A contemporary meeting of minds is in store.

On Sept. 30, two people of prominent yet disparate minds will discuss at a public event some of California’s most pressing issues about nature and the outdoors. Naturalist, painter, environmentalist, and author of recent best sellers about California’s natural world Obi Kaufmann and State of California Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot recently went on an overnight hiking and camping trip, talking and exploring what they know, plan, and hope about how to preserve the world’s natural places.

Wildbound Live, an online event platform that highlights authors, publishers, and storytellers, will host the “Walk with Obi and Wade,” streaming a Q&A that will start with a 45-minute film documenting their trip.


Contrasting Kaufmann’s esoteric leanings, Crowfoot is the pragmatic state bureaucrat managing 19,000 employees and a $4 billion budget. But his and Kaufmann’s ambitions could be summed up as finding an appropriate balance between priorities and focusing on having a “positive net impact on nature,” Crowfoot said.

“It’s two guys that approach their shared love of nature in very different ways,” he added. “And it’s an exploration of ideas.”

JOIN OBI AND WADE as they discuss California’s critical issues on Sept. 30.

With climate change and mass extinction across the planet as their focus, Kaufmann and Crowfoot discussed a multitude of issues as they padded down the trail in the Sierra Buttes. For example, one idea they mulled on is an international effort known as “30 by 30,” in which governments around the world are encouraged to conserve 30 percent of the world’s land by the year 2030.

Crowfoot wonders whether California could establish this policy at the state level. “Why shouldn’t states and provinces pursue the same goal,” he said.

Crowfoot told Moonshine Ink that he hopes viewers will watch and be encouraged. “I’m hoping that what I was able to convey is just how much we care about the work to conserve California nature,” he said.

THE RANGE OF LIGHT: Secretary Wade Crowfoot (left) and Obi Kaufmann spent time in the Sierra Nevada. Courtesy photo

Much as the famed Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir’s camping trip in Yosemite in 1903 did, the two hoped that the conversations that occurred during this camping trip will become a catalyst for advancements in conservation.

“We are overdue for a renewed meeting of political and philosophical minds that reexamines and improves upon the conversation, ushering conservationism into a new era that is more inclusive and justice-minded,” Wildbound’s website says.

This intersection between policy and interpretation, where philosophical and political minds meet is clearly where big changes can come from.

Roderick Nash, in his influential 1967 book Wilderness and the American Mind, wrote “one of the results of the excursion into the Sierra was Roosevelt’s receptivity to Muir’s proposal that California recede Yosemite Valley to the federal government for inclusion in the adjacent national park.”

This chance for Kaufmann and Crowfoot to pair up is rooted in the Tahoe area.

The state secretary was browsing in the Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center when he came across one of Kaufmann’s books, The California Field Atlas.

“I really like the way he thinks and the perspective he has on California nature,” Crowfoot said. “It’s so different than what we’re doing in government, which is so often focused on money and policy.”

Kaufmann shared a similar enthusiasm for the opportunity. “He just contacted me, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled,” he said. “I’m so pleased with the policy work that he’s doing.”

“We are charged with a huge responsibility of stewarding the natural resources of California,” Crowfoot said. His paradox is to find a way to do so while balancing priorities of rural communities, fish and wildlife, and industries like agriculture and forestry.

Crowfoot, who was appointed to Governor Gavin Newsom’s cabinet in January of 2019, invited Kaufmann to be the first ever guest on his Secretary Speaker Series, “where we bring big thinkers from outside of government to have conversations,” he said.

After that interview, Kaufmann invited Crowfoot to spend some time outdoors, and the idea for the camping trip and virtual event was born.

“I think that he was really drawn to my voice, which is different in a number of key ways,” Kaufmann said.

Kaufmann’s books, which are assemblages of captivating watercolor images and maps, force us to look inward as we strive to look forward. He’s aware of California’s troubled past, acknowledging “the scars inflicted over the past 200 years,” in The California Field Atlas, but remains hopeful for its future.

CLOSE TO HOME: Kaufmann’s watercolors highlight California’s contemporary issues. Illustration © Obi Kaufmann, in The Forests of California, published by Heyday

“This is a love story,” Kaufmann wrote  in the opening to the book.

Hundreds of images adorn the pages, most accompanied by a compelling narrative or poetry. “Every page has something you might learn on it,” he said.

After The California Field Atlas comes a trilogy of books Kaufmann hopes will tell a story of the past, present, and future. The Forests of California tells the story of the state’s watersheds and enlightens readers the coevolution of the natural world and humans. The Coasts of California, forthcoming in Spring 2022, is “really about right now and climate disruption,” he said. The final book, The Deserts of California, will be about the future.

“In my books I’m all about sort of democratizing, if you will, the emotional space, you could call it, of California’s natural world,” Kaufmann said.

His two other books The State of Water and the yet-to-be-published The State of Fire sort of bookend the trilogy.

What policy changes will result from the discussions between Kaufmann and Crowfoot on their camping trip in the same mountain range as Muir and Roosevelt visited more than a century earlier?

Time will tell.

“I’m not here to make a better argument,” Kaufmann said. “The real thing that will get minds to change is a better story.”

I BURN WITH THE FOREST: Obi Kaufmann hopes his words and watercolors may inspire change in California’s land management. Courtesy photo


Walk with Obi and Wade

What: A virtual walk with artist and naturalist, Obi Kaufmann and California’s Secretary of Natural Resources, Wade Crowfoot.

When: Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

How: Register at Wildboundlive.com


  • Bill Hatfield

    Bill Hatfield is a freelance writer specializing in travel, nature, and outdoor sports writing. After over twenty years in the tourism industry as a ski patroller, backcountry camp manager, and park ranger, he decided to slow down a bit and now delivers the mail and rides bikes when he can—across countries. Follow him on Instagram @ bike_rack_on_tour.

Previous articleCircus
Next articleA Hall of Mirrors