Audrey Peterman: The Hardest Working PERSON in Diversity and Environment

Audrey Peterman and her husband Frank Peterman have been working, often by themselves, for years encouraging people of color to take in the outdoors through trips to national parks. Their book Legacy of the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care is a much welcomed and anticipated product of their efforts.    


In her own words in this guest blog . . .    

I’ve noticed the word “heaven” a lot in my communication lately. My dear friend Iantha Gantt-Wright, lavishly referenced in our story, Legacy on the Land first introduced the concept of living in heaven while we are here on Earth. I’d mentioned in one of our meditation sessions something about a future in heaven and she shocked me when she said, “Why not live in heaven right now?” Pursuing that thought and consciously living in the present moment, enjoying the glorious activities of life all around me, I do feel that I am living in heaven.

But the feeling was intense when I visited Dry Tortugas National Park on Friday, April 23, with a group of friends from across the country, and accompanied by our dearest, longtime friend and committed Community Partner, Park Ranger Alan Scott. I didn’t know how fateful it was, but his friend, Debra Hess, naturalist on the Yankee Freedom, joined us at the dock at Key West on Friday morning, and told us she had devoted her (precious!) day off to accompany us on the trip.    

Is this a gorgeous sea fan or what? But we take nothing off the islands but pictures.

You’ve got to read the chapter in to learn the fascinating  story of Dry Tortugas, and suffice it to say, the raucous call of a million shore birds as we coasted past Bush Key, and the sight of the magnificent frigate birds floating over the fort, their nine-tip raven black wings distinguished by white head on the females. I held my breath looking for a male, distinguished by his huge, bright red pouch, and didn’t see one. I was confident I’d see one by the end of the day. Meanwhile, some of the females actually came and hovered over the boat, seeming just as curious about us as we were about them.   

Frank Peterman

I could rhapsodize for hours about our time in the courtyard, where we watched a rare Merlin grooming in a tree, with a yellow crowned night heron nearby. One friend and I sat under a tree and talked in front of a bird bath, where a profusion of warblers enjoyed themselves four feet away from us. Several brilliant orange-and-black American Restarts flew by our shoulders, and an intense-yellow prairie warbler flitted by. Later, while I went back to the boat to eat, the others went out and saw the prize of all prizes, a life-list and the Holy Grail for most birders, the Painted Bunting. They said they watched it for many minutes as it fed on orange peel. Frank told one friend who’s new to birding that she’s literally starting at the top.    

Being that close to wild animals, being in the presence of the rhythm of life as it has evolved for millennia, my soul took flight. I cannot even express how being surrounded by nothing but  the sound of  birds’ wings and bird calls remain with me even now, two weeks later.  

So it felt quite tragic when I called Deb on Monday to thank her, and heard her voice literally shaking. It turns out that the very area which we experienced in this most pristine setting may now be in jeopardy from the wayward tide of oil seeping down from the spill.  God forbid, my mind screamed.    

Deb said the park is likely to release official information by today, Wednesday, May 5.    

The suddenness with which our priceless natural treasures can be endangered as a consequence of our own actions is a cautionary lesson. The fact that it happened when the experience was fresh in my feelings makes it poignantly clear to me: How evolved exactly are we when, so many decades after we have known we need to transition to clean energy, we’re digging even deeper into the firmament, with disastrous consequences? The magnificent frigate birds, noddy terns and sooty terns that have nested and bred on these islands for millennia, get their food from the sea. If the water is laden with oil, there’s nothing to warn them. And the first time they dive in, it’s over.   

Frank and Audrey

Since I’m living in heaven while here on Earth, I’m putting all my energy into visualizing the islands remaining just as I experienced them, and praying that the current of oil is miraculously or scientifically (it’s all the same to me) shut off.  Please, let this be a wake-up call. We all have a lot to gain by becoming involved with our natural resources and doing what is necessary to be good stewards. The natural world is relying on us.    

Guest Blog and Photos by Audrey Peterman  

Final Photo from Issues Wire

One response

  1. I recently came across your book, “Legacy on the Land.” While not exactly the outdoorsy camping type, I along with some members of my family have traveled and visited some of the places you wrote about. Persons of color in the US do not realize how beautiful this country is. Prior to my first trip which was across country drive to Washington State from the east, I thought that if you have seen one mountain, you have seen them all. I quickly realized that was not true. To read in your book about the Black Hills of South Dakota took me back to my first time seeing them in 1972. I could go on and on but I enjoyed your book immensely. Keep up the good work and getting the word out that life is not all concrete and high risers. We are killing our planet and your work is invaluable.

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