Thursday, April 30, 2015

Stop. Breathe. Relax. Listen. An Interview with Daniel Fox

Photo provided by Daniel Fox
An explorer and storyteller, Daniel Fox looks to the power of nature to energize the mind and soul.  He preaches, STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN while  reconnecting to the natural world around us. As the founder of W.I.L.D., an initiative send under privileged youth to wilderness immersion camps, he hope to share that vision with he next generation.
 A FUJIFILM X-Photographer, a SanDisk Storyteller, a Nature Valley contributor, a Kokatat Global Ambassador, an Aqua Lung, Deuter, Delorme and Wilderness Systems Ambassador. His work has been appeared in Outside Magazine, Canoe Kayak Magazine, Adventure Kayak Magazine, Sea Kayaker Magazine, along with many others. His inspiring talks on FEEL THE WILD have been given at the Commonwealth Club, REI stores, universities and schools across the country.

NC: You seem somewhere between a modern day Thoreau and adventurer Daniel Boone always looking over the next horizon. You said "Nature is more than a destination. It is a teacher, a meditation, it is food for the soul and the body, inspiration for the arts, a healer, a mentor, a lover." What drives you in your pursuit of finding nature?
DF: First of all let me thank you for referencing my work to both Thoreau and Boone - what an honor! I did use to watch the TV show when I was young - I still can remember singing the intro song! About your question. We are a product of nature. Our species is just one of many that has inhabited this planet. And we won’t be the last. In the grand scheme of the universe, we are nothing more than just a footnote in the history of evolution. We haven’t even proved our worthiness as a species. We have been around for what, thousands of years? That is nothing compare to others. Sometimes I contemplate the thought that perhaps intelligence will turn out to be a counter productive evolutionary tool. It is amazing what it can create and accomplish but it is also incredible to see how unsustainable it can be. But again, isn’t life’s goal to expand, evolve, reach out to new worlds? We migrated from Africa for some reasons. Our species spread over continents. We risked everything and crossed oceans trying to escape what we had created, to start anew. Perhaps it is part of life to mess things up so that it forces the future generations to seek new places and the old ones to wise up. We learn through the consequences of our actions - and right now we are learning about the fragility of our species and that the act of totally disrespecting the environment is a strategy that will backfire and blow up in our face. Spending time in the wilderness reminds me that there is world beyond ourselves. That I am not at the center of everything. It brings me perspective and puts me back in the right place, giving me the gift of humility. It is so easy to think of ourselves as gods when we live in cities, disconnected, in awe of our prowess, but out there in the wild, you realize that that there is so much more to life. How can we look up to the stars and believe even for one second that we are special? It is that feeling of vulnerability that I seek that drives me to explore the wilderness and spend time in nature.
NC: Tell us about W.I.L.D. Wilderness, Immersion, Leadership & Discovery  to help make the wilderness accessible to under privileged youth. Why did you start this cause?
DF: We consume nature the same way that we consume everything else - with ease, quick and in quantity. We want the benefits delivered instantly and in the shortest time possible. We want that adrenaline rush. We want to conquer that river. We want to finish that hike. And then go back to our houses and computers. It is hard in that way to truly connect with nature and receive the big lessons and insights it has to offer. It is hard to get that deep trans formative experience when you are only skimming the surface. It is like trying to experience the richness of the ocean only by swimming at the surface. Impossible! You need to dive in. Going camping for a weekend is great, but you don’t get to disconnect. Your mind and body is still attached to the conveniences of our modern world. We experience the wilderness through senses that are not in tuned with nature. There are many studies that have proven and showed that it takes a minimum of 2 weeks for your senses to tune in with a new environment.
So with that in mind, I believe that immersion in nature is an important part of our development, especially during our early, formative years when it is so critical to discover who we are, develop strong self-esteem, begin to adopt leadership skills, challenge our physical well-being and acquire the capacity to live a balance life in a world dominated by technology.
NC: Sounds like your trying to save the world one kid at a time. What impact do you think it will have on their future?
