Finding beauty in devastation
by Ray Ring
Chris Peterson might be the best wildlife photographer you've never heard of. With quiet effort over many years of working for the Hungry Horse News, a weekly based in Columbia Falls, Mont., Peterson has honed his craft - stalking birds, bears, gravity-defying mountain goats and the other denizens of Glacier National Park. He captures them in meticulous, surprising close-ups that seem to reveal every feather and every whisker, somehow expressing the feeling of the moment.
A few thousand Hungry Horse News subscribers see Peterson's photos every week, and for years he served as the paper's editor. As if that weren't enough to keep him busy, he has also collected some of his trademark wildlife, shots along with images of green forests, glowing wildfires and their aftermaths, in a slim self-published book, Boy Wonder & the Big Burns. In brief written passages, he also reveals his personal life, particularly his difficult and rewarding relationship with his autistic son, Hunter.
Father and son find a habitat of togetherness on frequent hikes through forests that have suffered spectacular burns. "Fires are life-changing events. And so is autism," Peterson writes. At first, both fire and autism seem altogether devastating, but one can learn to live with each, and even begin to see the good. When Hunter is diagnosed, between 2 and 3 years old, he has difficulty walking, but by the end of the book, at age 7, he's doing four miles at a crack. The scorched land regenerates, "a burned forest is full of birds," and an autistic boy becomes, in his father's eyes, the Boy Wonder.
Peterson's writing is sometimes too terse, perhaps because this is such a difficult topic, and some of the photos are not as sharp as others not included. But he deserves a much wider audience, and this book will help him find it. You can order the book, see more of Peterson's photos, and hear him in a public-radio interview on his Web site - www.glaciergeographic.com.
Boy Wonder and the Big Burns
96 pages, hardcover
$14.95 Glacier Geographic, 2006© High Country News