Creating Field Guides and Books for Conservation with Clay Bolt
Have you ever pondered writing a book, or even making your own field guide, as a conservation photographer? Clay Bolt is doing BOTH of these things right now and gives us an inside look at the process.
Of the many people who I deeply admire in the conservation photography realm, Clay Bolt ranks WAY up there.
He is someone who absolutely walks the talk of a conservation photographer, and knows that the image is just the first step in having a true impact for wildlife and wilderness.
He's also never afraid to push himself into new creative realms, and that includes wading into the wide world of writing.
Right now, Clay has several book projects on the front burner that take him into not only deeper into new areas of photography, but also into new areas as a writer.
Today we talk about what he's creating, how he's digging into the book-making process, and the impact he hopes to make with these books.
If you've ever wondered what it's like to try your hand at writing – even if you've never done it before – so that you can make a bigger impact as a visual storyteller, this is the episode for you.
This episode is sponsored by:
Conservation Visual Storytellers Academy trains photographers and filmmakers who are passionate about conservation and science.
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Episode 105: Creating Field Guides and Books for Conservation with Clay Bolt
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
[00:00:00] Jaymi: Welcome to impact the conservation photography podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place from conservation to creativity, from business to marketing and everything in between this podcast is for you. The conservation visual storyteller, who is ready to make an.
[00:00:26] Jaymi: Let's dive in.
[00:00:35] Jaymi: Of the many people who I deeply admire in the conservation photography realm, clay bolt ranks way up there. He is someone who absolutely walks the talk of conservation photographer being an extraordinarily talented creative, but also someone who knows that the image is the first step and there's so much work to do afterwards.
[00:00:59] Jaymi: And he never [00:01:00] shys away from that. Well right now, he has a couple of very creative projects on the front burner that actually takes him into not only the photography realm, but the writing realm as well. Clay bolt has multiple books in the works and we get to sit down and talk with him today about. What it is that he's creating and how he's digging into the book creation process, including the writing side of it.
[00:01:25] Jaymi: Something that a lot of us photographers tend to shy away from, but it can be such an amazing skill and a way to amplify the impact of our images. So let's go ahead and dive straight into this interview. Thank you so much for hitting play on this episode of impact the conservation photography podcast, because I am welcoming back a guest that has been on the show before one of my dear friends, someone who I deeply and profoundly admire in the conservation field.
[00:01:55] Jaymi: Clay bolt clay. Thank you so much for being on the show today. [00:02:00]
[00:02:00] Clay: It's an absolute pleasure, Jamie. And, uh, you know, I'm wondering if this is like Saturday night live, where after I've been featured on the podcast several times, if I get a special robe or a headband or something like that, that I can sport so that people know I have that special status.
[00:02:14] Jaymi: Well, it was supposed to be a surprise, but you do get a decoder ring that you get to wear and, and a little badge that you can sew onto one of your field jackets or something. So, but that that'll come later in the mail.
[00:02:26] Clay: okay. Thank God. Yeah. I'm super excited. Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, Jamie. I can't wait to dive into our conversation today.
[00:02:33] Clay: Yeah.
[00:02:33] Jaymi: Well, me too, because you are working on some pretty amazing projects that I'm really, really excited about, but before we dig into that, I would love for anyone who's not familiar with your work clay, who hasn't been able to dive into the world of bees with you, or just learn more about you as a photographer, who is clay in the world?
[00:02:58] Clay: Well, you know, to [00:03:00] put it, to put it in a simple manner, I am just a person obsessed with insects and particularly with bumblebees and someone who has used photography and writing and presentations for the last oh man, almost 20 years to help people get more connected to insects and help them to care about them.
[00:03:16] Clay: But in general, I would say that I'm a natural history and conservation photo. Because I use my images to help not only talk about the life cycles and the cool things that insects and other invertebrates do, but also then to use those photos to hopefully help protect them, which is at the heart of, of everything I do in my work.
[00:03:37] Jaymi: Wonderful. It feels really weird for me to hear you say that you've been doing this for 20 years, cuz you just seem like you're a 20 year old at heart so the idea that you've been at this for so long, that is substantial.
[00:03:51] Clay: Yeah, it, it is shocking to hear myself say that. And I feel like, you know, almost 20 years later, I am still trying to figure out how to [00:04:00] do this.
[00:04:00] Clay: Well, Yeah, I, I think the thing that really keeps me young and excited about this work is that there are just so many things to discover and, and so many amazing things to photograph. And, you know, it's not like I'm going in and clocking into the office every day and making the same widget. Every story is different.
[00:04:18] Clay: Every species is different. Every conservation opportunity presents us on challenges and opportunities. So it's easy to be excited on a daily basis.
[00:04:27] Jaymi: Yeah, well, that must be the secret to youth, but I'm curious. Why is it that you focus on bees? Like what is at the heart of that particular obsession?
[00:04:38] Clay: Well, I started focusing on bees, no pun intended as a photographer, although that is true around 2013, when I read the headline of a time magazine article, That said a future without bees.
[00:04:53] Clay: And it was, it was focused on the honey bee. And at the time, you know, even though I had spent my entire life [00:05:00] being interested in insects, I had never really focused on bees very much. And I had a very, very limited knowledge of bees. I knew that there were honey bees and Bumble bees and sweat bees, and those general categories were really and carpenter bees, but those general categories were really all I knew.
[00:05:18] Clay: And so. When I started looking into this issue, this colony collapse disorder, that was, that was happening with, with honeybees. Um, one of the things that I first did was I went out into my backyard and I photographed some of the bees that were visiting these small Astros, these tiny flowers, about the size of a us nickel, uh, 5 cent coin, uh, in my backyard.
[00:05:45] Clay: I immediately realized that there were not honey bees. They were these striped and metallic fuzzy bees that I had a very difficult time finding an identification for. And as I began to dig around, I found that there [00:06:00] were an approximate 20,000 species of B in the world. And that. Everyone tended to focus on the honey bees.
