Every weekday morning that I am home I drive my son to school. Like millions of other parents around the world I have a routine. Wake up call, breakfast, a reminder to get ready, and then the commute. The drive is 14 miles due west from the suburbs to near downtown. Atlanta has a reputation as the city of trees, and even after two decades of explosive development, a surprising number of trees remain.
I leave my house in Stone Mountain at about 7:20 am. My route follows the four-lane Highway 78 that is lined by southern pines. There is usually some traffic on the freeway, especially where this freeway merges with the larger I-285 beltway. I then exit onto Scott Boulevard that leads to downtown Atlanta. This street is also lined with trees and is often clogged with traffic. The road is now just two lanes in each direction, and the trees are mostly hardwoods. Scott becomes Ponce de Leon Boulevard and this main artery passes a group of parks designed by Fredrick Olmstead a century ago. The route is scenic, and the trees are some of the oldest in the city. There are a few bike riders and joggers, but most people, like myself, only experience it from in the car and often in lots of traffic.
After a 30+ minute drive I reach my destination, The Paideia School. The school is on the southern end of Ponce de Leon in Druid Hills. It is a private school started in 1972 by a group of parents who had a philosophy that education should focus more on the individual child. The school has grown to one full block long, but still includes many of the original buildings and older trees. Since most parents drive their children to the school each morning, there is an elaborate carpool drop off system in the driveway in front of the school. After dropping off my son for his 7th grade class, I then retrace my tracks back home. Since I am going against traffic it is usually faster going home, and I can whiz by the lineup of cars on the other side of the street.
I am fully aware that a commuting lifestyle causes greenhouse gases, obesity and traffic congestion. However, fate landed me in Atlanta and my son at this exceptional school, and overall it has been good times. Like many others, I have found that wilderness areas and urban parks can provide solace and peace. So for me, commuting through green spaces makes the drive more enjoyable. Perhaps this natural effect is working in varying degrees on other commuters. If so, it is one more reason why trees and urban green spaces are not only pleasant but can be an essential element to the life of a city.
Recently named one of the 40 most influential nature photographers in the world by Outdoor Photography, Essick has traveled extensively over the last two decades photographing spectacular natural areas from around the world. He is a working photojournalist, but his photographs move beyond mere documentation, revealing, in careful compositions, the spiritual and emotional aspects of nature. The unique and sometimes surprisingly similar forms and color of divergent pristine lands provide the raw material for Essick’s art. As a counterpoint, Essick has also done photographs to illustrate many environmental issues, portraying both the human impact of development as well as the enduring power of the land.
Essick has been a frequent contributor to National Geographic for 25 years. At the Geographic he has produced 39 feature articles on many different topics. Some of his favorite and most rewarding stories have been on Inner Japan, the American wilderness, the carbon cycle, global warming, and global freshwater. Recent stories include a June 2010 cover piece on Greenland and a story on the Ansel Adams Wilderness in the October 2011 issue.
He has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri. He is represented by Lumière gallery in Atlanta and also by Aurora Photos. He lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia with his wife, Jackie, and son, Jalen.