It's not hard to understand why Ann Marie Brown '85 does what she does. As an outdoors writer, she spends more than 200 days a year on hiking trails. "I run my life's appointment calendar by the timing of the wildflower bloom, the flow of waterfalls, and the show of autumn colors," she said in her introduction to 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the eight books on the outdoors she has written or co-edited.
After a stint in the magazine business, Brown began her first editing job at Foghorn Press, then a newly formed publishing company. After several years of heading up the editorial staff, she began to wonder what kept her from doing the field research herself. "I came up with an idea that changed how we did outdoors books," she said of her proposal to use more photos and longer descriptions of trails and sights. "I've never regretted leaving the office--instead of sitting at a desk, now I travel with a laptop computer and a tape recorder."
"My friends tease me that I do this because I don't want to get a real job," said Brown. "But what makes me a good outdoors writer is that I love it."
Brown has spent most of the past six years traveling through California's 58 counties, compiling information for new books and updated editions of popular reference books such as California Hiking. She points out that California has 14 national parks, forests, monuments and recreation areas--more than any other state except Arizona--plus 400 lakes to drive to, 800 lakes to day-hike to and 1,200 miles of coast. "And yet, it's amazing how many people I meet who live right near a national park and never go there," she said.
Brown thinks of herself as an artist, but "In the end, I know that the best thing I can do for people is to get them to the trailhead," she said. So although she aspires to write more than what she calls an "encyclopedia guide" to hiking and camping, she treats her work with some humility. "I receive many letters and e-mails about the books--many good and some not so good--but I appreciate all of the responses I get."
Not all responses come by mail or phone. "Once, when I was on vacation, I was caught behind a car that kept slowing down and slowing down. I couldn't figure out what they were doing. Suddenly I saw a red book flying out the window and the car sped off," she said. Stopping to see what had been pitched out, she found a copy of California Camping, one of the first books she worked on at Foghorn. "I guess they just didn't find what they were looking for." --Sarah Dolinar