[00:06:08] Clay: But one of the shocking things that I learned is that while colony collapse disorder is a real thing, honey bees are not actually in trouble. There is some die off, but they're domesticated species. So it's kind of like imagining cows or chickens going extinct. They're doing just fine in general. However, our native species are not doing so well, especially the bumblebees.
[00:06:29] Clay: And I realized at that time that I really had a unique opportunity to focus on those species as a photographer to really have conservation impact. So I began to sort of follow that journey. And at the time around 2013, there were not that many photographers focusing on native native bees. Now there are, there are many more who do that, but as I've, my obsession has grown.
[00:06:53] Clay: I didn't expect, you know, this many years later to be focused on bees, but I just continue to learn new things and there continues to be [00:07:00] unfortunately, more and more opportunities. To help protect them because they are facing some uphill challenges these days. Yeah.
[00:07:09] Jaymi: That makes a lot of sense. I think it often comes as a surprise to many people, even those of us who feel like we're pretty tuned into nature and nature news and nerding out on species facts, and so on to learn that.
[00:07:23] Jaymi: Honeybees are doing fine. They're, you know, essentially this domesticated species, but native species are the ones that we really need to focus on. And the sheer diversity of native species out there comes as a big surprise to a lot of people. But. I also know that you are launching into a pretty significant endeavor to really change that.
[00:07:44] Jaymi: Right now, you're actually in the process of creating two books, one of which is a field guide to be species. And I would love to dive into what made you want to create a field guide in the first place?
[00:07:59] Clay: Well, it's kind of funny [00:08:00] because initially I was setting out to create more of a. Coffee table style book, a bumblebees of north America, because there are quite a few books on bumblebees of various smaller eco regions.
[00:08:14] Clay: And there is a great guide from Princeton university press on bumblebees of north America, which is geared a bit more towards either advanced amateurs or certainly entomologists, but was not super, a little bit more difficult for, for the average person to use. But as a photographer, of course, I'm really focused on the images.
[00:08:36] Clay: And I'm also really interested in more of a narrative storytelling style that helps people fall in love with them and not just identify them. And so when I started reaching out to publishers, that was really sort of what I had in mind. But as I began discussions with, um, a couple of great publishers who I've partnered with on this book or am partnering with on this book, so tropical, which is.
[00:08:59] Clay: A [00:09:00] smaller publisher out of Costa Rica, as well as Cornell university press, which is also helping with publishing and distribution. I really ultimately went more towards a field guide approach because one of the, the special things about this guidebook that I'm producing is it's gonna be a guide to bumblebees of the Americas.
[00:09:19] Clay: It'll be the first ever guide that covers the bumblebee species that are found from the Arctic. All the way down to the most Southern tip of south America, the old Dego. And so I'm really excited to produce a book that covers that entire span of species, because there again, there is just nothing that, that has.
[00:09:39] Clay: Has that many species in it, which the numbers keep changing. So I'm just gonna give you a general number of around 95 species, but based on DNA analysis and lumping and splitting of species, the number keeps sort of shifting one way or the other, but it's gonna be the first to include all of the species, but what we're doing beyond that, and I don't want [00:10:00] to give everything away is we're gonna include.
[00:10:02] Clay: Beautiful illustrations. We're gonna have really interesting stories in the book. It's gonna be more than just your average field guide. So it will allow me to have these beautiful photographs in there that sort of tie the species to the context of their habitats. And I'm really excited about it, basically.
[00:10:20] Clay: Our goal is to create the kind of book that when we were children, all of us involved, you would see it on the shelf and it would just become your obsession. You know, it's like that book that feels good in your hands that has these beautiful illustrations, beautiful photography, hopefully beautiful writing all of those things to really inspire people to care more, to not only learn more about the species in their backyard, but also care.
[00:10:42] Clay: Of course, the challenge is fitting that much stuff into a guide. That's also useful in the field is, is one of the things that sort of determined how much of those things beyond just the identifications we can include, but I'm really excited about it. And, and my goal is to produce the most beautiful [00:11:00] most spectacular.
[00:11:01] Clay: Guide to bumblebees that's ever been produced.
[00:11:05] Jaymi: I have no doubt that you'll create that for sure, because I can just like hear the passion in your voice about what a field guide should be. And as someone who is completely obsessed with field guides, like you, I, you can see me on video. So behind me is my bookshelf, which is all like just rows of field guides.
[00:11:24] Jaymi: I'm obsessed with them because they feel like. Insights into what you're seeing. It's like a magic mirror. I, I feel like, and you can hold it up and see things that are in front of you, but you never really realized what they were. And then once you recognize them and you have a name, you get really excited about what that is and it makes you feel empowered.
[00:11:44] Jaymi: But at the same time, there's something to really be said about a field guide that inspires you, not just informs you. Like I have in front of me. Bumblebees of north America, the field guide that you mentioned earlier. There's some really [00:12:00] useful photography in here, but it's not photography that you're just like mesmerized by that you wanna sit with that you wanna hang out with.
[00:12:07] Jaymi: And so the idea of having that field guide, that that is the perfect thing. It's got stories it's got. Gorgeous imagery. It has it's everything that you want and that you, I guess, in a way for nature nerds like us, that is our coffee table book. It's what we wanna curl up with. , you know, on a rainy night with a blanket and a cup of hot cocoa and the most beautiful field guide in the world that is just sheer joy.
[00:12:33] Clay: I'm glad you said that, cuz that's exactly how I feel about field guides. I have way too many. And in fact, for, for this process, I've bought. Every field guide of bumblebees from around the world that I could find, including some really amazing ones from Japan and, and other places that, that have just inspired me and, and made me laugh.
[00:12:54] Clay: And some of them that are not is inspiring and you're like, whoa, this is not gonna help anybody learn about [00:13:00] anything. But, so I've tried. What I've tried to do is, you know, take the best of all these guides and the things that work and the things that don't work well and, and sort of Synthes synthesize that.
