teacher told me that the little girl came from a very poor family and had been in an abusive situation her whole life. The school had become her refuge. She was now in foster care.
After a few minutes, the little girl returned with her hands behind her back. She handed me two color pencils and emphatically instructed that one was for me and the other, for Carson. She said for what I did for her, she wanted to give something to Carson and me.
My heart melted.
It was a defining moment for me. Here was a child who had experienced misery that I could never have imagined, yet she gave me a gift that, to this day, I still have in my office. I gave Carson his pencil and I placed mine in a Mason jar where it is on display in my office.
In my 40 years of photographing nature and sharing it with others, my moment with this little girl and her gift of two pencils truly showed me the real value of my photography.
A past NANPA President and contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer, Jim is also a nature photography instructor for the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia. The author/photographer of six books, Jim is particularly proud of two children’s books he did with his son Carson. Jim was also a major contributor to the book, Coal Country. Visit Jim’s website at www.jimclarkphoto.com, blog at www.jimclarkphoto.wordpress.com or visit him on Facebook.