The Peninsula Pulse delivered the unwelcome news earlier this week that Door County’s extraordinary nature writer, Roy Lukes, has died. The subject line in my email from the Pulse was direct: “Columnist Roy Lukes Dies at 86.”
The email itself elaborated – “His joy came in nature. . . Roy Lukes, renowned nature writer, naturalist, photographer, teacher, and Peninsula Pulse columnist, died June 26th, after a long illness. . .” Roy began publishing columns of his nature writings in the Door County Advocate almost 50 years ago. He offered them to the Advocate as a volunteer, and apparently was so happy to write and share his knowledge of Door County’s plants, trees, birds, and other wildlife, that he needed no financial reward.
Eventually though, payment was offered, and Lukes branched out in his publishing efforts throughout Northeastern Wisconsin. And then there were books: Toft Point, a Legacy of People and Pines, and Tales of the Wild, a Year with Nature – to name just two.
A Naturalist of Many Talents; Roy Lukes Earned His Reputation
Over time, Roy Lukes approach to sharing his nature knowledge branched out too – his teaching, both in the classroom and in the field, his photography, as well as his published writing all earned him a reputation. He became widely known as a contemporary light in Wisconsin’s strong tradition of producing naturalists. And he earned state-wide recognitions such as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology (2015), and the Chancellor’s Medallion of the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh in 2004 (to highlight two, out of so many more).
Madeline Harrison, co-owner and editor of The Peninsula Pulse, has said that when Lukes’ columns began to appear in The Pulse in 2008, they brought both readers and a new level of credibility to her publication. That seems to me about the highest praise a publisher can offer a writer – ‘he brought us readers, and made us credible!’
No matter how unwelcome such news may be, when someone in their ninth decade of life passes away, it doesn’t come as a shock, exactly. but still, a most unpleasant surprise. I didn’t know Lukes, but I knew his columns over the years, and in particular, those in the Pulse which seemed to be both regular and robust right up to the moment I learned in my email that the author of these columns has died.
A Nature Writer’s Life: Wide-eyed Boyish Awe
Somehow, I’d missed this: Nature Boy: The Wonder of Roy Lukes. It’s a great tribute, with a behind-the-scenes look into the life of Roy, written by the Pulse’s Chicago-based contributing editor Myles Dannhausen, Jr. It was published early in May this year, and an editorial note preceding the article offered a heads-up – Roy was engaged in a cancer battle.
Myles condenses several key chapters in Roy’s life, that I haven’t even mentioned here. In particular he writes about what the Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey’s Harbor meant to Roy Lukes’ life, and what Lukes’ was to the Sanctuary. And the “chapter” in which Roy Lukes, meets and marries Charlotte, his “partner in nature,” and “editor for life.”
And Myles explains in some detail the winning combination that animated Roy Lukes’ writing: “Roy delved into the science behind the habits of birds, the growth of trees, the delicacy of a yellow lady’s slipper, but it is his personal touch that enthralled his devoted readers, a wide-eyed boyish awe of the natural world. . .”
Another Pulse article worth a moment of your time (there are quite a few; as you can tell by now, Roy Lukes, was an interesting subject as a naturalist, as well as an accomplished practitioner) is The Nature of Roy Lukes. In this, former Pulse writer Carole Thompson sat down for an interview with him and a picture emerges of his evolution as a teacher, naturalist, writer, AND reader! Find out what nature writers are read and valued by their peers.