CREATIVE PEAKS: The Passion to Protect

By on October 27, 2015

Film about Bert Raynes chronicles a local legacy of conservation and the power of place.

Bert and Meg Raynes, where they met at Penn State,1945 (left), and Bert and Meg celebrating the Fourth of July in the late 1980s. (Photo: raynes collection)

Bert and Meg Raynes, where they met at Penn State, 1945. (Photo: raynes collection)

Jackson, WY – Filmmaker Jennifer Tennican didn’t have an answer when her latest subject asked a simple question.

“What did you see?” 91-year-old Bert Raynes asked of Tennican’s drive to their meeting on the National Elk Refuge.

Tennican realized she hadn’t been paying attention.

A long-time newspaper columnist who writes about wildlife sightings and started Jackson’s nature mapping program, Raynes pays attention. He’s also taught and encouraged thousands of others in Jackson to look around and note the birds and wildlife that make the place so special.

Raynes’ dedication to wildlife is the subject of a new film Tennican directed and produced, “Far Afield: A Conservation Love Story.” Written by Rebecca Huntington, the film premieres Thursday, Nov. 5, at the Center for the Arts.

The genesis for the film started with Jonathan Schechter who first thought nature mapping would be a great subject for the video blitz contest for his nonprofit, One Percent for the Tetons. The video blitz features short films highlighting local nonprofits. Schechter quickly realized a few minutes wasn’t enough to tell the story about nature mapping and Raynes, Tennican said.

“Bert is the personification of conservation in Jackson Hole,” Schechter said in a press release. “He is the connective tissue binding Jackson Hole’s extraordinary conservation history to its 21st century future.”

Raynes wasn’t always a naturalist. In fact, before he started writing about birds and wildlife he finished a career as a chemical engineer.

Raynes grew up in New Jersey where he didn’t have much exposure to nature and wildlife. It was his wife Meg, who he met in college in Pennsylvania, who introduced him to the outdoors, Tennican said.

He started vacationing in Jackson in the 1950s, lured not just by the scenery, but by conservation icons, like the Muries and Craigheads whom he read about in articles.

In the early 70s the couple moved to Jackson from Cleveland, Ohio. It wasn’t long after that Raynes started writing a column in a local newspaper, something he’s continued for almost 40 years.

People often called Raynes to report their observations and wildlife sightings.

“If you were lucky, you got mentioned in Bert’s column,” Tennican said.

Jackson’s nature mapping program, where trained citizen scientists document bird and wildlife observations, grew out of the anecdotal reports Raynes documented in his column.

“It was initially a feel-good program, but it’s turned into much more than that,” Tennican said.

The data is useful and helps scientists identify trends in wildlife behavior.

Raynes has also educated thousands of people about birds and wildlife in a way that got them excited, Tennican said.

One day while talking to Raynes, Tennican spotted a chickadee outside.

“Oh, it’s just a chickadee,” she told him.

Raynes gently admonished her, explaining every bird is its own little miracle and has value.

It took several years to complete the film, which is funded through various grants and donations through the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.

The film premieres with dinner, a cookie swap and a champagne toast. The dinner is already sold out. But folks are encouraged to bring cookies and stay around after the movie to share stories about Raynes and his wife, or ask the filmmakers questions and bid on auction items.

Proceeds from the film and the auction will benefit the Meg and Bert Raynes Wildlife Fund.

Tennican hopes people will leave the film inspired to contribute to the community in some way. Raynes shows there’s value in even small efforts, like simply paying attention.

“It’s something achievable,” Tennican said. “It’s not some high bar that makes you feel bad you aren’t doing enough. It is possible to make a difference and you can make a difference on your own terms.”

Tennican learned the value of paying attention while making the film. She now tries to take a moment when driving from her home to look around and take in her surroundings. And she knows a chickadee is never just another chickadee. PJH

Film Premiere of “Far Afield: A Conservation Love Story,” 5:45 p.m. doors open, 6 p.m. dinner, 7 p.m. doors open for the film, 7:30 p.m. movie starts, Thursday, Nov. 5 at Center for the Arts, $35 for dinner and the film, $15 movie only. jhcenterforthearts.org

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