Thank Goodness Nancy Was Here!
Featured Image: Nancy in her Alpacka, 2019 (before ALS) © Dave Foreman
Celebrating Nancy Morton, 1952-2021
The Rewilding tribe has lost another of our great leaders, after a good life full of tireless work for and exploration of wild places. Nancy Morton, wife of The Rewilding Institute founder Dave Foreman, bravely took her own life on the night of January 16, before the ravages of ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s disease”, for which there is no cure) could rob her of free will or make her a burden to those she loved, particularly Dave.
By profession, Nancy was a nurse who rose to the top of her profession and coordinated a healing-edge curriculum for nursing programs in New Mexico, for which she was awarded the New Mexico Academic Nurse of the Year. After many years as an ICU nurse, she taught at the University of New Mexico School of Nursing for 22 years. As a medical professional and wilderness first aid expert, Nurse Nancy, as we sometimes called her, rescued many river and hiking trip companions, but most especially Dave and secondarily me, from countless mishaps in wild places. These ranged from me (John D. speaking here) stupidly thinking I could hike all day in desert sun without sunscreen or water, to Dave walking off a cliff in inky darkness while answering the call of Nature at night. “Thank goodness Nancy was there!” became a common refrain for trips where one or more of her friends needed her healing hands and well-stocked first-aid kit.
By passion, Nancy was a Wilderness advocate and river runner. Nancy met Dave back when she was a volunteer Wilderness advocate (Northstate Wilderness Committee) in northern California, and Dave was on the road giving hellfire & brimstone speeches for Earth First! Nancy & Dave’s wedding at the Earth First! Round River Rendezvous in the Boulder/White Cloud mountains of central Idaho in July 1986 was an earthy celebration none of us lucky enough to be present ever forgot. Shortly before Nancy & Dave’s wild outdoor wedding, and as if to honor these two great wilderness warriors, a Wolverine crossed the trail before me (John D., their earnest young apprentice) twice, on my morning ramble before their wedding.
During the last 20 years, she paddled well over 1,000 miles of river above the Arctic Circle in the Brooks Range of Alaska and the Barren Grounds of Arctic Canada. She also took up scuba diving and did trips from the Caribbean to the Banda Sea in Indonesia.
Nancy preferred to keep a low profile although she always stood out. Nancy and Dave were a dynamic duo of wild creativity and advocacy, and Nancy was Dave’s equal. Among Nancy’s many leading roles in working for wild Nature were: champion for Ishi and other Wilderness Areas in her native northern California, lead organizer of Earth First!’s annual Round River Rendezvous (among the most inspiring and informative wilderness gatherings we’ve ever attended), early visionary with Sky Islands Alliance, co-founder of the Earth First! Foundation, chief organizer and meal planner on countless river trips with fellow wilderness leaders (we called her Admiral of the Western Fleet in recognition of her unparalleled organizational ability), and co-founder and till near her death, chair of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.
Nancy is survived—almost miraculously, given all the times she had to save him—by her husband Dave Foreman, as well as by her two sisters, and Dave’s sister and nephews and nieces. Dave returned many of the loving favors by caring round the clock for Nancy this past year as she rapidly declined from ALS. Nancy is also survived by her and Dave’s beloved cats Misty and Yampa.
Friends wanting to honor Nancy in some way can do so by standing up fearlessly for Wilderness and Wild Rivers, as Nancy did since her college days at Chico State University. Folks interested in recognizing Nancy through donations can support the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance; to honor Nancy’s inspiration, generosity, and relentless commitment to Wilderness and wildlife, they have established The Nancy Morton Wilderness Internship Fund to keep her fiery heart for Wilderness burning. (Read their tribute to her here.) Friends could also give a gift to The Rewilding Institute earmarked for her husband Dave’s current big project: a new edition of Rewilding North America.
Nancy, we miss you terribly. More than mourning your death, though, we celebrate your brave and generous life. May we take from your inspiring legacy added courage to protect and restore wild places and all wildeors.
—Susan Morgan and John Davis on behalf of the Rewilding team
John Davis is executive director of The Rewilding Institute and editor of Rewilding Earth. For Rewilding, he serves as a wildways scout, editor, interviewer, and writer. He rounds out his living with conservation field work, particularly within New York’s Adirondack Park, where he lives. John serves on boards of RESTORE: The North Woods, Eddy Foundation, Champlain Area Trails, Cougar Rewilding Foundation, and Algonquin to Adirondack Conservation Collaborative.
John served as editor of Wild Earth journal from 1991-96, when he went to work for the Foundation for Deep Ecology, overseeing their Biodiversity and Wildness grants program from 1997-2002. He then joined the Eddy Foundation as a board member and continues to serve as volunteer land steward for that foundation in its work to conserve lands in Split Rock Wildway. This wildlife corridor links New York’s Champlain Valley with the Adirondack High Peaks via the West Champlain Hills. John served as conservation director of the Adirondack Council from 2005 to 2010.
In 2011, John completed TrekEast, a 7600-mile muscle-powered exploration of wilder parts of the eastern United States and southeastern Canada—sponsored by Wildlands Network and following lines suggested in Dave Foreman’s book Rewilding North America—to promote restoration and protection of an Eastern Wildway. In 2012, John wrote a book about that adventure, Big, Wild, and Connected: Scouting an Eastern Wildway from Florida to Quebec, published by Island Press.
In 2013, John trekked from Sonora, Mexico, north along the Spine of the Continent as far as southern British Columbia, Canada, again ground-truthing Rewilding North America and promoting habitat connections, big wild cores, and apex predators—all of which would be well served by fuller protection of the Western Wildway he explored. John continues to work with many conservation groups to protect and reconnect wild habitats regionally and continentally.
John is available to give public talks on rewilding, conservation exploration, and continental wildways, as well as to write and edit on these subjects. He is also available for contract field work, particularly monitoring conservation easements, documenting threats to wildlands, and marking conservation boundaries. He can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org (for his land-care work).