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The Blade's Basting, Pollick take readers on nature walks

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Outdoors columnist Steve Pollick and graphic artist Jeff Basting will discuss their award-winning collaboration as part of the Authors! Authors! series.

The Blade
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For the vast majority of us who seldom walk in the woods, it’s easy to forget that we share a habitat with thousands of creatures: mudpuppies, mussels, and moths (1,000 species locally), to name just a few.

A majestic heron, egret, hawk, or eagle may occasionally interrupt our visual field, but few notice the ping-pong-ball sized kinglet that weighs the same as two pennies.

They’re among the 63 topics illustrated and explained by Jeff Basting and Steve Pollick, Blade illustrator/designer and Outdoors editor respectively, who have produced a nature page for 15 years. Their atlas-sized soft-cover, Best of the Outdoors Page: Celebrating 15 Years of Nature in Northwest Ohio and Beyond, was published this year. They’ll discuss how they’ve built their award-winning collaboration with a slide show and talk at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Stranahan Theater at Authors! Authors!, cosponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. The $21.95 book will be for sale at the event.

The Outdoors Page is published on the last Sunday of the month: today’s, the 168th, is on Page B-6.

Basting, 58, a backyard naturalist and former hunter/angler, reads the likes of Peter Mattheissen, John McPhee, Wendell Berry, and Gary Snyder. He’s married to Rose, who works for The Andersons turf and specialty group, and they have two daughters and a grandchild. Living near the river in Maumee, he has walked his dogs along the river’s banks for decades.

Those morning walks shush the jibber-jabber of life’s electronic sound track. With a zen-like sensibility, Basting has nurtured the habit of observing what’s growing, flying, and scampering at each season: turtles, coyotes, snakes; bark of tree, eye of bird, shape of cloud. Muskrat, possum, woodchuck, fox. Pests, nests, and eggs. Feathers, fur, and fossils.

In winter, 1997, he envisioned a full-page primer about walleye fishing; every spring he’d seen the thousands casting their lines in the muddy water and used to do it himself. He suggested it to an editor who asked that Steve Pollick, Blade outdoors editor, write the copy. Pollick agreed.

Their March 16, 1997, page was a hit with readers. It included a map of the river noting the best locations for wading in, walleye facts, drawings of favorite river jigs, and a "how to." So they continued, never dreaming it would require many hours each month for the next 15 years, and thousands of decisions and compromises.

"These pages are pretty involved," said Basting. "We both come up with ideas and take an angle. I look for a dominant art feature."

Say it’s a fish page. They’ll track down photos of fish, and he’ll "cut out" each fish shape in Photoshop, about a 20-minute task per fish. He may use watercolors to paint the topic, which could take hours, such as the cavorting walleye on Page 5 that won first place for illustration in the 2009 Associated Press contest. In 2006, he was named Ohio’s best graphic designer by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Both initiate ideas and gather information and images, drawing on a network of experts, professionals, and photographers they’ve developed. Pollick forages for ideas by doing a mental scan of the season. "I think about what will be going on this month: bird migration, fish-spawning runs, hunting, wildflowers.

"Jeff and I share some general interests but we’re coming at it from two dramatically different approaches," said Pollick, 63. "I’m coming at a subject from a wordsmith’s point of view. I get excited about explaining facts. Jeff sees information visually, the ‘picture’s worth 1,000 words’ concept. Blending those two, there’s always the need to cooperate. I may think I need more space [for words] and he may like more space for an info-graphic. There’s a negotiation week by week. Both of us approach it cooperatively.

"It’s these graphics that have gotten schoolchildren interested in learning about the subject," said Pollick. "That’s where Jeff has really shone brilliantly, saying ‘couldn’t we show this in a box or a map or a diagram that would save six paragraphs of copy?’ "

This page, Pollick said, has forced him to embrace the taskmaster loved and hated by wordsmiths: writing succinctly.

"It makes me be more creative and more imaginative."

Basting, at The Blade since 1993, does page design and illustration. He previously worked eight years for an advertising agency, making technical drawings and ad-campaign proposals, and did technical drawings at Owens Corning for four years.

He earned a master’s degree in printmaking and sculpture at Ohio State University, and graduated with honors from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Between 1980 and 1987, he exhibited his prints nationally. He’s a 1971 graduate of Maumee High School.

Pollick and his wife, Peggy, a nurse, live in rural Fremont and have three children and five grandchildren. He served six years in the Army Reserve, earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Toledo in 1970, and compressed two years of study into one for a 1971 master’s in natural resources management at OSU. His columns in the Sports section Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday are aimed at hunters and anglers as well as birders and environmentalists.

An avid outdoorsman, Pollick joined The Blade in Dec., 1971, covering general and breaking news, the environment, and Bowling Green.

"Then I got the magic call" to cover the outdoors. "I happened to be in the right place at the right time but I also had the right bag of tools on my belt."

Among his awards: membership in the prestigious Explorers Club, and the 2009 President’s Choice Award from the Outdoor Writers Association of America for the dragonfly story (Page 2 in the book).

The duo had mulled turning their pages into a book, but size was a problem. A 9-by-11-inch book, for example, would shrink the type beyond legibility. Last year when The Blade published its coffee-table sized 175 Years of The Blade: 1835 - 2010 with reproductions of landmark front pages, they figured it would be a good format for their full-sized pages. Then they winnowed their published topics down to a third.

"We sat down over coffee at my house and decided to break it up seasonally. It’s kind of like a walk through the woods," Basting said.

Following their talk, they’ll answer questions from the audience and sign copies of the book.

Note: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who cancelled his Oct. 20 talk, has been rescheduled to speak at 7 p.m. May 3 in the Stranahan Theater.

Tickets for Thursday’s 7 p.m. talk are $10; $8 for students, and available at the door and at library branches. The Stranahan Theater is at 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Information: 419-259-5266.

Contact Tahree Lane at: 419-724-6075 or tlane@theblade.com

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