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Birthplace of the Winds

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*Ask the Expedition Adviser
Jon Bowermaster answers your questions on planning an out-there adventure.

*Dispatches From the Birthplace of the Winds
See photos and hear dispatches from the expedition that inspired Bowermaster's new book, Birthplace of the Winds.

*Video: Bowermaster on His Aleutian Odyssey
Find out what it took to take Alaska's Islands of the Four Mountains by kayak.

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Birthplace of the Winds
image: Author Jon Bowermaster
Circumnavigating the remote, storm-strafed Islands of the Four Mountains, Contributing Editor Jon Bowermaster didn't so much test the waters as the waters tested him. During that three-week 1999 expedition, he radioed in audio dispatches to ADVENTURE Online. Now he's turned his Aleutian odyssey into his latest book, Birthplace of the Winds: Storming Alaska's Islands of Fire and Ice.

Treacherous Crossing
28.8 | 56.6
28.8 | 56.6

Here, Bowermaster reads a linchpin passage from Birthplace of the Winds and remembers friend, photographer, and expedition mate Barry Tessman.

Remembering Barry

image: Photographer Barry Tessman

On January 16, photographer Barry Tessman disappeared in California's Lake Isabella during his regular kayaking workout. Two days later, sitting at Tessman's desk, Jon Bowermaster recorded his impressions of his close friend, who had accompanied him on his Birthplace of the Winds expedition and several others.

Over the past 20 years, I figure I have written more than a million words, most often in some semblance of order and meaning, yet these that follow are the most difficult I've ever written. My friend—our friend—Barry Tessman is gone.

It was a beautiful winter day here in the Sierra of California—sunny, blue, 55 degrees [13 degrees Celsius]. I knew as I drove up through the canyon toward Lake Isabella that this place I know so well would look different this time around.

The reality of Barry's disappearance didn't set in until I drove over the hill and saw the big reservoir spread before me, surrounded by pinkish sand hills and scrub. I knew that somewhere in that big, calm lake, he rests.

Details of his disappearance are still unconfirmed, and maybe they always will be. At about 8 a.m., he went out for a typical morning exercise, putting his superlight racing kayak in the water near the marina for an hour's worth of sprinting. All alone.

Barry dressed lightly, considering the cold air and cold water, in a blue polypro shirt and shorts. It was a routine he had done a thousand times over the past 15 years. It was his backyard, for Christ's sake, just a workout. No worries.

We may never know what exactly transpired, but somehow it appears he ended up out of his boat, in 45-degree [7-degree Celsius] water. He's not yet been found, despite the tireless efforts of paddlers, searchers in helicopters and motorboats, and scores of friends scouring the shorelines on foot.

I went back out to the lake late this day with Barry's father, to a high point above the reservoir, and we stood quietly as the sun tinted the surrounding hills in shades of rose. No words could describe either the beauty of the place, nor the profound sadness of the moment.

I don't mean, nor want, this to be a eulogy. Closure will come only when Barry is found, whenever that is. At a time like this, there is such a rush of emotions it is tempting to try to turn each of them into a metaphor, a rationale, an excuse. I'm not going to attempt any of them, none of them really matters just now anyway.

In the past 48 hours, I have rewalked every step of my decade of travels with Barry, from a muddy end-of-the-road in Nicaragua to the shores of China's Great Bend of the Yangtze, from the middle of the Bering Sea to the high desert of Bolivia. And, for a moment, based on our bond, I thought about describing him as my best friend. Until I realized that this was a guy, unlike anyone I've ever known, who was literally best friend to hundreds.

I am thankful that we spent last week together, in Washington, D.C.—thankful for this reason: When I met Barry, 11 years ago, by happenstance, in the middle of the southernmost airport in the world, at Punta Arenas, Chile, he was a river guide trying to become a photographer.

Last week, in the halls of the National Geographic Society, it was apparent to all that after a decade of hard work, Barry was now, simply, a photographer. Almost nothing pleased him more, and I was proud of his accomplishment.

I say almost nothing pleased him more. The other thing I witnessed last week, the thing that most impressed me as we walked the streets of D.C. on cool, January nights—Barry arm in arm with his wife, Joy, and three-year-old daughter, Ellie—was a man truly satisfied with his life. Content with a capital C. A man truly, truly in love. That is a rare thing to experience, or to see, and I was moved by witnessing it.

At that moment, and now, as I sit at his desk, typing, I'm happy that that was my last image, my final impression, of this gentle man.

—Jon Bowermaster

Donations are being accepted to help provide for Barry Tessman's daughter and baby yet to be born:

Tessman Children's Fund
Box 565
Kernville, California 93238

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