Jeff Rennicke traveled the globe as a nature writer for magazines like Backpacker, Sierra and National Geographic. But it was the natural beauty of Wisconsin that brought him back home for good.
“I was gaining a lot by traveling to these wild places, and it’s a wonderful life,” Rennicke recalls, “but I was also missing what’s right under my nose. Wisconsin northwoods are as beautiful place as there is on the planet.”
Today he lives and works in the heart of the northwoods as a literature teacher at Conserve School in Land O’ Lakes near the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; a job he was offered after being the school’s Earth Day guest speaker.
“One of the things that I really value is teaching through story,” says Conserve School headmaster Stefan Anderson. “That’s what I just felt from day one that Jeff had.”
No longer able to travel globally, Rennicke began to explore locally. He took up photography as a creative outlet and to share the beauty he found in the northwoods.
“I couldn’t write about traveling anymore because I wasn’t traveling. So in exchange for that, I picked up a camera. And the camera has become my new way to tell stories, my new way to develop a sense of place,” Rennicke says.
When he traveled as a writer, Rennicke didn’t take the pictures for his articles. “I was traveling with, literally, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers.”
But now his photographs are getting attention. His image of Honeymoon Rock in the Apostle Islands seen under the northern lights was part of a Smithsonian exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. It’s a picture he never would have gotten when he was travelling the world as a writer.
“It’s not travelling to some exotic place and going on a once in a lifetime trip, it’s going to a place I’ve been to literally hundreds of times. And I just happened to catch it at a magical moment,” Rennicke says of the single long exposure he snapped while standing in the waters of Lake Superior.
At Conserve School, Rennicke inspires his students with literature about the outdoors. And he also teaches them nature photography. But in both classes he’s passing on the lesson he’s learned about appreciating what’s surrounds you. “I’m telling the story of open your eyes, look at what’s around you, see the beauty right under you.”