[00:13:11] Clay: Into a formula for this book that I think will be, make people excited about bumblebees and yeah. You know, I, I just, I wanna, I wanna create a book that brings me joy as well as the viewer. And so I think, I think one of the advantages that I have, if I may say this is that, you know, there, there are a lot of.
[00:13:32] Clay: I I, well, I would just say, I think I'm in a specialized position to create a book like this because one, my degree and my career started as a graphic designer. And I've done, even though I've worked as a photographer, many other things over the years for conservation, I even for world wildlife fund, whom I worked for in the Northern great Plains, I still continue to do design on special projects.
[00:13:53] Clay: So I have a, I have a sensitivity to the value that design brings. As a [00:14:00] photographer, you know, I've really tried to become a master of photographing theses in ways that are not only beautiful, but also clear in terms of identification. And then, you know, I believe in writing words that are enjoy, you know, enjoyable to read and not just getting too wonky for the average person.
[00:14:17] Clay: So I'm hoping that, that I can sort of hit the sweet spot, uh, for this book that I think sometimes field guides fail to.
[00:14:25] Jaymi: Yeah. Well, you know, and as a conservation photographer, you are very clear on the idea that the beautiful photograph that you create is step one, but there's so much more that happens after that to really be effective and, and to make an impact with.
[00:14:43] Jaymi: What it is that you create. And I'm curious, we've already touched on this a little bit, but I wanna really drill down into what do you think that creating a gorgeous field guide will do for the conservation of the B species that you're [00:15:00] photographing in the guide?
[00:15:03] Clay: Well, I think, first of all, you know, it's no secret that in order for people to care about something, they have to know it exists to begin with.
[00:15:11] Clay: And, you know, I go back to what I said earlier in that when I first started learning about. Bees. I was someone who was very interested in insects. I was very clueless to the various species of even bubble bees, which, you know, there's only around 45 species in north America. That's not that many. They, they are complicated and that, especially as you move west, some bees might have 20 color patterns for one species with, and many of them look like one another.
[00:15:40] Clay: So there is, there is definitely like a, a level of sophistication that you have to have when you're trying to identify. But I just feel like if people can't get a sense of what's in their garden then, or in their community or in natural areas, then it's not gonna be a lot more difficult for them to contribute, to say citizen science, which is one of the big contributors [00:16:00] to learning about bumblebees.
[00:16:01] Clay: And so there are great references online and, and, and no field guide can replace spending hours and hours and hours in the field. Looking at. Specimens and those kinds of things, but certainly having a good guide goes a long way. So for me, it's like learning or, or helping people know, okay. I have a Western bumblebee in my local Woodland, a species that's in serious decline.
[00:16:29] Clay: I can report that or I can go back and pay attention to that. I can take notes. I can make photographs. I can involve local biologists and tell them that I've seen this stuff here. I also think that having a really good field guide allows people to fall in love with the species in a way that, you know, maybe they wouldn't otherwise I'm hoping they'll get sucked into the diverse colorations of these species and, and like me find it a challenge to figure out the difference between.
[00:16:54] Clay: A yellow face, BU will be, you know, something like Bombas, Flava, Frans, and Bombas, CIS, which [00:17:00] superficially looks similar. But then once you start staring at them, you realize, oh, they're different. Or like another great example is the black and gold bomb will be Bombas aura comas versus the American bumblebee Bombas, Pennsylvania has where they, the really only noticeable differences that one has yellow on its face.
[00:17:17] Clay: And the other doesn't, you know, just a little bit of yellow. So. We, we, people are more used to doing that with birds, but with insects, it's a little bit more challenging. So anyway, I just hope to inspire people to pay more attention.
[00:17:29] Jaymi: Yeah, I love that answer. I I'm reading a book right now that I'm in love with called contagious.
[00:17:35] Jaymi: And there's so much in this book that is really useful to us as visual storytellers. And, and it's really about like what makes content or what makes an idea or what makes something spread? What makes people want to share something? And one of the big factors that makes people want to share or makes people want to act is inspiring a sense of a.
[00:17:58] Jaymi: And that, [00:18:00] that inspiration that comes with it. And I think that when we look at field guides, one of the things that I love about field guides that I mentioned earlier is it makes you feel like you suddenly are aware of let's. It makes you feel more capable and aware because you're learning to identify what's in front of you.
[00:18:18] Jaymi: And that can be really exciting. But I think the other thing too, when you have this gorgeous field guide, That sense of awe is sparked just by like, even if you don't have a species in front of you to identify when you can see how beautiful it is or how it stands out from the others. I feel like it, it does inspire that sense of awe and makes people wanna talk about it and share what they saw in their garden, or go identify more.
[00:18:43] Jaymi: And anyway, I'm sweating off on my opinion. This is the conversation around you and your work. So I will pipe down and ask the next question on my list. Which is, it kind of goes back to, I know that you've got two books underway and I wanna talk about the second one, but before we do that, [00:19:00] I'm curious about some of the kind of decisions that you've made in getting this field guide out there.
[00:19:05] Jaymi: Like there's multiple ways to get something published self-publishing versus working with a publisher. What were some of the considerations that went through your head when it came to this field guide and deciding how you were gonna make it from idea into reality? ,
[00:19:20] Clay: that's a really important question because I, I do feel very fortunate to have a, a contract with a publisher, a couple of publishers actually on this project, which makes it much easier to distribute the book much easier to, you know, do certain technical things that otherwise I might have to deal with myself.
[00:19:41] Clay: but I have also self-published in the past, or at least self-published with a group of like a conservation NGO, or a group of friends and depending on the situation. So I guess, I guess my, my first rule of thumb is to ask why your're publishing this book and what your goal is. And [00:20:00] so for example, one project that I, that I did several years ago was.
