In mid-1997, as Malcolm Margolin and I were meeting weekly to figure out how to launch a magazine about nature in the Bay Area, we received some excellent advice: Produce a sample of the magazine to show potential funders and collaborators what we had in mind. We knew that having a knockout cover image for this prospectus piece would be essential. So it was our good fortune that renowned nature photographer and Bay Area native Galen Rowell was about to come out with his landmark book Bay Area Wild. As he explains in the book’s introduction, “Many urban residents of the Bay Area simply fail to recognize the wealth of wildness right before their eyes.” By portraying that wildness with the same drama and intensity of his famous images of the High Sierra and the Himalayas, Rowell hoped to motivate readers to both explore and protect the beauty at our doorstep. A perfect fit for Bay Nature.
After combing through hundreds of “outtakes” from Bay Area Wild, we found the cover shot we were looking for. The California poppy is immediately recognizable; yet the way that Rowell has photographed it—highlighting the density of its orange hue, the fine tracings of the petals, the scarlet tips of the leaves—prompts us to see this familiar flower in a different light, to embrace it anew.
The untimely deaths of Rowell and his wife Barbara (a skilled pilot, writer, and photographer in her own right) on August 11 are an enormous loss: many beautiful images left behind, yet so many still to be taken. As a world-class mountain climber and nature photographer, Rowell had the relentless drive necessary to overcome obstacles, yet the patience to wait for the right light and conditions, and the unerring eye to capture them on film; and, most important, the vision to understand how to use his incomparable talent in the service of something larger than his own personal success. The movement to free Tibet, the preservation of Bay Area open space—these and many other worthwhile initiatives benefited greatly from Rowell’s passion and generosity.
A month earlier, the Bay Area lost another hero when Dwight Steele passed away at the age of 88. A leader of the 1960s movement to stop the filling and development of the Bay, Steele was instrumental in the formation of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the first such shoreline protection agency in the nation. Without the persistent work and passionate dedication of Steele—as well as surviving colleagues such as Sylvia McLaughlin—the Bay that we celebrate in this current issue would be little more than a stagnant pond. As the dry season ends, and the rains return, and the Bay and its surrounding hills pulse with life, we pause to reflect on the lives of these two people who have made our world a vastly richer place. We dedicate this issue of Bay Nature to Galen Rowell and Dwight Steele.