The Endangered Species Road Trip: 06/16/15
The Endangered Species Road Trip by Cameron MacDonald is a memoir of a road trip to photograph a variety of endangered, threatened, or otherwise rare species in the continental United States and Canada. The author is based in Vancouver, so that's where the trip begins and ends, with the majority of the trip being in the Lower 48. The project stemmed from his university students asking if he had taken any of the slides he uses in his lectures and his answer always being no.
To be honest, I would have read this book for the discussion of the different species and the tricks in finding and photographing them, but I was drawn to the book this time for it's subtitle: A Summer's Worth of Dingy Motels, Poison Oak, Ravenous Insects and the Rarest Species in North America. Specifically, it was the "dingy motels" part that got me reading.
I am looking into the language of the road and stories that interact with the road trip. Now most of these road trips that I'm looking at are fictional, either literary or cinematic. As I'm especially interested in Supernatural, a paranormal series set in the United States but filmed in Cananda that deconstructs the road trip, with heavy references to Jack Kerouac's semi-autobiographical On the Road, a memoir of a U.S. road trip taken by a Canadian family was just the thing to pique my interest.
MacDonald's book, though told chronologically from the start to finish of the trip, still has three intertwined themes: descriptions of the species searched for (and either found or not), descriptions of the road trip (including places stopped at), and descriptions of traveling with his family. What isn't exactly addressed but is there for the observant reader, is the author's bafflement at just how blinded he's become by his middle class urban lifestyle but that dichotomy is a standard part of the road trip, especially those initiated by the urbanites escaping the city for the adventure of the open road and a return to "simpler times."
MacDonald, though, as a modern day road tripper takes things to extreme sometimes. First, there's the concern over the family's carbon footprint and worrying if he should purchase carbon offset credits before heading out. He doesn't and rather than opting for a small car (and leaving the dog behind), he goes for a minivan. I have to laugh at this detail especially considering a recent road trip we took from California to Vancouver in a Ford Fiesta. The boarder crossing guard did a double take and even asked us twice if we had really and truly driven all that way (953 miles, one way) in such a small car.
Then there's the constant struggle between wanting to eat fresh, organic foods but on a budget while sticking to the Blue Highways (for the most part). The Blue Highways are the U.S. and State Routes that were bypassed by the interstates. They go through smaller towns, and the remains of once thriving towns brought to their knees by the bypassing. They go through the food deserts of the United States, places where boxed food and junk food is cheaper and easier to come by. To make matters worse, they are often hoping to find such fresh food in the minimarts attached to the gas stations where they are refueling.
Interestingly, this very conundrum is played for laughs repeated in the early seasons of Supernatural. Specifically, in "There Will Be Blood" it's discovered that demons have been poisoning convenience foods to make humanity more docile. Happily vindicated, Sam buys nothing but organic vegetables to make Dean a proper, healthy meal.
Finally, though, there are the endangered species and the author's desire to see them and photograph them in their native habitat. The book contains some of his attempts (some more successful than others). Here, as a hobby photographer, I have to wonder why the author didn't practice at home first before heading out on a tricky road trip where he'd only have one chance if that in some cases to get photographic records. So much effort could have saved by getting to know the equipment better! That's not to say he'd have been guaranteed to catch every single creature but he would have certainly spent less time fumbling early on!