Christopher Solomon’s work pursues ‘things that need to be written about’
Freelance writer Christopher Solomon, a recent transplant to the Methow Valley, has won national recognition as the “Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year” by the Society of American Travel Writers.
While living and working in Seattle for the past 20 years, Solomon kept hatching ideas for articles — from wildfires to backcountry skiing — that would bring him to the Methow Valley. A year ago, he moved to the valley and has made it his home base.
Now that he’s here as a full-time resident, he’s found that, like many locals, he feels somewhat less inclined to tell the world about the delights of living in the Methow Valley.
“I wanted to come here and savor the place without drawing too much attention to it. It’s kind of a dilemma with a special place. You start feeling protective of it,” he said. “Once you get to know a place better, you realize that more attention isn’t what it needs.”
Solomon, a former Seattle Times reporter, has made a freelance career of telling readers about interesting places and people around the world. His articles appear regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, Outside magazine and High Country News, among other publications.
In naming him the Travel Journalist of the Year, judges praised Solomon for his “remarkable range as a travel writer and a voice that is both unpretentious and authoritative.” Judges also said Solomon’s work “reflects an understanding that the world is not our playground but an amazing resource on loan to us.”
Solomon’s articles over the past year have taken him to the Galapagos Islands, where he explored how climate change is impacting wildlife, and to Alaska, where he visited the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary to write about the summer influx of grizzly bears that fish in the river.
An article published this summer in the New York Times took on a topic closer to home, profiling an outspoken wolf researcher from Washington State University, Rob Wielgus, who became embroiled in a controversy over the state’s decision in 2016 to kill wolves from the Profanity Pack in eastern Washington.
He’s also traveled this year to remote areas of northern British Columbia for an article about backcountry skiing, and explored little-known trails in the deserts of southern Utah to write about about mountain biking.
It sounds like an exciting and romantic lifestyle, and it is — kind of, Solomon said. Except for the times when he’s worrying about whether he can sell his next article, when the next check might arrive, or how to manage his workload.
“You’re either panicked because you have too much to do, or panicked because you don’t have enough to do,” Solomon said in an interview last week. “Being a writer is about one-quarter of the job. The other part is accountant, used-car salesman, reporter. Only a small part of the job ends up being traveling.”
Still, he said, the career has its perks. He’s been able to take his passions for the outdoors — backcountry skiing, Nordic skiing, fly fishing — and “parlay those into travel stories over the years.” He can’t afford expensive vacations to exotic places on his own income, but with travel expenses paid by publications that buy his work, “freelance writing has allowed me to live above my means.”
Focused on issues
While he travels widely for his freelance writing, his focus is less about travel per se, and more about issues that grab him, such as public lands, climate change, the environment. “I used to write more about travel, but now it seems the world is on fire and there are a lot of other things that need to be written about,” he said.
Two of his articles are included in 2018 anthologies of Best American Travel Writing (the piece on the grizzlies in Alaska) and 2018 Best American Science and Nature Writing — which includes his profile of a veterinary pathologist in Alaska who has linked diseases in wildlife to climate change in the far north. The article, called “The Detective of Northern Oddities,” also won an award for the best long feature from the National Association of Science Writers.
“I like stories where I can bring readers something they knew nothing about,” Solomon said. “I’m interested in little worlds that are unknown to the rest of us.”
Solomon said he enjoys the fresh perspectives he gains — on the world and on himself — from tackling new subjects and presenting them to readers.
“It forces me to keep my eyes wide open and pay attention,” he said. “I have a lot of false assumptions about people and the world, and this job constantly makes me adjust my assumptions. I find that about 95 percent of the time I’m wrong.”