Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rebecca Jackrel

Early in 2007 I attended my first NANPA conference, in Palm Springs. It was an exciting time; I had just quit my day job to be a full-time photographer. I was also a little apprehensive, because I didn’t expect to know anyone there, and I’m not the most outgoing person in the world.

There were no formal events the first night of the conference, so after checking in I went to the members’ photo exhibit. There was one photo in particular, of an Alaskan moose, that I kept coming back to. I don’t remember most of the details – just that its eyes were very compelling and I needed to stop and look at it for a few minutes. I noticed a woman standing next to me, apparently also entranced by the photo, so I said something to her about it. She told me it was hers, and she had been loitering nearby so she could hear what others had to say about it. Her name was Rebecca Jackrel.

Rebecca Jackrel, photographed by Jim Goldstein

Later that evening, Rebecca and I were part of a small group that shared a few beers in the hotel bar, followed by dinner at a nearby restaurant and much conversation about nature photography. We talked again several times over the next few days, and by the end of the conference I thought of her as a friend.

Since that weekend our paths have crossed many times, though we’ve rarely seen each other in person. Her name seems to come up whenever two or more Bay Area nature photographers get together, whether at a gallery opening, a Bay Nature party, or, as happened last year, at a pileated woodpecker’s nest. She came to the opening for an exhibit of my photos in Berkeley, and when I published my book on Death Valley she wrote a review. When her gorgeous book on the Ethiopian wolf was in the planning stages, she asked me for advice on choosing a printer and other production services. Mostly, though, we stayed in touch on Facebook, where we admired each other’s photos and followed each other’s photographic adventures in Death Valley, Iceland, Ecuador, and other beautiful places.

It was also on Facebook that I learned of her struggle with cancer and, along with her many friends, worried about the bad news and cheered the good. When she reported, in 2013, that she had completed her chemo and was once again getting out to photograph birds, I felt a tremendous sense of relief.

But the news was not always good. There was progress and there were setbacks, and Rebecca posted about both, always with a strength, optimism, and grace that were an inspiration to her friends in both good times and bad.

On March 12, Rebecca posted an update that began, “Well my lovelies, they say all good things must come to an end. I know we all wish we could ride that roller coaster just one more time …” She went on to say that the drugs were not working, her body was used up, and she had simply run out of options. She planned to continue treatment for another month so she could visit Death Valley in the spring once more.

Rebecca never made it back to Death Valley. Her condition continued to worsen, and she passed away earlier this week. She was 43.

Rebecca was a remarkable person, a good friend to many, a passionate and tireless advocate for wildlife, and of course a great photographer. She made the world a better place for her friends and, through her work, for countless others as well.

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