What’s Up, Y’all? I’m Alex Troutman, aka N8ture_AL; I’m a Black Wildlife Biologist and Environmental Educator from Austell, GA. I love that my job is in a field that I am passionate about. My job allows me to travel and also gives me the opportunity to engage with the younger generation!
Tell me more about your relationship with public lands. What do they mean to you?
My relationship with Public lands started at a young age; I was going to state parks and National parks before I knew what they were. I spent many days fishing and camping throughout my childhood. With all the time spent outdoors on public land, you would have thought I would be tired of it. Thankfully that is not the case; as I got older, my love for the outdoors and, by association, public land grew.
As a Biologist, I have now worked with 3 different public land agencies in several different states. As a private citizen, I have crossed numerous public lands off, many of them I fell in love with, so they are repeated and repeated again. Through my professional and personal experiences, public lands mean a lot to me. So, I make it a habit to make sure I’m respectful and appreciative, and I’m leaving them better than I find them, and engage and ask others to do the same.
I also know from experience that everyone does not have the same access to public lands, whether that’s because of finances, location, lack of accessibility, and sadly even harassment and hurtful actions. I believe that NATURE (and public lands) is (are) FOR EVERYONE. That’s why I try my best to make sure that everyone feels welcome in the outdoors. If that means calling out someone, then I will.
How has learning about the environment impacted your actions?
Because I work in the environmental field, I get to see firsthand how horrible humans treat the planet. Some actions are on purpose others are from a lack of knowledge or understanding. I try to educate and teach people about respecting the environment. It doesn’t have to be a big change, simply picking up one more piece of trash can help, or maybe it’s not feeding wildlife and keeping your cat indoors. If the majority of people change one bad environmental habitat, we could all help mother earth out a bit.
Personally, from seeing all the trash in nature, especially the beaches I work on. I have committed to using reusable bags when shopping. I try to buy food items that have more food than packing, and I buy food that’s in reusable or repurposable containers like glass pasta jars.
How important is mitigating climate change to your life?
It is very important; climate change affects the majority of the areas in my life, from work to food and places that I love to travel.
As a marine scientist, climate change is evident in warming seas leading to coral bleaching, species loss, and sea-level rise. As a traveler, I see the evidence of climate change in the melting of Glaciers like the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, where I spent a significant time hiking around the trails and over the glacier during several summers while working with youth in Alaska. In pictures, I now see rock and mud over what at one time was Beautiful Ice.
We all can try to do a better job at reducing our ecological foot. For some, that’s driving less. For others, it’s using less plastic as allowed by your living and financial situation.
Can you tell us a bit about your passions beyond “work”?
I’m a huge foodie!! I love trying new foods, especially pizza and chicken wings!! Being a foodie, I happen to be very passionate about pineapple being on my pizza and not putting sugar in grits!
Outside of eating, most of my other passions involve being outdoors, just like my work. I love camping, fishing, hiking, and beach-going. If it involves the outdoors, I’m in!! Especially if there is food and water involved. Two of my favorite passions to engage in outside of work are birding and nature/wildlife photography. Many times I couple these two activities with another one like hiking or camping.
When I’m not traveling for work, I like to grow vegetables. I hope one day to have a small homestead full of my own veggies and animals. Some of my last passions outside of work are painting and drawing. I suck at both of them, but it’s therapeutic to just sit there and put brush to paper and create a work of art that you mostly will never show anyone, but the finished product is a masterpiece made up of your deepest thoughts and words that you could not say.
Do you find that these passions blend, merge, or complement your work?
My Passion for nature first inspired and now is intertwined and compliments my work on a daily basis!
How do you give back to your community or to the underserved?
I give back to my community and other underserved communities by first being that representation that a Black man can be a scientist and nature lover. Going on with being that representation, I give back to my community by volunteering and leading nature hikes for school groups of various ages. I also volunteer time offering career advice and answering any questions about the path that I took to be successful in my field.
What are your materials, and how do you think about them?
As a Biologist, Photographer, and Environmental Educator, there are 4 go-to items I always have on me. Those 4 are my letterman, water bottle, backpack, and binoculars. I almost feel naked without them. My backpack is my sidekick. It holds all my gear and snacks, lots and lots of snacks!!! I have everything in it, from my binoculars to field guides and safety supplies. My backpack is always attached to me; my friends would notice me not having it before they noticed I got a haircut.
Is there a specific moment in life or a series of events that instilled in you a passion for your craft or passions?
For me, it started out with fishing with my family. I would focus more on the red glow from the sun beaming through the tail of my spark bird, the Red-Tailed Hawk. If I was not focusing on the hawk, I would be mesmerized by how the great blue heron was a better fisherman than I am. I would spend many moments deep in thought about those birds until I would be interrupted with “AL, you got a bite” and have to snap back into the real world and reel in my catch!
At the end of the day, why do you do your craft? Are there goals ahead, a constant love for the process, or a yearning to learn more?
IT’S ALL LOVE; I’m thankful that my craft has aligned with my passion. It’s a joy to be able to go to work and enjoy doing it because you are living out your dream!
Do you have any “heroes’’ to speak of? How are you inspired?
First, My Mom!! She instilled in me hard work! Staying humble and being a caring individual. She also taught me about not forgetting where I come from and being true to myself despite what the world is pushing/saying. I’m inspired by people who do things out of love and without looking for acknowledgment and awards.
