"Geography is Destiny"
Railroaders Memorial Museum, Altoona, PA (2017)
Although I came to geography as a career relatively late, it has been part of my life as long as I can remember, and I have always felt a strong connection to the land.
I was fascinated with maps and atlases at an early age, and loved documentaries on geography and travel. I had many geography related books, as well as maps; some 45 years later, I still lovingly possess them.
I have been very fortunate to have many wide and diverse geographical influences throughout my life; this page is devoted to them.
I began collecting stamps in the first or second grade. It was probably my first real exposure to world geography; it was great, educational fun to sort and categorize stamps by their country of origin. I still have this original album, and several more.
I received this Hammond International World Atlas for Christmas when I was about ten years old. I still remember paging through it for hours that Christmas Eve (and many times over the years). Profoundly outdated, it is one of my most prized and influential possessions.
I have been an avid rock and mineral collector since the first grade. I got this book around age ten, and it exposed me for the first time to one of my most loved things; topographic maps.
Our Vanishing Wilderness was my first, real encounter with America's national parks, and the burgeoning environmental movement. And my life-long love of the American West began on the pages of this book
The Outlaw Trail was written by actor Robert Redford in 1978. It describes his three-week journey on the trail, through some of the most rugged and beautiful landscapes in North America. The journey inspired him to become an environ-mentalist; his book inspired me to do the same
While in high school, I obtained the Time- Life American Wilderness series, a set of 30 books highlighting many of the country's great wild places. One of those books, Canyons and Mesas, would one day serve as the springboard for my first trip to the American West.
During the summer of 1975, in between middle school and my freshman year of high school, I discovered the sheer joy of armchair travel. Equipped with a Rand McNally Road Atlas and several Mobil Travel Guides, I planned a 3,000+ mile trip that visited nearly every national park west of the Mississippi River.
While this single "mega-trip" never occurred, I have managed to visit all of these parks, plus many other amazing places, over the past twenty five years.
Tuscarora State Forest, Central Pennsylvania
In 1980, my friends and I began exploring areas away from our families and the region where we grew up (Coatesville-West Chester, PA). Reviewing at a road map of Pennsylvania, we looked for places we could reach in a few hours and camp. The first we located (and returned to regularly) was Tuscarora State Forest, in central Pennsylvania.
These forays into the "wilds" of Pennsylvania quickly taught us about trip planning and proper equipment; tools that would come in handy for much larger trips, in the years to come.
Snow Flurries, Andrew Wyeth, 1953, National Gallery of Art
Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) was a famous American artist, who lived and painted very close to where I grew up, in southeast Pennsylvania's beautiful Brandywine River Valley. I was first exposed to Wyeth in the 7th grade in Mr. Carr's art class, but came to fully appreciate his work when exploring the hills and fields he painted, as a young man. He has served not only as an artistic
influence on my life, but also a geographic influence; his paintings of those brown fields and steely-gray November skies always reconnect me to my most loved landscape on Earth.
Wyeth also serves as a conservationist model for me; he was a founding member of the Brandywine Conservancy, which has preserved thousands of acres of land in the region. I have been a proud, continuous member of the organization since 1980.
I became interested in photography in high school, and got my first "real" camera for Christmas, in my senior year, in 1978. Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was nearing the end of his life, but was still an influential figure in photography and land conservation, particularly in his home state of California. A technical master, Adams' iconic photographs were records of what many of the National Parks were like before tourism, and his persistent advocacy helped expand the National Park system. He used his art to promote many of the goals the nascent environmental movement.
The work of Adams would in large part inspire me to leave home for the first time, and follow my interest in photography at the Rhode Island School of Photography (1981-1983). While there, I would discover the geography of New England and in particular, a place that would change my life forever; the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Like Andrew Wyeth, Ansel Adams demonstrated how to connect to geography through art.