[00:20:05] Clay: A few other photography, friends, Tom Bladon, Ben keys, and John Holloway, all photographers who lived in my home state of South Carolina. And our goal was to help create more awareness and hopefully some policy change around protecting. The Saluda and Reedie rivers in, in South Carolina, which are rivers that run through some really pristine areas, but also certain forks of those rivers have been contaminated through industrial runoff and sewage.
[00:20:36] Clay: And. Lots of other things, and these are really important river systems. So right off the bat, we knew that our, the focus of our book was gonna be very regionally specific. In other words, we wanted it to go out just within our state. I mean, we didn't feel like the book would be interested interesting to people in, you know, Virginia or, or California or somewhere like that.
[00:20:58] Clay: So we didn't really have to [00:21:00] worry about having this broad distribution. And in addition to that, we didn't really. We didn't really feel the need to make sure that this book was on every shelf in every Barnes and noble in every local bookstore, because really the goal was just to reach decision makers.
[00:21:17] Clay: And so, because of that, we chose to take the route of working with getting some local sponsors who could help to fund the book project. And we partnered with a local NGO upstate forever. because we raised the funding up front from partners. We were able to pay ourself up front versus waiting on royalties, which is nice because I, you know, it's hard to make a lot of money with books anyway, unless you have some sort of best seller, but photography books in particular can be challenging.
[00:21:46] Clay: So we were able to pay ourselves up front. But the other thing that we were able to do is because we had already been paid. Then our nonprofit could sell copies of the book for a fundraiser at a hundred percent proceeds going back to the NGO cuz we didn't, [00:22:00] we'd already been paid. And so that system works really, really well for projects like that.
[00:22:05] Clay: However, with this field guide, you know this, I want this book to be distributed throughout north America. I'd like it to be sold online so that people in Europe could buy it. Certainly want it to be sold throughout central and south America and Mexico. So having a publisher that was in Costa Rica really helped with Latin America, as well as having Cornell university press there and their great bookstore and their, their distribution system.
[00:22:29] Clay: And those kinds of things meant that we also had that really important distribution as well as with something that's as scientifically focused. Field guide, having a well known scientific institution, being a partner really gave some legitimacy to the book project. And I should say that I'm, cowriting this book with Michelle Dewis, who is a brilliant up and coming B biologist who, uh, teaches at St.
[00:22:57] Clay: Vincent's, uh, St. Vincent college in Latrobe, [00:23:00] Pennsylvania. She runs the DSB lab and she is gonna be bringing that really important scientific knowledge because I'm not, I'm not a biologist by training, even though I have a lot of knowledge of these, I, I wanted to have a partner who was not only a rock star, just because of the person that she is, but because she could validate a lot of the things in the book that I, I wasn't able to do.
[00:23:23] Jaymi: Really, really smart. I'm curious when we think about what it is that you're creating, you're out in the field gathering images of 95 Bumble species, many of which are in decline, probably difficult to find what's the timeframe for actually creating a book like this.
[00:23:41] Clay: So the scope of the full project is five years.
[00:23:46] Clay: I have already, I began working on this. So it took three years to finalize the contract, which is a, which is one of the downsides of working with bigger publishers is that sometimes things take forever. I felt fairly, I can't
[00:23:58] Jaymi: even imagine that [00:24:00] three years to finalize
[00:24:01] Clay: the contract. I think it was probably more like three and a half.
[00:24:04] Clay: So it was a really long time. Like it definitely started before the pandemic, cuz I remember. Sitting in my office at WWF in, in Bozeman, Montana. Well, before the pandemic started beginning those conversations and here we are many years later just having signed the contract this year. but so I have, I have already gone down the road pretty far on the book in terms of photographing species.
[00:24:28] Clay: The time. Well, it's really interesting because sometimes you get really lucky and you work with the right biologist and you are able to pull together the right data and, and you, you get lucky and you go on a trip and, and you find a lot of species. So for example, I just returned from Alaska where I was shooting around Anchorage and up in Denali, looking for, there are several species in Alaska that are, that are really only found in that area.
[00:24:55] Clay: And also a couple of European and Asian species that have, you know, are [00:25:00] also still found in Europe and Asia that are also found in Alaska. So I had a very specific, targeted list of species that I wanted to find there. And based on information that I was receiving from people that were on the ground there, I got really lucky and found 10 species.
[00:25:16] Clay: And so that was a huge success. There's a couple more that I need to get, but I got some really hard to find ones. Just by luck and I maybe intuition and, and, you know, having done this for a long time, sort of guessing where the best places to look were, but then sometimes I may have to take a trip somewhere and there's only one species I need to photograph, and that can be really challenging.
[00:25:38] Clay: And then sometimes like last year, friends and I searched for Franklin's bumblebee, which is, has just been listed under the endangered species act late last year. After we returned from California searching for it. We did not find it. And it's, it's not completely outta the question that the species is already extinct.
[00:25:59] Clay: And so in those [00:26:00] cases, we're gonna have to figure out how to, how to represent the bees. But for the most part, I've gotten pretty good at narrowing downward to look, which makes it a little bit, a little bit.
[00:26:12] Jaymi: What does the photography in the field look like? Because you're known for a couple of specific styles, even though you're an, a true artist and your images can be so many different things.
[00:26:24] Jaymi: You're really known for that wide angle macro look and the meet your neighbors style on a white background. Are you employing those techniques or what does kind of your process look like for photographing these species?
[00:26:41] Clay: Well, I'm certainly using those two techniques for a lot of it. And I have to admit that I've, I've done the sort of white background field studio, meet your neighbor style for, for so many years.
[00:26:52] Clay: Now that I, in some ways I've grown a little bit tired of it because I'm, I'm getting more and more interested in just photographing, uh, [00:27:00] insects, just in their natural habitat, doing their own thing without any kind of stresses for me taking photos. And it's something that I have to admit that as I. As I've gone along with my career, I, in some ways feel less comfortable with than I used to because I really just don't want to have any impact if I can help it on the species that I'm photographing.
