Alderson fulfills spirit quest to increase environmental awareness

 By Donna Meredith


By day Doug Alderson helps to coordinate Florida’s designated paddling trails, including the 1,515-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. He also assists with a website for Visit Florida on all types of non-motorized trails.

By night he moves away from the computer for a few hours to unwind in the cabin he shares with his wife in southern Tallahassee. At 9:30 he sits down in front of his laptop at the dining room table and begins to write, usually finishing up by midnight.

His first story, which he wrote as an 18 year old and sold to Campus Life, was about his hiking the entire Appalachian Trail in 1975. He experienced a terrifying moment on the hike when he became separated from his partner in Pennsylvania. Night fell, and along with it came a thunderstorm. His partner had the only tarp.

“As I climbed down a steep mountainside with a dim flashlight, the rain fell harder and I prayed to find the right footing,” Doug said. Eventually, after he’d walked 27 miles since that morning, he found another backpacker who let him share his tent. Doug found his partner the next morning less than a quarter mile away.

He also experienced the kindness of strangers. Nuns in Massachusetts who took him in during a two-day storm, and an older couple fed him breakfast and then left him alone in their house while they ran errands. “Their trust was humbling,” Doug said.

In the article he wrote about the hike, he describes a spiritual awakening he experienced and his deepening awareness of the environment.

“My awakening wasn’t necessarily Christian-based; it was broader than any one religion,” he said. “Very simple and basic. More like a Native American vision quest. I grasped that my broader purpose in life would revolve around native people and raising awareness about the earth.”

The same determination that allowed him to hike from Maine to Georgia when so many have given up has helped him finish seven creative nonfiction books, one collection of ghost stories, and a young adult novel. His articles and photographs have been featured in Wildlife Conservation, American Forests, Sea Kayaker, Sierra, Mother Earth News, Shaman’s Drum, Campus Life, America, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Florida Naturalist, Florida Sportsman, Tallahassee Magazine, Native Peoples and Florida Wildlife.

He has won two national writing awards for his magazine features. Additionally, he won first place in the 2008 Florida State Writing Competition in the previously published nonfiction article category, first place in the 2009 Seven Hills Writing Contest in the creative nonfiction category, and first place in the 2010 Florida Outdoor Writers Association contest for published magazine articles in the conservation and travel writing categories. Additionally, New Dawn for the Kissimmee River was the first place winner of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association’s 2010 Excellence in Craft Award for an outdoor book. In 2010, he was a panelist at the Miami Book Fair International.

And true to his vision quest, all of his writing is deeply connected to nature and often draws on Native American experiences.

“I view a book project like the trail—do it one step at a time, be patient, and don’t focus on the end,” Doug said. “Let the adventure unfold.”

That hike Doug made as a teenager was a forerunner of a later one he organized called Walk for the Earth. This a group walk from California to Washington D.C. in 1984 became the subject of The Vision Keepers: Walking for Native Americans and the Earth (Quest Books, Chicago).

“The idea came to me as an epiphany while walking around my neighborhood one morning early in 1983,” Doug said. “I visualized a group of about 35 people heading east through California and I immediately knew its purpose and focus.”

Sure enough, in April of 1984, about 35 people—many strangers—embarked on a seven-month, 3,800-mile journey.

In 2009, Doug published his first novel, Seminole Freedom, a project that took 26 years to complete. “Seminole history has always fascinated me, especially when I began to learn about the hundreds of escaped slaves who joined the Seminoles and who became active in the fighting.” His novel centers around an escaped slave who joins the Seminoles and endures the Seminole Wars.

He has some Iroquois background himself, tracing to a branch of the family in New York State, and he was actually adopted as a nephew by an Oklahoma Muscogee spiritual leader named Bear Heart in 1980.

Wild Florida Waters, his latest release, grew, like many of his books, from adventure stories and magazine features that he wrote over several years. “My goal for much of my nonfiction is to inspire, entertain and educate, and I feel like I’ve achieved that with this book,” Doug said. “It was a joy to write.”

Currently he is working on writing a guidebook to Seminole Indian-related historic and cultural sites in Florida. “It is a fun journey and it has helped me to dive into a lot of history and meet some fascinating people,” he said. “I’m also toying around with a book of short stories.”

If all that doesn’t seem like enough to keep a man busy, a few months ago, Visit Tallahassee, the city’s tourism division, asked Doug to write a weekly outdoor and nature blog for their website. It’s become a popular addition to the site.

“The blog is a great opportunity for me to explore new areas and to do more hiking and mountain biking, not just kayaking, and to keep my writing fresh,” he said. “And who knows, like many events in my life, it will likely lead to other things.”

For more information on Doug’s books, visit

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