Moon and Half Dome, Ansel Adams, 1960
The White Mountains of New Hampshire
The White Mountain region of New Hampshire is my most visited place on Earth. I went to the region for the first time on Columbus Day weekend, 1981. It would be the beginning of a lifetime of travel to this amazing place. The White Mountains provided me with another way to connect to geography- through hiking and outdoor recreation. Since that weekend over 35 years ago, I have hiked hundreds of miles there, climbed to the top of all of the region's 48-4,000 foot mountains (and dozens of others), and have taken more photographs than I can count. And just like our expeditions to Tuscarora State Forest, it prepared me for other geographic adventures in my life.
Map of Chester County, R.L. Barnes, Philadelphia, 1856
(Library of Congress)
Chester County, Pennsylvania
Although I grew up in a post-industrial steel town (Coatesville, PA), I was surrounded by the beautiful Brandywine River countryside in Chester County, 30 miles west of Philadelphia. The hills and valleys of the region were my first real connection to geography. I have hiked across its cattle-studded rises, and biked along miles of its bucolic roads for most of my life. It is first and foremost the most important landscape in my life; no matter how long I live, or where life will take me, Chester County will always be “The Homeland”.
To view some of the photos I've taken in Chester County in recent years, click here.
Gettysburg, Antietam and the American Civil War
Hand-drawn map of
Battle of Antietam, for
my 1997 AMC hike.
Wadsworth Monument, Gettysburg
In my early 30’s, I made my first attempt to try and understand Civil War battles. In 1995, equipped with books and maps, I explored and interpreted the 1862 Antietam campaign in central Maryland. It was a watershed moment for me; since that time, I have read scores of books on the Civil War, led narrative hikes for the Appalachian Mountain Club at Gettysburg, Antietam and Manassas, and visited many Civil War sites below the Mason-Dixon line, including Fredericksburg, Gaines Mill, Cold Harbor, Chattanooga, Shiloh, Chickamauga, Perryville, Pea Ridge, and Kennesaw Mountain.
The American Civil War has been a lifelong passion for me. It began in middle school, when my family took me to Gettysburg on weekend outings. In my early twenties, I read Bruce Catton’s “The Civil War” and a couple of books on the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam, not quite understanding exactly the strategy, organization and logistics of 19th century warfare.
My interest in the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War would lead me to an independent GIS study project for battlefield land analysis, as an undergraduate at Rutgers. This project solidified my connection of history to geography, and historic land preservation, which has become one of my vocational and career passions.
Photographs, historical insights and maps of my visits to Gettysburg can be viewed here.
By the time I reached my early 30's, I had grown tired of "arm-chair" traveling the American West. For years, I'd been perusing my Rand McNally National Parks Guide and in 1993, I paged through it one more time, trying to decide where I would go, my only criteria being "if I only get to go one place ever again, where should it be?" More than any where else in the guide, Canyonlands National Park in Utah somehow drew me in. After a year of planning, I set off on my first trip west of the Mississippi and first visit to western national parks. It was a trip that transformed my life.
To view the details of my first trip to the American West, which includes Canyonlands and Arches national parks, as well as BLM land around the town of Moab, click here.
Rand McNally National Parks Guide
and Canyonlands National Park
My wife, Margaret Martonosi, is my partner in life and travel. We met some 20 years ago, when we were both hiking leaders for the Appalachian Mountain Club's Delaware Valley Chapter. Margaret's love and passion for travel equals mine, and she is always ready for a new adventure. She has been with me on nearly every trip in North America, and all of my travel in Europe.
Margaret and I have a very symbiotic travel relationship; I am the "Destination Forecaster", extensively researching potential sites to explore, while she is the "Ways and Means Committee", covering the practicalities of accommodations and transportation .
We are both very grateful for the ability and desire to travel, and take advantage of it as often as we can. Margaret as also encouraged me to travel beyond my horizons, both on the Earth and life. Travel in any sense would not be the same without her.