[00:27:20] Clay: But I think it comes down to the question of why, and this is a bit of a tangent, but I just wanted to put this out there that it, you know, you have to ask yourself, why are you making these photos? And I think for me, I can justify. Putting these bees in the field studio, because we need these really clear photographs of them.
[00:27:37] Clay: And so that's, I've continued to do that for this guide, because I don't know of any other way, other than photographing a dead specimen, which is a whole different conversation to really get those beautiful, really clear, crisp images of species that are alive. And in the field having said that I am photographing close wides.
[00:27:57] Clay: I am photographing sort of more long lens stuff. [00:28:00] I'm photographing. People in the field, which is a whole different conversation we can have about how I'm photographing people as opposed to how I've shot in the past. Really just to try to create a rich experience because in part, and this is something I think it might be interesting to listeners is I also have another book project in mind.
[00:28:19] Clay: a third shadow project that I'm shooting in tandem with a field guide. That I'm sort of thinking about for the future. And I have a couple of editors I'm working with just sort of who are guiding me on that project. So I'm shooting like crazy. Basically I'm shooting the heck out of every scene because I know that there can be lots of spinoff stories.
[00:28:39] Clay: There can be spinoffs that can help raise grant money, money to help me, you know, take these trips on and, and get into the field. So. It will be interesting to see what ends up in the ultimate guide, but I'm probably overshooting for that one project. I'll just leave it at that. Okay.
[00:28:56] Jaymi: I love it. Okay. I'm really excited about this third [00:29:00] shadow project.
[00:29:00] Jaymi: Well, even that you're calling it a shadow project is pretty awesome. So I'm excited for that one. And, but I do wanna get into the, the second book as well, but before we do that, I have one more question. Is sparked by the idea that you are kind of juggling three projects. You're also thinking about the idea of spinoff stories and articles or other ways to present what you create while you're in the process of a field guide and all these other things.
[00:29:25] Jaymi: Can you tell me a little bit about. What's going on in your head or in your calendar or in your journal about balancing these different projects at the same time. Cause even I right now am in the middle of a couple of kind of big projects. And as I think about them, I notice myself getting a little bit stuck and having to be like, okay, Jamie, this one project needs to go on the back burner in your brain.
[00:29:47] Jaymi: You're not working on it. Now you're working on this other one. It can be really overwhelming. And when you're out shooting with multiple projects in mind, I could see how that could be an interesting juggling act. So [00:30:00] what's your thought process on all that?
[00:30:02] Clay: So I think one of the things that helps me stay on track is that I am obsessed with my subject matter.
[00:30:09] Clay: And that, that I like had given myself permission. For the most part to be absolutely a hundred percent focused on bumblebees right now, which is hard. I mean, because there are like, I'm seeing these amazing solitary bees that I wanna photograph. And sometimes I will, like, if I see something that's like super rare, I'm gonna photograph it or something.
[00:30:30] Clay: That's super interesting. I'm gonna photograph it. For example, I was recently in Badlands national park looking for a species of bumblebee that I had recently seen last year. I was searching for it sort of down in the sine. And I found this crab spider that had found, had, had captured a female mining bee, and this is pretty gruesome, but she had about five male bees trying to make with her because I guess she had recently died and they were just sensing the [00:31:00] pheromones and it was just the wildest thing I'd ever seen.
[00:31:02] Clay: So of course I like photographed that, but usually I'm like, Absolutely like laser focused on what I'm doing. And that allows me to sort of be shooting at least within the same realm. It's not like I'm, you know, photographing bumblebees. And then I jump over and try to photograph Tarm again, or, you know, a bird or, or a plant or something like that.
[00:31:23] Clay: So I think because I'm sort of working in the same realm that really helps the other thing that I've that again, having this sort of knowledge of the species is that. For the most part, I get a general sense that, okay. I photographed the species five times because I am doing building in redundancy, which I'll tell you about why in a second.
[00:31:43] Clay: But once I feel like I photographed a species more than once, you know, a few times, maybe one looks a little bit better than the other one is fresher and, or more colorful or whatever, I will stop photographing that species and move on to another one because. Too [00:32:00] much redundancy gets in the way of the project.
[00:32:02] Clay: So I I'm, I, I guess the short answer is that I'm just trying to be very, very disciplined. However, I learned kind of not the hard way, but I, I, I sort of learned an important lesson from Alaska. There, there are a couple of, there are three species, the polar or Arctic bumblebee, Bombas, Polaris, the frigid bumblebee, Bombas Fri, and.
[00:32:25] Clay: High country, bumblebee, Bombas, KBIs that look very similar. Two most obvious differences between Bombas Polaris and bombass frigida is that dark, the dark patch of fur beneath the, where the wings connect to the thorax goes down further on Polaris, and then Polaris has a longer face than frigida. And I specifically went to one area looking for polar.
[00:32:52] Clay: And didn't think I got it until I went home and started looking at the photographs. And then I was like, holy crap. I think I got it. And I did, but it was only that one [00:33:00] specimen that was that only one individual out of no telling how many I photographed it was that right species. So I guess I'm hedging my bets to some degree, but really just being focused on a general thing and makes it so much easier.
[00:33:12] Clay: If I was doing three totally different projects, I think I would drive myself insane and, and fail MIS.
[00:33:19] Jaymi: Well, that's good to know. So that means that the second book that you are working on is bumblebee focused. So what is that book about?
[00:33:29] Clay: So the I'm really excited to actually talk about this project, because first of all, when I like many people, I've dreamed for a long time to write a full.
[00:33:40] Clay: 75,000 word book, and I've written lots of articles over the years and I'm an avid reader and I'm a, a, just a huge fan of, of natural history literature. And I just really felt as if I had some things I needed to get off of my [00:34:00] chest, basically. And I tried to set off on this book in a very healthy place in.