DF: I am convinced that once you have experienced a month long wilderness immersion camp, you life is changed forever. And knowing the importance of today’s youth in shaping the future, I want to give them, especially the under-privileged teens, the opportunity to experience first-hand the positive impact nature can have on their lives through wilderness immersion camps. That immersion is a powerful first step that can help trigger a desire to explore and discover the natural world and to begin to understand how experiencing the beauty and ultimate challenges inherent in nature can lead to enhancing their self-confidence and help them develop valuable leadership skills.
Read more about W.I.L.D.
NC: What is the Wild Image Project? How long have you been working on it and what has it taught you about nature and yourself?
DF: I started the Wild Image Project back in 2008. It is a bit of a long story, but to summarize it, when I was a kid, my dream was to sail the world and study whales. I wanted to explore the planet. See what Cousteau, Fowler and Attenborough had showed me on the television. I was that kid who would leave in the morning, disappear in the forest and complain when it was time to come come back at sunset. In High School, I got the feeling that I needed to get serious with my life expectations and was told to grow up. So I tried. I went to business school, moved to New York and attempted to make it in the corporate world. It was a huge failure. I was incapable of justifying my future doing something that my heart was not into. So after an unfortunate very short marriage and divorce, I reassessed everything. If there was time for me to go back to my roots, this was the time. So I sold everything and headed south. I went to Argentina for 6 months and found myself again. I found and connected to that joyful boy I once was. I started to write and do photography and for the first time in my life, I felt like I had a purpose, a reason to move into the future and believe.
NC: You said, that you want to create a dialog between yourself and your wildlife subjects while photographing them in nature. Why is important to you that they know of your presence?
DF: In some ways, I don’t want to take the photograph, I want to receive it. In the early age of photography, it was believed that a photo stole a piece of the soul. I don’t literally believe the statement but I do feel there is something of an invasion when you capture a moment without the subject knowing. So if I am going to capture these animals on film, I want it to be on their terms, I want their consent.
Also, I don’t want to be a visitor, I want to connect and be present. I want to meet their gaze and share that deep ancestral sense of commonality we have. That is what I seek, that is what I long for.
Importantly though, I don’t want to humanize and beautify them, I want to honor and recognize their spirit. Every single species on earth is exceptional in the sense that it has achieved mastery of its survival by adapting and acutely occupying a specific niche within the planet’s ecosystem. Everything and everyone, including us, have evolved and survived by becoming the best at one thing. The indigenous cultures understood and honored this way of looking at the world. They didn’t see themselves better or above anyone or anything, but alongside all the others, part of life’s complex cobweb. Animals, plants and insects were respected, honored and recognized for their particular abilities. 
NC: Your first attempt to kayak 1,000 miles from Victoria, on the Island of Vancouver in Canada to San Francisco was unfortunately ended in very harrowing ordeal at Cannon Beach in Oregon as featured in Canoe & Kayak magazine article  ALIVE & STRONGER  What did you learn from that experience?
DF: There are certain things in life that are not meant to be accomplished on the first try. They demand commitment and failure is part of the experience. A 1,000 miles of solo kayaking along the Pacific Coast is not something to be taken lightly. I am actually glad that my first attempt was unsuccessful. I was extremely fortunate and I didn’t hurt myself and that is the most important thing. Had it been too easy, I would have lost the respect that endeavors like these deserve. Looking back, there are obviously lessons that I learned. First one is that I should have not forced my departure. I was pressured by time and left Astoria knowing that bad weather was coming. Also, I should have never attempted to lend in Indian Bay at night. I didn't know the place and it was obvious that the conditions were way too dangerous for me to maneuver my way into these unknown waters. That first capsize changed everything. Had I just paddled into the night, against the wind, it would have been extremely exhausting and dead tired, but at least I would have not end up in pieces on the beach crushed by the ocean.
NC: Are you going to attempt it again?
DF: Absolutely! Depending on my current and future commitments and schedule, either this summer or the next.
NC: You travel light and by yourself for long periods of time do you find comfort in the solitude?
