General Drift – National Park Inspector

If there is one given concerning my camping trips it is that I will forget to bring along a pen to write with. After all, why would I need a pen in the great outdoors? Well, the most immediate reason is to fill out a campsite registration form, or a backcountry permit, one of which you almost always have to do. (Another reason is to take copious notes like my friend Lee Rentz so your blog and image captions will be complete and accurate, but that’s another story.)

So, upon arriving at the White Tank Campground in Joshua Tree National Park, and not finding a pen on a string that I had hoped for at the registration kiosk, I started looking around for someone to pester. Several campsites over I spotted what appeared to be a nice retired couple, so I went over and introduced myself and my problem. They, being professional campers, of course had a pen to lend me, and even gave me a cheap one to keep (which I promptly lost, but don’t tell them that).

Well, we started chatting, none of us being in any particular hurry to do anything or go anywhere, and the conversation naturally turned to our respective reasons for being in the park. I explained my passion for nature photography and offered a business card. My new friend simply offered his card in return, which read:

General Drift, National Park Inspector

OK, that’s different. I smiled, and his wife (Debbie? See, this is why I need to take notes.) offered that her husband has never been able to sit still for very long, so his friends nicknamed him “General Drift”. I can certainly relate. Got it from my Mom.

Then Dennis Stanger (his real name) mentioned that he had taken his share of images with an Olympus OM-1 back in the day and wanted to see the gear I was using. I showed him the Canon 5D MkII body that I usually use as well as a couple of the lenses. Upon seeing all the gear, he told me that he had published an entire book of photography using only a single camera and lens, the OM-1 with a fixed 50mm lens. In fact, he was one of the first photographers to enter China after they eased restrictions on outside visitors, and the result was 400 copies of a coffee table book of photography that also included his images of India. And, by the way, he had a copy in his van, and would I like to see it. There are only a few copies left, so just go ahead and take one home with you.

Wow. I’ve known this guy for twenty minutes and he’s offering to give me one of the last copies in existence of an expensive self-published book. I’m honored. Of course I’d like a copy.
So, I went back to their campsite and started paging through a copy of the book, and the first thing I noticed was that it was a signed copy to his late mother. No, he hadn’t really meant to give that one away, but he would mail me a copy. Anyway, I paged through most of the book, and it was beautifully done. He captured his Chinese and Indian subjects in their everyday lives in a very candid and intimate way. Here’s a description from an Amazon seller of one of the copies:

“Remarkable photo-essay comparing and contrasting the world’s two most populous countries; the primary emphasis is on ordinary Chinese and Indians going about their daily lives. This is #374 of only 400 copies, signed and hand-numbered by the author/photographer… Extremely rare in any condition. Measures 12.25″ X 9.25″, about 260 pages, color photos throughout.”

Yesterday I came home to a package on the front porch holding a signed copy of number 391/400 of his book, just as promised. Below is the back cover.
It’s not unusual at all to run into nice people like the Stangers while camping and hiking. I think there’s something about nature that attracts the kinder and gentler folk. Or perhaps it just calms the beast that lurks deep down. Anyway, I’m grateful for the copy of this beautiful book. Now I need to find a way to thank Dennis. I’m thinking a signed print from Joshua Tree might do it.

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3 Responses to “General Drift – National Park Inspector”

  1. Dan Taflin says:

    That’s one reason I love camping. The farther away you get from the crowds the friendlier people get. I have many good memories of impromptu meetings out in the wilderness, like the time I shared a meal with family I met on one of my solo outings and their grade-school daughter showing me her button collection. Looks like you hit the jackpot on this one!

  2. Myra Payne says:

    Ed, sounds like you are blessed to have met such individuals on your adventure. True Saints.

  3. galina says:

    this was a fun read, thank you, Ed!