I was born on September 8, 1960, at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. My father was Joseph Courtney White, Jr., of Eldorado, Arkansas. My mother was Joyce Armitage, of Charleston, West Virginia. We lived on a small farm near Spring City, while my father completed his MD in neurology at Jefferson Medical College. We were not farmers. We had horses, goats, and a big barn that I played in.
On my sixth birthday, we moved to Phoenix, AZ, so my father could begin work as Director of Neurology for the recently founded Barrow Neurological Institute – a job he held for the rest of his life. In 1970, we moved to a house on five acres in Paradise Valley where I discovered the desert. My parents became involved with Morgan horses. I traveled with them to shows in the region and we rented a dilapidated stable in the desert called Powderhorn where I learned to ride and explore.
In the summer of 1974, my parents signed me up for a five-week tour of Mexico that changed my life. I became active in archaeology, eventually earning a pay check on survey and excavation projects for Arizona State University. I picked up photography as a hobby. I discovered backpacking and began organizing trips in high school. A mind-blowing hiking tour of national parks in the summer of 1977 introduced me to public lands and sparked a lifelong engagement with conservation. A high school trip to England and Scotland kindled a deep interest in history. My mother cultivated a love of literature. To put all these pieces together, I read books – many, many books.
In 1978, I enrolled at Reed College where I met Gen in the dorm parking lot during Orientation, beginning our forty-four years together. I majored in Anthropology while continuing to pursue my interests in photography, archaeology, history, and conservation. Reed taught me invaluable lessons about healthy skepticism and challenging orthodoxies, which I would put to good use in later years.
In 1983, I moved to Los Angeles to enroll in graduate school at UCLA in filmmaking. Gen joined me in 1985, enrolling in UCLA’s archaeology program. We moved into a tiny apartment in West Hollywood. I dropped out of school before completing my MFA and took a job in the main library on campus where I began reading books in earnest again, searching for a purpose. I bought a medium-format camera and in 1988, I joined Gen on the Bandelier Survey in New Mexico as a photographer. In 1990, I embarked on a photography project that took me around the American West.
In 1991, we moved to Santa Fe, NM, so Gen could accept a full-time job with the National Park Service. I took temporary work at Pecos National Historical Park. On May 23, 1992, Gen and I were married in a lovely ceremony at a friend’s house in front of many friends and family. We honeymooned in the Yucatan, visiting Mayan ruins.
In 1994, a political upheaval in Washington, D.C., pushed me into conservation work full-time. I volunteered with the Sierra Club, organizing meetings and workshops. I began writing a column for its newsletter. I made a professional commitment to conservation in 1997, when I co-founded the Quivira Coalition with a rancher and became its Executive Director. Our mission was to energize the ‘radical center’ and explore grassroots solutions to land, food, and climate challenges. We ran a ranch. Quivira was a pioneer advocate for what today is called regenerative agriculture.
On December 18, 1998, Sterling and Olivia, were born to our everlasting joy. The next eighteen years were an extraordinary adventure, filled with camping, creeks, cows, conferences, ranches, workshops, newsletters, trips to Yellowstone and Europe, budgets, board meetings, birthday parties, backyard chickens, book writing, public speaking, Shakespeare, sleepovers, dogs, chess tournaments, karate, band camp, many memorable meals at restaurants, and much more.
In May 2006, Gen was diagnosed with carcinoid tumors, a rare and slow-growing cancer. We decided to make it an adventure, commencing many trips to LA for treatments that included visits to beaches, Disneyland, and museums. In 2008, she began working for the New Mexico Department of Transportation, eventually becoming the Tribal Liaison for the Environmental Bureau.
Standing on the Rialto Bridge in Venice on my 50th birthday, I decided to focus on writing books for the rest of my life. Grass, Soil, Hope was published in 2014, followed by The Age of Consequences and 2% Solutions for the Planet. In 2016, I left Quivira to write full-time, eventually co-authoring four books on regenerative agriculture and climate solutions as well as writing two novels, including a murder mystery.
In the fall of 2017, Sterling and Olivia left home for college – Reed for him, Hampshire College for her. In 2019, Gen and I squeezed in a trip to Prague and Berlin to see Olivia during her semester abroad before the Covid pandemic confined us to Santa Fe. Gen endured open heart surgery in the summer of 2021. On October 4th, 2022, she died peacefully at home. I held her hand.
I returned to telling stories about land and people, with a focus on my story.