DF: I do. I see myself as an artist and the wilderness is my studio. When I go out, my goal is to create something, to capture the spirit of a place and share it with the world. A painter can’t paint when there are other people around. They need that empty space where their mind can get lost and create. It is the same for me. Out there, by myself, I have to face the silence, my mind goes to places that are not always fun, but from these depths, magic happens. I will be honest though, it can be extremely challenging and tiring. There is no one to motivate you. You are responsible for everything. There is no peer pressure, no one to cook while you set up camp, no second opinion, no help if something happens. Interestingly, my last story (http://www.wildimageproject.com/2015/03/27/s2-c-p/) is about solitude and here is my closing paragraph:
“The cacophony of life is necessary. The buzzing and frenzy of our culture has a creative purpose and we shouldn’t underestimate its value but more importantly, clarity and perspective happen only when silence and solitude are present. In our culture of multi-tasking, every hour filled with endless distractions and finding ourselves relentlessly connected to our technology devices, these alone times are becoming rarer and rarer leaving us with an incapacity to delve and think deeper, stuck in the shallowness found within 140 characters. More than ever, we must find the time to STOP. BREATHE. RELAX & LISTEN." 
NC: What is the most essential item you always bring along while on these odysseys?
DF: My brain! My sanity and optimism! The answer might surprise you but nothing is more important than keeping your calm when you are on solo expeditions. No gear can replace good judgement. No gear can save you unless you know what to do with it. You can survive with very little and through insane and crazy situations if you succeed in not letting the events take over you. Aside from the philosophical answer, my Fujifilm camera is always with me. And if I had to choose the most essential item it would be my SOG multitool. 
NC: Ansel Adams said, "A good photograph is knowing where to stand." You have traveled through out the world. What was your favorite place so far and what made it so appealing?
DF: There is so much of the world I haven’t seen!!! So many places to visit. So much to discover and explore. Adams’ quote reminds me of Proust’: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” The truth though is that we are social species. We are wired to connect with others. And in all my traveling, it is the people that I meet along the way that I remember the most. Connecting with the wild places I visit is impossible to do unless I connect first with the people that live there. I am passing through. I am a visitor and they are the ones who hold the key to so many secrets. Their stories and their experiences are priceless and full of treasures. 
NC: Any place on your list you haven't been yet?
DF: At the beginning when I started, I was attracted to exotic destinations. But to be honest, now I only focus on North America. There is so much right here, in our backyard to discover. From Alaska, the Arctic Circle, the Northwest Territories to Baja California. From Newfoundland to British Columbia and California, the mountains, the deserts, the rivers, the Pacific and Atlantic Coast, our American and Canadian National Parks are truly some of the most beautiful places on earth.
NC: One last one... Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nothing can bring you peace but yourself." What will be your legacy?
DF: We are not a bad species. We are learning. There is so much guilt and negativity in our culture that is is really hard to be hopeful. There is this constant deadline over our head telling us that if we don’t fix everything in 5 years, life on earth will literally end. There is this arrogant and righteous sense of duty that we must save the planet. People are overwhelm and feel powerless and consequently stop caring or listening. There is of course a pressing need to change but we have to believe in ourselves. We have to inspire each other and see the beauty within us. We are a species that rises in the face of challenges. We are experts at adapting. Yes we have done mistakes. And we won’t stop making new ones. That is life. But by accepting responsibility, by finding humility and believing that the strength of our spirit is intertwined with the natural world, I believe that together we can lay the foundations to a world we can be proud of.
I want to make people STOP just for a second. I want them take a deep BREATH, RELAX, LISTEN and look at the world and nature in a new way. I want them to hope. I want them to believe. I want them to be proud. I want them to believe in the power of nature to restore our human spirit. I want them to understand that we are from nature, that nature is not something disconnected from us. If I can do that, if that can be my legacy, then I will be happy.

You can find Fox on FacebookLinkedinTwitter, InstagramPinterestGoogle +. He publishes his videos on Vimeo and his photography portfolio is available on Behance.