Often called "The Dean of Western Writers", Stegner wrote about the need to preserve the West. His passion for preserving our wild places, and his respect for our landscapes are a themes that he articulately expresses in his works.
Nearly 100 years after his first writings on the American West, his work is a relevant as ever.
Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) was an American author and environmentalist. His 1955 "This is Dinosaur Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers" helped save a canyon in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah from destruction when a dam was proposed there, and is considered one of the first literary works of the modern environmental age.
I first became familiar with his work right before my 1994 trip to Utah, when I read "Beyond the Hundredth Meridian". Reading his other books and essays later, I soon came to learn that the American West is much more than a "Land of Enchantment", as I envisioned it as a youth; it is a complex and often contradictory mix of land and people. Stegner demonstrates literature as a connection to human geography and land preservation.
"National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst."
John Wesley Powell
John Wesley Powell (1934-1902) was an American soldier, scientist, and explorer. He is best known for his daring exploratory trips down the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869 and 1872, and is credited with leading the first group of white men down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
Powell became the director of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1881. Serving in this position for 13 years, Powell proposed policies for development of the arid West; in 1878, he published the Report on the Lands of the Arid Region, which laid out a practical strategy for settling the West without conflicts over scarce water. Met with skepticism and criticism from lobbyists and political representatives bent on development at all costs, Powell's research was discredited, and he became one of the country's first victims of science denial.
Retiring from from the USGS in 1894, Powell then directed the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution, where he supported linguistic and sociological research and publications. He would remain in this position until his death in 1902.
John Wesley Powell is an example of exploration and science as a connection to geography.
As a second year graduate student in 2014, I wrote a research paper entitled John Wesley Powell and the Arid Empire of the American West, which was accepted into the Bloustein Journal of Planning and Public Policy. To view the paper, click here.
History of Landscape Architecture/Field Trip to New York City
Rapid Transit Map
I reached a crossroads in my life during my second semester as an undergraduate student, at Rutgers. As a biotechnology major, I was required to take several humanities courses to fulfill my degree requirements. I enjoyed one of those classes, History of Landscape Architecture, very much.
As part of the class our adjunct professor, Stephen Lederach, took us on a field trip into the heart of Manhattan, to explore the city's landscape architecture and many unique spaces. It was a life changing experience- I have never looked at NYC, or any other city in the same way. I slowly transitioned from visiting cities, to analyzing them. I asked Dr. Lederach about how I could make a career of this, and he recommended a thing called GIS, and put me in contact with the person who would soon become my advisor, Professor David Tulloch. I met David in his office a couple of weeks later, which was covered in maps, and enthusiasm for GIS. I became an environmental planning major almost immediately, and have never looked back.
My experiences are as an undergrad another example of the many components that make up geography, in this instance, urban planning and landscape architecture.
Dr. John Snow and "The Ghost Map"
Dr. John Snow (1813-1858) was one of the first people to connect data to geography. During a deadly cholera epidemic in London in 1854, Snow correctly surmised that water sources in the Cambridge & Broad streets sections of the city were somehow contaminated. Conducting a door-to-door survey, he was able to locate residents who had been affected by the epidemic and more importantly, which well pumps they used to obtain water. Using this data, Snow created a map, now known famously as "The Ghost Map", relating cholera infections to the pumps.
Because of his ground-breaking work, Dr. Snow is considered to be the world's first epidemiologists. Without computers, he effectively performed GIS tasks more than 150 years before its time, relating science and data collection to geography.
Ian McHarg and "Design With Nature"
Ian McHarg (1920-2001) A landscape architect and writer on regional planning utilizing the natural environment, McHarg founded the department of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He is most famous for his 1969 book Design with Nature, which pioneered the concept of ecological planning on a local and regional planning, and his use of of thematic map layering in the book is recognized as a basic concept that became a GIS tool some 30 years later. I became familiar with McHarg and his book, as an undergraduate environmental planning student.