When as you conduct your life you chance to see an eagle, or a wolf, or a bear, remember that it too is conducting its life, and it sees you as well. As does a tree. And the forest itself. The very land sees you. When you remember this, and feel this, and know this, you will begin to hug the land. You will want to embrace it. And when that happens, you can be sure that the land feels the same way about you.
– Ernestine Hayes, Blond Indian
Twenty-five years ago Joyce and I visited Alaska. In the years since, we have longed to return, to go deeper, to learn more. When we discovered that Casey Anderson, the rock star of NatGeo Wild and America the Wild, was part of a trip with National Geographic on the Sea Bird we knew we were ready to travel.
I wondered what exploring wild Alaska with a celebrity like Casey would be like. What I found was a warm, deeply committed, genuine spirit; a fellow traveler in this universe we all call home.
At the gate, buckling up, ready to leave Seattle on the flight to Sitka, Casey came down the aisle. He looked like he had just stepped off the set of his latest film. Impulsively I stuck up my hand. We high-fived and the memorable week began.
Returning to Charlotte and starting to write this story, I struggled with the title … was Casey on a mission, vision, calling? All could work, but what Casey is doing is a “ministry.” He is giving his audience a new way to look at all of nature and asking us to get outside and fall in love – again. Read on, then tell me what you think.
Our very first day I had trouble with my camera. I only use my point-n-shoot for these rare trips; and wouldn’t you know it – problems – the battery would not hold a charge. I could take a few pictures and then the “no battery” message would appear.
Casey saw me struggling with my camera and was quick to offer help. In no time he had the problem diagnosed, repaired and solved. He loaned me his PowerNow portable charger and told me to hang on to it for the week, just in case.
I don’t think most celebrities do things like this, and Casey is NOT most celebrities.
As the week progressed, we ended up together often: on deck, in Zodiacs, and on hikes.
The Casey Anderson you see on TV is the Casey Anderson you get in person. He is real. There is no “method” to his acting, he has only one character – Casey.
The more time I spent with him, the more I came to see the realness of both the individual and his ministry. I am not sure his fans would call it ministry, but this is how I came to view him.
Many may not relate to Casey’s persona of heading off into the wild to get up close with grizzly bears, that is okay. As a fifth generation Montanan, he grew up surrounded by nature and wildlife. Casey points with pride to an early grade school drawing his parents saved. With bold crayons he listed his favorite color as ‘blue’, favorite food as ‘pizza’ and dream job as ‘National Geographic.’ The choices came early.
Spend a few minutes over tea or coffee with Casey and this ministry emerges. Casey is a kind and loving human. He went out of his way to help me, to be my friend – often. And he did the same for everyone on board the National Geographic Sea Bird that week.
Caring for people as individuals and not just lumping them into a species (all white men, all Asian women…) is how he sees wildlife as well.
Casey tells an engaging story about coming face to face with a grizzly bear on a narrow ledge. A stand off – neither would budge – not Casey, not the bear. Storyteller Casey moves around the room, engaging his audience, adjusting his voice, and even crawling on the floor to sneak up behind the unsuspecting listener.
Finally the dance concludes with both letting the other pass – to go on their separate ways.
As the bear passes; Casey notices some missing teeth, matted fur and a boney back side. This is an old bear in poor health. The bear doesn’t want to fight Casey anymore than Casey wants to defend himself or be forced off the ledge. This is not a bear to just be lumped into the category of “bears.”
Are bears just like humans? No, not exactly, but you can’t stereotype bears or eagles or whales any more than you can stereotype all white guys to say they are all the same. Casey gets this and he helps his audience get it. This is his ministry.
Casey Anderson has made many choices in his 40 years and will make many more over his lifetime. Some will be better than others, but his choice to teach and inspire – to make a difference, is a great choice that matters. I am happy he made it.
I look forward to being with Casey again – at his Grizzly Bear Encounter in Bozeman, Montana or on a NatGeo trip – for another adventure.
Does this idea of looking at bears or eagles or whales as individuals resonate with you?
Do we have dominion over the animals; to do with as we want, or should we treat them with respect as individuals?
Have you seen Casey on TV? Is he crazy to do what he does?
As always, the conversation starts here.
For a look at Casey, some great Alaska scenery and exciting ShotOver technology view these great scenes; shot on, and off, the National Geographic Sea Bird by Brian Christiansen.