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Getting wild with Robert Bateman
At 82, Robert Bateman is still finding new things to admire in the wilderness.
When he speaks to KTW on the road from Edmonton, it’s freshly fallen snow on the treetops and the great grey owls he spotted a day earlier — after more than a decade of trying — that have caught his eye.
“I just take every opportunity of seeing an owl,” he enthuses between descriptions of snow-dappled pines and talk of the rest of the day’s itinerary, which includes a trip to see bison.
“You’d probably rather be here than where you are.”
It’s the kind of wildlife experience Bateman, one of Canada’s most renowned wildlife painters, worries is falling by the wayside.
“The average young person in North America — not all of them, but the average one — spends seven hours a day, seven days a week looking at a screen,” he says.
“Many of them are just sitting there stuffing their bodies with junk food and stuffing their brains full of junk food for the soul.”
Bateman’s solution is one topic he’ll touch on during a stop tonight (Nov. 22) at 5 p.m. at the Horse Barn, 517 Mount Paul Way.
Between stories about some of the hundreds of paintings he has created over the course of his long career, he’ll discuss The Bateman Foundation, his latest venture to get people back outside “smelling the pine trees.”
Headquartered in Victoria, the new foundation will feature a gallery with a rotating display of Bateman’s prints and originals, as well as a think tank dedicated to reconnecting the public with nature.
While the gallery won’t open until May, the foundation is already partnering with a number of other groups across the country, including the Young Naturalists Club of B.C. and Parks Canada.
Bateman is hoping the foundation can make people realize they aren’t engaging with nature on the level they should be — and promote the benefits of doing so.
He points to a movement in Japan, called forest therapy, that sends stressed-out office workers on walks through the woods to make them more productive and healthier, with lowered blood pressures and better immune systems the result.
“We’re learning more and more that nature’s magic,” Bateman says.
“You step into a forest and take a few breaths — it’s something special, but you don’t ever think about it. But, our cells evolve for these aromatics and we’re not getting that dose any more. It’s way bigger than anybody realizes.”
His goal is to see kids (adults. too, but kids, especially) reconnected with the places they live, playing outdoors and heading out into the wilderness with friends and family.
“Everything would be better, and the future of Canada would be better, if every teenager had at least a week out in the wilds every year. Preferably two,” he says.
“I am truly worried because those guys looking at junk food for the soul, how are they going to vote when they grow up? Are they going to vote for higher taxes to preserve nature? Will they even care?”
As the foundation looks at connecting youth with nature, Bateman is also mulling his own youth-inspired idea in his art.
“I’m working on an idea of a snowy owl chasing a buffalo heard, which is a painting I did when I was 13,” he says.
It was around that time Bateman first got interested in art and nature.
With his 83rd birthday approaching, he thinks it may be time to revisit “young Bob Bateman.”