Jeanne Fossani

Seen Through the Looking Glass

If you had to run into a burning building to retrieve one of your possessions, what would it be? There are very few items I own that are imbued with enough significance to be irreplaceable, like the spotting scope left to me by my late mentor, Jeanne Fossani. This little post is a tribute to Jeanne and her continuing legacy of environmental advocacy around the world.

All the following photos in this entry were taken through the eyepiece of her scope.

Resplendent Quetzal
Elegant Trogan

Jeanne was the leader of a teen naturalist trip to Costa Rica through the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier, VT. I was interested in nature, but not to the extent that I wanted to build my career around protecting it. She encouraged me to wake up at 4AM that first morning in the rainforest to experience the dawn chorus. As I understood it, no teenager had ever seen 4AM unless they hadn’t yet gone to sleep from the night before. Begrudgingly, I got myself up and walked out of the bungalow. Birds were dripping from the trees, and the cacophony of their calls seemed deafening. She pointed her old Swarovski spotting scope on a high canopy. Little blue and yellow and red gems were flitting through the acacias like a scene out of Fern Gully. I saw a Resplendent Quetzal, South America’s most beautiful bird. I realized that the landscape is full of hidden treasures that are only really apparent if you already know what to look for and have the right tools for the job. I was hooked.

Arctic hare

754M of Lamar Canyon Pack

Phantom Springs pack

I returned to Vermont and kept up the same attitude to birdwatching. Jeanne taught me everything she knew. She was fighting cancer and needed some help, so I would come over and water her plants and fill her bird feeders. She took me birding along Lake Champlain, and we saw rare gulls and ducks through that scope.

Jeanne died in 2007 and I had her scope in my car when I first heard the news. Her friends and colleagues encouraged me to keep the scope because they thought she'd want me to have it, and I didn’t know how to get in touch with her family anyway.

Lamar Canyon Pack

Grizzly at the edge of the woods
Black bear cubs

So for the last 6 years I’ve used the scope the same way she did: to excite people about our world’s most amazing creatures. I treated it not as my scope, but as a tool for paying forward what Jeanne was all about. I think about all the things that scope has been trained on. Photons have actually bounced off a snowy owl, funneled through the lens, and hit people in the eye.

Bighorn sheep

Northern Hawk Owl

Polar bear mom and cub

Trumpeter Swan  and ducks

I upgraded my equipment after the polar bear season, but I wanted Jeanne’s scope to continue being used to show more people amazing things. Natural Habitat guide Brad Josephs over at is now responsible for Jeanne’s scope. Provided that a coastal Katmai grizzly doesn’t literally eat it, it will be in great hands in an incredible place. 

Big Griz

Mountain goats

Ruddy Duck

If you want to know more about Jeanne, go here: