by Christine Vovakes
John Hendrickson has spent countless hours hunkered down in the dampness of a creek bed or enduring the blazing summer sunshine of a meadow, waiting patiently for the perfect image to cross his lens. And those hours have paid off. His nature photography appears in museums, books, magazines, and calendars.
In 2006 and 2008, Hendrickson (BA, Social Science, ’73; MA, Environmental Education/Biological Sciences, ’76) was one of 20 international nature photographers chosen to compete in the prestigious, month-long Images for Conservation Fund Pro-Tour.
But the photos are secondary to pursuing a life centered in the natural world he captures with each shutter click. “I like photography, but I love nature,” says the 61-year-old Hendrickson, a self-described naturalist. “Everything I do is summed up in that word. I study, celebrate, photograph, and write about the natural world.”
While at Chico State, Hendrickson studied with Thomas L. Rodgers, a noted field biologist and ornithology expert.
“Tom Rodgers had a huge influence on my life,” says Hendrickson. “In many ways he was like a father, a friend, and best of all an incredible teacher. I was his teaching assistant for the field biology classes for two years. That was a very rich learning opportunity.”
When Hendrickson asked his mentor how he could repay him, Rodgers said, “Just pass it on.”
John Hendrickson’s image of the rare coastal green hairstreak—the first butterfly photograph he took after recovering from oral cancer.
And that’s what Hendrickson did.
He became a founding member of Bidwell Nature Center, now Chico Creek Nature Center. He earned a master’s degree in environmental education from Antioch College in Ohio and for 30 years was the director of Woodleaf Outdoor School, an environmental camp in rural Yuba County for elementary school children.
Recognition of his talents blossomed. He published photos in National Geographic, Audubon, and other magazines. He also wrote and illustrated books, including Raptors, Listening to Nature, Hawks for Kids, and Butterflies: Grace on the Wing.
Diagnosed with oral cancer, Hendrickson began radiation treatment in December 2009. He was strong enough to start walking again just as the beautiful and rare coastal green hairstreak (Callophrys dumetorum) butterfly, in flight briefly each year, emerged on a few San Francisco hills.
“I dragged myself ever so slowly with my gear to the top of a rock outcrop where the butterfly was known to still exist. And yes, it was there,” says Hendrickson. “I was too tired to crawl around, stooping and crouching after it, so I just lay down next to a flower that I saw it was feeding on.
“Almost instantly it landed right next to me. I moved slowly in—to about six inches—and had a perfect light angle,” he says. “That was my first post-cancer butterfly shot and a day I will long remember.”
While Hendrickson is excited about photos scheduled to appear in several publications—most notably on the cover and on seven inside pages of the 2012 Audubon calendar—his main hope is that the images he captures will inspire others to step outside and explore the natural world he treasures.
Christine Vovakes is a freelance writer based in Northern California.