[00:34:09] Clay: I had to tell myself it doesn't matter if anyone reads this book or not. I need to say some things because like many of the people that are listening to this podcast and I'm sure you're the same way. Jamie, I constantly have, um, scripts and, and thoughts running in my mind about how to be a better conservationist.
[00:34:30] Clay: There's certain things that I feel that I can't say in certain times and certain things that. You know, I, I wish I had a platform for it. And all of those things are like a big, you know, blizzard machine in my brain, mixing in all the ingredients for the weird, weird way that I see the world. And so really about three years ago, I started sketching out some ideas for a book.
[00:34:52] Clay: Not exactly sure where I wanted it to go. And it started out. I mean, the book is, there are a lot of biographical [00:35:00] elements to the book, but it started out really sort of exploring some of. Aspects of trying to figure out who, why am I like I am basically. And, and why am I so attached to the natural world, but it quickly pivoted to sort of my experiences for caring about insects.
[00:35:17] Clay: Why do I care about insects so much? Why do more people not care about insects? My experiences for trying to, you know, put species on the endangered species list and searching for the world's largest B with all of that. Tied together with this thread of sort of the challenges and the ups and downs of conservation.
[00:35:37] Clay: And so even though bees are my sort of focus of this book and insects as well, it's, it's really it. It's presenting a broader question about why do we care about the things we care about and what's it gonna take for us to care more about the natural world, the, the less popular, more overlooked species in the natural world, because those things are so important.
[00:35:59] Clay: So that's really my [00:36:00] exploration of that. I
[00:36:02] Jaymi: remember several years ago, us chatting about that. You, you didn't mention that you were gonna turn anything into a book. It was just that you were talking about doing a lot of writing and writing in sort of a soul searching way and experimenting with kind of opening yourself up to this type of writing a bit more.
[00:36:21] Jaymi: Have you seen sort of an evolution in. This book that you're creating, because it has spanned a few years. Like, are you going back and rewriting things because maybe the voice or the style has changed or you figured out the thread more clearly.
[00:36:39] Clay: That's a really good question. Yes and no. So when I first started writing the book, I had a few, I wouldn't call them Fu fault starts, but they were definitely just sort of like sketches of kind of where I wanted to go.
[00:36:52] Clay: But I think it was last summer. I began speaking with my wife, Melissa, who's written a couple of [00:37:00] books and a few friends of mine who are writers about what I wanted to do. And they were very encouraging and they were, they were saying to me that you just have to write the book and don't go back and edit yourself the whole time, because that's the fastest way to not write a book.
[00:37:18] Clay: And so I took that advice to heart. By the end of the winter, last winter, I had written about 65,000 words and I just pushed through and I wrote every day, many times just during my lunch break, I would just write for an hour and as, and some sections just flowed out and then some sections I had to learn about how weather systems work and how policy works and all of these things.
[00:37:42] Clay: So I would, you know, I'd get bogged down and like having to educate myself about these things and sort of figuring out how to answer questions and. I found the whole process to be absolutely ha it's been frustrating at times. So I think any book is frustrating, but it, I gave myself permission [00:38:00] to just ask any question I wanted and spend the time to figure it out.
[00:38:04] Clay: Mm. And in the, at the same time, I read more vigorously than I've read in a long time, trying to read books that were sort of in the same. Categories, my book learning how to write better, you know, just paying more attention to, to tomatic things and ways of writing and simplifying. And, you know, I I'm a good self educator.
[00:38:28] Clay: I mean, I didn't, I learned about bees, you know, on my own more or less. And. I've done a lot of things. I'm a good self teacher. And so this has been another example of that, but that was a long-winded answer. Jamie.
[00:38:39] Jaymi: I love it. I always love long answers. I'm curious how the experience of writing this book that almost, I don't know how you are defining it, but to me it sounds almost like a manifesto as well as like a memoir, like.
[00:38:56] Jaymi: Memoir manifesto. I don't know, but , it sounds like what [00:39:00] you're creating is something that has allowed you a lot of creative freedom to explore. Has that impacted your photography at all?
[00:39:13] Clay: I, I think it has. I, I would certainly say maybe more than impacting my photography. It has impacted. My ability to, to communicate about conservation because I've always played it being a writer, you know, I've written articles and stuff like that, but, but I've never, you know, I wouldn't say that people considered me to be a serious writer and I, and I do think for better or for worse that I feel like I am more of a serious writer now.
[00:39:44] Clay: And because of the, the carefulness in which I'm trying to write this book and sort of like going, well, this sucks. I need. I need to like scrap that and, and, and rewrite that part. Or I need to just keep pressing on I'm learning what it means to be a writer. And I'm, I'm learning what it means to, to be [00:40:00] able to turn on that process on a daily basis.
[00:40:03] Clay: Uh, and, and one of the examples I'd give in, in another part of my life is back when I started working as a graphic designer, you know, I'd. I'd gotten into graphic design initially because of a passion for art. I love to paint and draw and, and do those kinds of things. And when I was younger, which I think is the case where any person started out, I was waiting for inspiration to strike, and then I would, I would have a dream or I would see something and I would go paint something.
[00:40:26] Clay: And I was like, that's how, you know, that's sort of the glorified word, sort of Glor way of imagining yourself as an artist. But my first boss who Dale Cochran, who was a, is an amazing man and who was such an important mentor in my life said, you have to learn how to turn that creativity on every day when you come to work, you're not waiting.
[00:40:48] Clay: You know, we're, we've got a deadline here. You can't wait for, for inspiration to strike like a bolt of lightning. And I really did learn how to do that. And I think I've taken that approach with this [00:41:00] writing and. I just sort of like, I am endlessly curious to the point that I think it can be annoying to people but to me having question after question is, has been a good way to write this book.
