Peter Pickford on writing 'To the Edges of the Earth'

11 July 2021 - 00:00 By Peter Pickford

When people ask me why I wrote the book, and especially when they learn that I wrote for several hours a day, almost every day on our four-and-a-half-year journey, I ask them to go and stand alone outside and wait for me. I ask them, while they are waiting, just to be still and look at and absorb their surroundings, no matter what they might be. After a few minutes I go out and join them, and I ask them immediately how my presence has changed their experience. It is always a dramatic alteration, and it emphasises the essential core of why I decided to write To the Edges of the Earth.

To have the opportunity to stand by oneself, without distraction, and drink in how exceptional the Earth is, is a rare privilege. I realised early on in the making of our photographic book Wild Land that what my wife, Beverly, and I were experiencing was beyond the reach of most people. It was not only valuable but important to share our experience of the Earth: so close that it overwhelmed all else and made one feel both humble and exulted. It was in that realisation that To the Edges of the Earth was born.

Beverly and I are professional wildlife photographers and when we embarked on our 10th book, Wild Land, the idea to make a written book to accompany the photographic one came into being. For the next four and a half years we travelled to every continent on Earth in search of the last remaining vast tracts of wild land left on our planet. I wrote To the Edges of the Earth as a journal of our journey, writing each day about what had happened the day before.

I think that the biggest surprise for me was the amount of clarity that is required to write truthfully when one is writing about things that one experiences. The young Dan Eldon wrote that the most important part of a journey was "clean windows". He is right, not only in a literal sense but in a metaphoric one too. All of us carry our own biases, our preconceptions and our way of seeing the world, and it affects everything we see and do.

To write truthfully one must shed all those encumbrances, "clean the windows" of our understanding, so that one can look at the heart of a matter and try to find what is fundamentally right. Only then does the truth become plain. And once the truth, or what is right, is plain, then the writing becomes filled with a power that it would not possess otherwise.

In the making of this book I encountered many different cultures and vastly different ways of understanding the world. To delve beneath this, while at the same time being aware of the dangers of my own shortcomings and biases, and to write outside of those pressures and beliefs was a challenging task.

The final surprise, however, is in the truth that becomes revealed. It is usually so simple that it broaches no argument. And, so, in climbing up the mountain of how the world is perceived, one arrives at the top with a view unencumbered by clouds, or haze, or eruptions, just clear air and, as with the attaining of any summit, there is the sense of humility combined with exultation, and as a final reward, the view.

As professional wildlife photographers we are accustomed to being alone in very remote places, so what many people regard as daunting or extreme difficulty is usually everyday for us.

I think that the greatest difficulty in travel is invariably with authority. Whether it be convoluted and seemingly inane laws, or corrupt officials, or bored bureaucrats, dealing with officialdom is one of the most unnerving and difficult aspects of travel. What Beverly and I have learnt is that patience, taking time with officials to share a hot cup of tea and a chocolate, and an open and friendly approach usually wins through most barriers.

To the Edges of the Earth: A Journey Into Wild Land by Peter Pickford is published by Bookstorm, R390