"The people here are tenacious," says photographer Arleen Olson about the people of Humboldt County. "They just get something in their heads and they do it -- just like I did this book."
The book is Humboldt Wild, a self-published photography book, a project that Olson describes as "monumental." Starting with no knowledge of the publishing business, she took seven years gathering and winnowing photos, writing text and captions and formatting the book before becoming sole marketer and distributor.
There have been coffee table books documenting the wild beauty of our home in the past, but this one is unique in the way the photographer places the people of Humboldt in that natural setting. Using aerial photography, she shows us the towns nestled in river valleys. The human residents of Humboldt and evidence of their creativity are pictured alongside wilder residents. And, most notably, an entire section is dedicated what Olson calls, "the crazy, wild events that we put on." The book travels from south to north, and in the final section, chronicles a year's worth of special events in the area.
For locals, the book captures familiar, well-loved scenes: an elk ambling in front of Orick's Little Red Schoolhouse, the moon setting behind Pewetole Island or the spruce tree whose roots cascade down an old redwood stump in Arcata Community Forest. You may find your neighbors or friends -- I've spotted a couple of people I know. You may even see yourself!
For non-locals, it begins to explain the mythic quality of life here. But resident or not, you will see, in Olson's images, a perspective of Humboldt that you haven't seen before. You may have been to Blues on the Bay, but have you seen it from Woodley Island with an egret in the foreground. Some of us have seen a spotted owl during Godwit Days, but only in Humboldt Wild can you see the split second before an owl captures a mouse in its talons. "It took me two years ... I had to go back time and time again," Olson said about capturing that image.
Olson was a woman with a dream, and she persevered until that dream came to fruition. In this way, she is an example of what she believes to be the key to the singularity of Humboldt County. "It's really the people of Humboldt that make it so amazing," she said.
Throughout the month of February, large format prints of Humboldt Wild photographs will be on display at the Morris Graves Museum, downstairs in the Floyd Bettiga Gallery. Olson will be there on Saturday, Feb. 7, from 6-9 p.m. for Arts Alive! to talk about her work, and of course to sign her book.