Ten Minutes with Alex Shoumatoff
Award-winning journalist and conservationist Alex Shoumatoff was raised in Bedford Village back when kids could fish in local rivers and explore caves and forests without concern for property lines. After stints as a songwriter, science teacher, and resident naturalist, this Harvard graduate became a widely-published nature writer. Shoumatoff was named one of Bedford Magazine’s top 50 Homegrown Talents in March 2011. We caught up with him in early August.
What effect did growing up in Bedford have on your future as a conservationist?
Bedford was a particularly golden microcosm in years after the War, and I would not have become the person I became had I not grown up there. The greatest gift a child can have is to be exposed to the natural world and to have the freedom to explore it, and fifty years ago there were no fences or high walls with surveillance cameras in Bedford.
What were your favorite haunts?
There was a pond with a little island with hundreds of black snakes dripping from its bushes, a cave behind Historical Hall, and Kinkel’s quarry on Baylis Road, where we’d jump 50 feet down into the cold green water and find mica, dodecahedral crystals, and shards of green beryl-emerald.
How environmentally aware was Bedford back then?
The upper stratum of the town was old East Coast gentry, many of whom had been living here since Colonial times. There was a group of erudite, highly evolved people, who had the sense of noblesse oblige, stewardship, and service, and a deep reverence for nature, and they are responsible for the abundance of sanctuaries and wildlife preserves in town. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bedford had more protected acreage than any community in the country.
How would you rate our green attitude 60 years later?
It’s really heartening to see that this ethos is still alive and well, with people giving back to society the inestimable gift of preserved land.
Can we relax and enjoy our good fortune?
What Bedford’s enlightened residents did here fifty years ago, and are continuing to do, is an important model for the rest of the country and the world. Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude in our greater society seems to be “profit without honor.”
What can we do to help?
Preservation and education are the two best weapons for combating what a friend of mine in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service calls “the four horsemen of the apocalypse”: greed, selfishness, ignorance, and indifference. Whenever the opportunity comes to interact with young people, take it. Expose them to the natural world, and let it work its magic. Anything I can do to help, contact me at Dispatches from the Vanishing World. At this point in my career, I am here for the world. I will do what I can with my writing for the world’s embattled biological and cultural diversity until I drop.