Patrick Herzog grew up adventuring near his grandmother’s cottage, getting a little bit further out into the wild with each hike.
Herzog grew to love being out in nature, at first for its animals, and later for its ecosystems — seeing how each part works within the broader system.
It was a cruel twist of fate that left him with leukemia, and able to survive it only after undergoing what was then an experimental treatment that left him susceptible to infection from gardens or even cut grass.
His connection to nature was cut, and his recovery slow and difficult.
But what eventually brought Herzog out of five years of fatigue and living at the edges of depression was the realization that he needed to get back out into nature.
That’s the story the Qualicum Beach man tells in his first book, From the Mist: A Life Restored by Nature.
Herzog held a signing event at for the book, out this September, at Raintree Studio and Gallery in Qualicum Beach on Thursday, Sept. 21.
All revenue from the book will go to the B.C. and Alberta Cancer Foundations, said Herzog.
“I wanted to make some kind of a contribution back to folks that might be going through similar episodes and treatments, and also hopefully a bit of a financial contribution, too,” said Herzog. “The idea for the book actually had been in my mind for quite some time. It’s really nice to see it coming to fruition.”
He said he hopes the book can help people in a variety of difficult situations through one simple suggestion — “if you’re not doing something you used to really like to do, be it gardening or writing or painting… well heck, get back to it!”
While that might seem like a simple idea, Herzog found it took him a while to realize what was missing from his life.
After being a wildlife biologist for years, turning his passion for the outdoors into a globe-trotting career that took him to various parts of Canada, to Costa Rica and elsewhere, Herzog was diagnosed with leukemia at age 41.
At 50, he underwent a bone marrow transplant (an experimental and life-threatening treatment at the time) that wiped out his immune system.
“I wasn’t really allowed to go outdoors because of the risk of infection,” said Herzog. “I wasn’t supposed to be around gardens or fresh-cut grass because there was a potential, if I inhaled something, fungi or something disturbed in the air, that could be difficult for me to fight because my immune system was basically non-existent.”
While the treatment left his cancer in remission, he was not healthy.
“I just had no physical or mental energy and it just seemed that something had gone from my life,” he said.
“I don’t think I could put a finger on it initially, because you are sort of just in a daily existence where you just want to make it through the day.”
But realization came in the form of artwork.
“A real pivotal moment was when I encountered the paintings of Robert Bateman,” said Herzog.
“When I saw (those paintings), it sort of allowed me to realize what I was missing, just by kind of putting myself into the picture with the animals that he had represented.
“I think that indeed was the first time I really thought, ‘Oh my gosh, look at how wonderful this is and I’m not part of that anymore.’”
But Herzog’s exile from the natural world was not permanent.
As his immune system grew stronger, and he went through programs to get physically fit again, Herzog was able to get back out into the wild about six years after his treatment.
It started with parks, and then short hikes until eventually he began doing field work again.
It would never be like his pre-leukemia days, searching for a radio-collared mountain lion for far too long and having to spend hours in the dark trekking back to the road, or wading through a flooded river in Costa Rica looking for scarlet macaws and realizing there were crocodiles all around.
But that was OK with Herzog, he said. Before, he had been a little too focused on getting data, sometimes resulting in perilous decisions, he said.
After his treatment, “(The numbers) were no longer my main interest. Just being out in nature was all that really mattered,” said Herzog, adding that he didn’t share this revelation with his boss.
Since moving to Qualicum Beach, Herzog continues to do work outdoors, volunteering with the Broombusters and eventually cutting brook from Qualicum Beach all the way up to Deep Bay.
Herzog’s book, From the Mist, can be found at books.friesenpress.com/store/title/119734000031949327/Patrick-Walter-Herzog-From-The-Mist.