[00:41:13] Clay: I think the challenge will be knowing when to say, okay, All right. Lil buddy, you, you just need to stop asking questions so that other people can finish this book now, maybe, you know, that
[00:41:22] Jaymi: kinda thing. Yeah. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Earlier, you mentioned that you don't really care if people read the book or not.
[00:41:31] Jaymi: You just really wanna get something off your chest as a conservationist and exploring why we care about the things that we care about, uh, where we need to really care. More, especially the smaller kind of hidden underestimated things on this planet. I'm curious about if you're willing to kind of talk about some of those things that you want to get off of your chest and it's okay if you don't, if you wanna hold that until the book
[00:41:56] Clay: comes out.
[00:41:56] Clay: Oh yeah, sure. I can do that. [00:42:00] I'm gonna look up a quote really quickly. So first of all, I should be completely honest and say, That I do want people to read the book, but , but I did it. So I clearly lied to you on this podcast already. but , but I didn't dare. And even still I'm a little bit weird about imagining I don't wanna jinx myself.
[00:42:27] Clay: You know what I mean? Because there's so. Amazing writers out there. And I suppose it is a bit of imposter syndrome, but I, I didn't wanna dare presume that people would want to read my dribble, but I do, I do hope that there is something of value in this book, because I do imagine that there are people out there like myself who have always had, have always been attracted to insects, have always been fascinated with them and always.
[00:42:57] Clay: Cared about them and sort of felt [00:43:00] helpless in some ways is a word that I feel, you know, that I, I find these beautiful things in the world and I want people to care about them. And it's like a, at times been an uphill battle to get people to care. Mm-hmm , you know, I focus on bees, which are one of the groups of insects that people.
[00:43:16] Clay: Care about, but if I were, you know, focused on wasp, for example, and I'm reading an amazing book right now on wasp and it's blowing my mind, but you know, wasp are a harder sell and there's a lot of other things that are a more difficult sell. You know, I wanted to help people that feel the way that I felt since I was a kid, realize that their voice is super important.
[00:43:35] Clay: So, so that's a part of the book for sure. And sort of exploring why we named the things we do and why certain species have the names that they do and others don't. So for example, one of the examples I give is that when I was a kid, I bought this field guide to the insects. It was a Simon and Schuster book, and I paid $12 for it.
[00:43:54] Clay: And I, and I saved up money for the book by selling. Uh, pecans that I [00:44:00] would collect to my grandfather's house. And I, I, I sold them to a one man named Ray that went to my church and I was always fascinated that he only had one ear and, and he was, and he loved pecans. So he would always buy them. And. You know, I remember looking in that field guide, which I still own, and I actually went back and relooked at it and there's one species of bumblebee in there.
[00:44:22] Clay: It just says bumblebee. And then it gives a scientific name of bombass oxygen palaces, which is the Western bumblebee, which was not even found where I grew up and a species that didn't have a common name at that time. Like many of the common names of bumblebees were given like in the, you know, 2000 and after 2010.
[00:44:43] Clay: And so I sort of explore, you know, why these things that are fairly ubiquitous didn't we didn't pay attention to them. Why didn't we notice them? And yet within that same book, honeybees, you know, the non-native European honeybee APUS, Mora had four pages [00:45:00] to themselves. To itself. And so, you know, I explore sort of those sort of those ideas.
[00:45:05] Clay: And I look across cultures and try to figure out, you know, is this something that's innate within certain people that, that are there certain people who are just born paying more attention for whatever reason, or is this something that, that, uh, you know, we learn. And I think, I think the answer is both, but I think there are some of us who are just born paying attention to the little things and, you know, we are sometimes.
[00:45:29] Clay: You know, sort of painted in a certain way, you know, we're nerds, we're dorks, we're, you know, what a, what a weirdo. And yet we have the capacity to see beauty in places that other people can't be can't see it. And why should we be, you know, painted in any other way than somebody who's sensitive to life?
[00:45:46] Clay: Which I, I think there's a part of me that wants to talk about that, but I also spend a lot of time sort of looking at things like the endangered species act and how. While it may be one of the best tools that we have for [00:46:00] conservation, sort of this idea that once, and I, and I know this firsthand because I helped place the rusty patch Bumble beyond the endangered species list.
[00:46:10] Clay: I know firsthand that, that there's this feeling that okay, you know, job done. And then you realize no listing is just the first part of the process. And that there's so much more that has to happen. And I look through the, the species and realize that are, that have been listed and species that have gone extinct and realize wow, many species have gone extinct while waiting to be placed on the endangered species list or species have been listed after their probably extinct like Franklin's mumble.
[00:46:41] Clay: So, so I sort of go through a lot of that stuff and, and, and, you know, sort of driving towards the idea, well, what can we do? What can we do a as individuals? But I also spend a little time to lait the things that we're we're being faced with. And so this is not a [00:47:00] book that's like, you know, there's some, there's some great books by people like Doug Tami that give us, give us ideas of things we can do on a practical daily.
[00:47:09] Clay: Those materials are so important. My book is not really that even I'll, I'll go into it a little bit, but my book is more about just like it's like if I had a room full of people who love insects, who feel that they haven't been heard, that they feel the pain of understanding extinctions, I'm speaking to those people and hopefully some other people might wander into the, the conference hall and , and, and take a time, take the time to listen.
[00:47:36] Clay: But it's really, it's really a support book for people that, that feel the pain and the loss.
[00:47:42] Jaymi: Oh man, that is beautiful. I know that, you know, the people who listen to this podcast, whether their insect lovers or whatever species really is their motivator, their driver will relate very well to that feeling because.
[00:47:59] Jaymi: I think [00:48:00] ultimately that feeling is why we all do what we do. We're fascinated with taking, creating imagery, but that's not enough for us. It's what we do with that imagery. The imagery needs to serve a purpose on behalf of what it is that we're photographing to make that world a better place. And so I think to, to sit with.
