A passion for discovery leads to a lifetime of learning
Local writer Robert Steelquist has been getting a lot of well-earned praise lately, with the release of his latest book, The Northwest Coastal Explorer, which examines the flora, fauna and hidden places of the Pacific coast. His thirteenth publication, Steelquist is no stranger to what creating a book entails, endeavoring to seamlessly blend his love of nature with a passion for writing. He has made a life-long a habit out of writing to satisfy his own curiosities.
“Writing is learning,” Steelquist said. “Your own passion and curiosity is drawing you. The challenge is in how you package that moment of discovery for the reader.”
The book, and indeed his career trajectory, have followed a lifetime spent in the outdoors. Over his 30-year career, he has introduced readers, audiences, and students to nature in the Northwest through books, lectures, backpacking trips, and other outdoor learning adventures.
Up to age 12 Steelquist lived in with his family in Portland. His parents always encouraged him to get out and explore. He had been to the Olympic Peninsula numerous times to camp as a child, and, once out of high school, he solo hiked through the Olympics. Making the Peninsula his home was a natural migration.
In the 1980s he and his wife were given three acres on Chicken Coop Road in Blyn, Washington as a wedding gift from her parents. After receiving the land he said he felt committed to the Peninsula and his scope of curiosity about his surroundings grew.
An injury 35 years ago ended up kick starting Steelquist’s education. Unable to work on a trail crew, he came to Peninsula College hoping to polish a few skills. Floyd Young, Dean of Instruction at that time, told Steelquist that he needed to matriculate. Steelquist calls it the best advice he could have gotten.
“I was a pain in the ass as a student,” he said. “I sat in the front row and I sharpened my pencils every day before class and would take notes. I was going to get my money’s worth.” He describes his PC experience as very gratifying, adding that he considered all of his instructors co-conversationalists, and he soaked up their lectures. All faculty, he said, were instrumental in his success. After PC, he transferred to The Evergreen State College.
“Being a student is a tremendous privilege,” said Steelquist, who strongly agrees with Evergreen College’s approach to education. “Don’t silo the world by subject.”
While at PC he worked as stringer for the Peninsula Daily News, writing about the outdoors. Meanwhile, he took all the science classes that PC had to offer wanting to combine journalism with natural resource management. This included fisheries classes once offered at PC.
“I didn’t want to be a scientist, but I wanted to know what they knew,” he said. While a student at PC he met a representative from The Evergreen College who said “look me up when the time is right.” Armed with his two-year degree, he transferred to Evergreen with all of the tools and skills he needed. He had published his first book by the time he was an undergrad, and by 1994 had written 12 books on a number of natural resource topics. He obtained both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Environmental Studies at Evergreen.
In January 2017 Steelquist will bring his knowledge of writing and the student experience to his Studium Generale presentation.
“So much of the undergrad experience is learning who you are, and learning what we have to offer others as a result of this discovery,” he said. “What we bring to a job interview is a self-knowledge of who we are as learners.”
“I believe the human experience is grounded in all the ways of knowing, sensing and communicating,” Steelquist said. “I liked to run around the world having experiences doubting, questioning and messing around.”
In retirement, curiosity, discovery and the natural world drive him. At 65-years-old he spends his summers in the Pasayten Wilderness as a volunteer wilderness ranger. There he makes visitor contacts (emphasizing Leave No Trace ethical principles), performs trail work, cabin maintenance, and generally helps preserve the wilderness qualities of the area.
“(Everything I’ve accomplished) I was introduced to in my first two years at PC,” he said. “All of my aspirations and pursuits; I can trace it all the way back to PC.”