Follow a River (All the Way): The Career Path of Tim Palmer

Ask Tim Palmer how he got into his line of work and he lights up like someone recounting the humble beginnings of a great love story. Thirty years ago, Palmer took a trip down the Susquehanna River and sold an article about his experience to the Pennsylvania Fishing Commission. Ever since, he has traveled around the United States, photographing and writing about the country’s rivers, glaciers, and forests, as well as the people who care about them. Today, Palmer has 22 books to his name and two more in the pipeline, but he has yet to diminish the affinity for wild places that first sent him wheeling off across the continent.

“What I do is determined by what I think is important,” he says. “I am passionate about exploring what is happening to our land. My life’s mission is to instill in people an awareness of the need to care for it.”

Tim Palmer (Photo by Anthony Clark)

Trees and Forests of America - Tim Palmer

Palmer had been working as a landscape architect for eight years when he decided to make a big career change. For over two decades, he kept his operation costs low and his adventure factor high by living out of a van, traveling to the places and people that fascinated him. “It was absolutely wonderful,” he says. “I was free as a bird. If you’re willing to take the risks, the rewards are tremendous.”

To date, the Palmer collection focuses on rivers and forests, with titles including Rivers of America, Luminous Mountains: The Sierra Nevada of California, and Lifelines: The Case for River Conservation. But, Palmer says of his infinite list of potential projects, “I’m only halfway to where I want to be. I am unlimited in what I could do and where I could go.”

The advocacy side of Palmer’s work has kept him in North America. “I would like to be effective,” he says. “I don’t think I would be with other countries – the effective voices for those places must come from within. I love the US. What really turns me on is big mountains, wild nature – we have a lot of that here. I just want to keep working on the opportunities I [already] have.”

Rivers of America - Tim Palmer

Every once in a while, Palmer has a chance to communicate his passion from behind the lectern. He spent one recent chilly fall evening presenting at Yale’s Kroon Hall. Armed with two old-school slide reels of his photography and a lifetime of conservation knowledge, he began by taking an audience of students, professors, and members of the Connecticut Association of Parks and Forests through the fundamentals of the relationship every human has with forests. “Trees inhale what we exhale and vice versa, and its hard to imagine a relationship more intimate than that.”

For more about Tim visit his website.

Cara Mae Cirignano

Cara Mae Cirignano is a Master of Environmental Science candidate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, focusing on economics. She can be reached at cara.mae.cirignano@yale.edu.

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