Being an underdog myself, I’m most inspired by those individuals that have overcome trials and obstacles to be successful, and despite their success, they remain true to themselves and are willing to reach back and uplift others, and they climb.
In my early years, I was inspired by Steve Irwin, Jeff Corwin, Jack Hannah, and the Kratt Brothers with their Sidekick Zoboomafoo. I would spend hours watching their shows, or if a news segment had Jack Hannah on it, I would tune in!
A key ingredient to building a sustainable future?
Community Community Community!!! Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it will take the community to build a sustainable future. That could be as small as starting a community garden and reducing your community’s need for large storefronts. It could also mean as a community supporting and electing science-minded politicians and standing arm in arm to fight larger corruptions who are polluting the earth and your community.
A book that shaped your life?
How about a magazine?… My neighbor would give me copies after he read them. I would flip through it, reading the articles and admiring the pictures, especially the wildlife pictures!!
Who inspires you today?
My Mom!! My siblings! And anyone else who had to get it out of the mud and overcome obstacle after obstacle!
Favorite artist currently?
Most sublime moment in nature?
- Having a Pod of Orcas play with the boat I was on while in Alaska
- Seeing a Kemp’s ridley Sea Turtle emerge from the ocean and nest!
- Tubing down the Naha River in Alaska and witnessing Black bears fish along the bank
Any big moments of Zen in the outdoors?
- Paddling in a kayak in the middle of the ocean off the coast of Alaska when a sleeping sea otter floats by. It was so peaceful.
- Being surrounded by the rainforest and hearing nothing but the sounds of nature: waterfalls crashing, birds singing, and hearing the wing beat of rhinoceros hornbills.
What have been your biggest challenges?
As Black Man, it’s getting people to take me seriously as a scientist and wildlife biologist without justification or backing from another person.
While I love what I do, sometimes it is a bit lonely without having family or friends nearby, or even when you are around friends and coworkers, you can still feel a bit lonely or outsider because your white non-black people of color coworkers or friends done pick up on the microaggression or racial atmosphere of a town or situation.
So, you ignore or bottle up your feelings on what just happened until you are back around familiar individuals like yourself and can decompress. Knowing otherwise, it would be more taxing on yourself to explain what happened to your non-black community who you are with.
In the past, it was truly accepting myself and all my quirks. Now, I strive to be 100% unapologetically Black quirky self!
Who has helped you along the way? How did they help?
There has been a countless number of people who have helped me; it wouldn’t be right to list anyone. So I’ll shout out the entire Austell and South Cobb communities, from teachers to coaches and friends, who all have had a part in making me who I am today. I am thankful for each and every act of support I received along the way, from rides to school and practice to college and financial advice.
What do you do when you get out and away from the office/lab?
Thankfully Being a field Biologist keeps me from the lab/ office most days! On the days when I’m off from work, I spend most of my time outside in nature with my pup, Bella. Other days, you can find me grilling or making a feast in the kitchen. Some of my off days just involve me spending time with family or close friends, watching tv and playing video or board games.
How can the outdoor industry change?
BEING MORE INCLUSIVE!!! And fighting for inclusivity. The outdoor industry sucks at being inclusive in many aspects, from the obvious lack of racial diversity to the lack of accessible trails and the equipment needed to access trails. Outdoor industry orgs and leaders need to take a stand on what they are for — accessible, hate and harassment, freeish trails and outdoor spaces.
Right now, many outdoor industry giants cater to a certain group of people and forget or do not acknowledge that their user group is diverse. They cater to the majority of their people group when some of those individuals are the ones who are making it unsafe or unfavorable for other individuals who are not in the majority to enjoy the outdoors. These companies are afraid to take a stand for what is right because they don’t want to risk the chance of hurting their pockets by calling out the hatred, bigotry, and misogynist behaviors of their “loyalest” user group.
How can the outdoor industry act to affect change with regard to outdoor recreation and public lands?
Stop issuing those DAMN empty promise-filled diversity statements, and actually live out the words that they strategically post every year around black history month or another officer-involved shooting of an unarmed black or another person of color would be a start.
Next, destroy the table that they have and work with people of color, indigenous communities, individuals with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQIA community to create a new table that is not under the rule of white Privilege.
Lastly, make the outdoors accessible for all no matter race, body type, sexual orientation, gender and or binary status, and especially economic status. It shouldn’t cost an arm and leg to be properly fitted to enjoy the outdoors.
What other brands do you love?
Wells Lamont, Black Creek Outdoors, Chacos, Nalgene, and Columbia are a few that help me to stay wild and continue exploring the great outdoors!
What keeps you going?
MY family, faith, and food!!!
Do you have a mantra?
I love the ocean, so my two mantras are:
“Go with the flow!” like ocean waves, life has many different factors acting on it. We can either get scared and try to turn around which ultimately leads to us being stagnant, or we can be flexible and go with the flow like a wave, and the persistence that has prevailed leads to opened doors and new opportunities. Just as one wave after another can break down rocks into sand, forge new pathways, and smooth the roughest of surfaces.
My other mantra is, “Just keep swimming.” Dory the Blue Tang may be famous for saying it, but I learned the importance of just keep swimming while working with Kemp’s Ridley Sea turtle hatchlings. Watching them swim with all their might to get over the incoming waves and make their way to the open ocean. Seeing those little flippers madly stroking through the water encourages me to get moving forward when life gets challenging.
A personal style?
I’m a mix of sophistication with a little bit of hood, ruggedness, and rusticness who enjoys the simple things in life.