In 2007 my wife suggested that our son and I do a book together. I had already published a few, and although Carson was only eight years old, he had already won national and international awards for his nature photography. What better co-author, photographer and partner could I have asked for? It was a perfect combination.
So, during the winter of 2008, Carson and I decided to do a children’s book about a family of beavers at a local nature preserve. To give Carson the full experience of a nature writer and photographer, I had him do a bit of homework. The more he understood nature, the better he would become at photographing it.
Carson read about beaver natural history and wetland ecology. He watched nature shows on television. We set aside every Friday after school to hike around the beaver pond and check on the beavers. Carson learned how to identify tracks and other signs of wildlife. Before long, the young man was a full-fledged naturalist.
We had lots of help along the way. Carson’s grade school teachers made sure his assignments and homework related to the project to help him learn more about wetlands and beaver ecology. The preserve manager gave us total access, even providing a Kubota (a type of ORV) to carry our gear to the pond. Several photography companies sponsored Carson’s project by providing gear and accessories.
Finally, we set out to photograph the beaver family. Everything was going well until one day we found no sign of beavers on the pond. They had left. We had a beaver pond, but no beavers.
Lucky for us my brother knew of a beaver colony along a stretch of river near his home in southern West Virginia. Carson and I packed our gear, and for the next three summers, we spent weeks photographing a beaver family along this river. We also traveled throughout Virginia and West Virginia to photograph other species of wildlife that would be in the book. Carson took delight in naming the characters, which included Carrots the rabbit, Dawn the fawn, Cards the cardinal and Michael the monarch butterfly.
The story is about a young beaver named Buddy who explores his pond. Carson and I went to a local restaurant once a week after school to write. What’s better than eating a cheeseburger and French fries while writing? When we were in the field photographing, we would also take time to write. Carson found that he preferred writing while in nature—even without the cheeseburger and fries.
In 2010, when Carson was ten, our first book, The Adventures of Buddy the Beaver: Buddy Explores the Pond, was published. We embarked on a public-speaking tour that culminated in Carson being the opening speaker at NANPA’s Summit in Reno, Nevada. He received a standing ovation from the audience and a long line of admirers waiting for a signed copy of his book.
For the rest of the year, Carson continued doing presentations. He was interviewed by local and national newspapers and even public radio. By this time, he decided to do a seasonal series of books about Buddy. So, we started on the second one. In 2012, The Adventures of Buddy the Beaver: Mystery of the Missing Friends was published. Unfortunately, we did not finish the last two books. Boys grow up and things change.
It has been three years since Carson has picked up a camera. He is 16 now, and his interests are elsewhere—particularly basketball and horse jumping. I attempted going solo to do the last two, but I have not found the inspiration without my partner. Maybe one of these days I’ll finish them.
Because of our time together exploring nature, Carson has a strong land ethic, a greater knowledge of the natural world and a deep respect for wildlife. He has a newfound sense of confidence in tackling challenges in life. He has become a wonderful public speaker and is not intimidated talking to an audience.
To me these are the crowning achievements of our time together. I owe much to Buddy and his friends as those years exploring nature with Carson created memories that will remain with me forever.
A past NANPA president, Jim is a contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer and nature photography instructor for Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia. The author/photographer of six books, Jim is particularly proud of the two children’s books he did with his son Carson, which he talks about in this story. Jim’s website can be found at www.jimclarkphoto.com, blog at www.jimclarkphoto.wordpress.com or visit him on Facebook.