[00:48:22] Jaymi: The heaviness that comes with that. And that is part of the driver. Hope is a big driver. Joy is a big driver, but also anxiety and fear and grief are big drivers inside of this field as well. And to know that you are creating something that can feel like a deep conversation with a friend and listening to their stories.
[00:48:47] Jaymi: Is really inspiring. I cannot wait for this book to come out.
[00:48:53] Clay: I, I feel the same way. I can't wait for it to come out. I can't
[00:48:57] Jaymi: wait to, you're like literally outta my brain into [00:49:00] the world.
[00:49:02] Clay: Yeah. Wonderful. Yeah. And, and, and I appreciate you saying that Jamie and I, and I think, you know, I, I, I totally understand the idea of people filling imposter syndrome.
[00:49:12] Clay: I, one of my favorite quotes is from Salvador, Dolly, you know, the surrealist artist. And he, he said at the age of six, I wanted to be a cook at the age. At seven, I wanted to be Napoleon and my ambition has been growing steadily ever since . And I, I, I feel that way because I have a lot of ambition to try to do this work.
[00:49:30] Clay: And I, I think one of the other themes that, that comes up in the book is that, you know, I don't, you know, it's not like a, well, let's put a bow on it. And at the end of this, you know, you're gonna know. These things you need to do. You know, I, I allow time for just knowing that and, and admitting that I don't have the answers or I don't have all the answers.
[00:49:52] Clay: I think I have some answers, but I also allowed myself to, to for that to be okay. A place for that to be okay, [00:50:00] because. You know, it's this idea, this struggle that I have on a daily basis, that I'm like here is the most amazing landscape that I've ever seen, or here is the most amazing species that I've ever seen.
[00:50:15] Clay: But by the way, it. As always here's the other shoe dropping to say that this species is almost extinct or this species is facing challenges from the same old things that we talk about with everything, you know, pesticides and habitat loss and climate change and da, da, da, da, and you know, that is exhausting.
[00:50:34] Clay: Yeah. And so part of, part of this book is me trying to carve out space to also remember that there's beauty in the world and that I also have to live my own life as a person and that I can. Always being lamenting everything and, and, and take away my joy of being alive and having this amazing gift to be a, you know, a species on this planet myself.
[00:50:57] Jaymi: Yeah. Sometimes when I go on a walk, I [00:51:00] have to really just say, I am in a beautiful forest right now with these lovely ferns. Look at how gorgeous it is. I hear bird song and at the words pop up in my brain like, oh man, birds are in massive decline. I hope that I hear the same songs in 10 years or, oh man.
[00:51:20] Jaymi: We're are we in for another drought again? Is this forest gonna burn down this summer? Like all of those things like, ah, wait, I'm just. Put that in the back for now and just be inside of the beauty. That is because if, if we get so overwhelmed by what we know as passionate conservationists is very much a possibility for an outcome.
[00:51:42] Jaymi: I think that we get overwhelmed. With a feeling of powerlessness. And that's why it comes back to that idea of like joy is a driver hope is a driver. And so are these other things, but we have to have all of them in the mix and in the right balance, depending on the situation so that we can continue to move forward in [00:52:00] this work.
[00:52:01] Clay: Yeah, I, I think that's absolutely critical for the work that we do. And, and another quote that I think about a lot, I'm such a huge elder Leopold fan. And if anyone who's listening to, this has never read San county Almanac, please do so immediately because. This book was written many decades ago and, and, and still today Leopold's words hold so true.
[00:52:24] Clay: And he was such a visionary in terms of a relationship to the land. But this, this one particular quote just is something I think about a lot. And he said one of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wound. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to layman.
[00:52:42] Clay: An oncologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science or none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well, and does not want to be told otherwise. Oh man. And yeah, and [00:53:00] that's how it feels sometimes.
[00:53:01] Clay: And we feel, I feel like we're, we're, we're the doctors and, and people just don't wanna take the treatments, but we, we have to keep doing the work mm-hmm
[00:53:09] Jaymi: yeah. What a great quote and definitely seconded. If anyone hasn't read. Sand county Almanac. It's really a staple for everyone, for anyone who wants to read your books, clay, whether it is the world's most gorgeous field guide of the bumblebees of the Americas, or if it is the book that you're creating, that remains Titleless as of yet, do you have a title?
[00:53:34] Clay: Yeah, I do, but I do have a title, but I wanna hold onto it. Okay.
[00:53:38] Jaymi: Okay. No worries. So whether it is any of those, when can we expect those out? When, like where do we place our pre-orders what's shaken on that front?
[00:53:47] Clay: Well, I wish I had something that I could just give you and say this is happening, but both are works in progress.
[00:53:52] Clay: I, I think the best place to keep up with what I'm doing is on my Instagram page, which is instagram.com/clay bolt. All [00:54:00] one word. And I'm posting lots of adventures from the field and things I'm finding, and I'll be sure to, to post the links on that page in the future.
[00:54:08] Jaymi: Excellent. And for anyone who is on my email list, when the books are actually available, I would love to send that out to all of my email list subscribers.
[00:54:17] Jaymi: So that there's an easy link when that pops up as well. When that date arrives, hopefully it won't be too many years in the future.
[00:54:25] Clay: I hope so too.
[00:54:27] Jaymi: well, clay, thank you so much for everything that you do for all of us on this planet, for the species that we care about. I don't say it lightly. When I say that you are a massive inspiration and someone that I always hold up is as walking the talk and someone to be admired and emulated as much as possible, just I'm grateful you exist and are who you are.
[00:54:53] Clay: Uh, that's high praise Jamie coming from you. I, that means a whole lot. Thank you so much for, for saying that. [00:55:00] Yeah.
[00:55:01] Jaymi: Well more to come in the future, for sure. Meanwhile, ahead to instagram.com/clay to follow along with adventures and clay. I can't wait till we get to chat again.
[00:55:13] Clay: Likewise. Anytime.
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