A 3,500-mile trip to the wilds of Peru was more than an immersive research experience for environmental-science major Wesley Lickus ’17. It was the start of a lifetime adventure. Here, he talks about the photography class that sparked his desire to capture and preserve world cultures as well as his ongoing work in that vein.
Clubs and organizations:
A world atlas.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
On choosing Dickinson:
The campus simply drew me in, and I enjoyed exploring Carlisle. After visiting many schools up and down the East Coast, it was that first impression that stuck.
Favorite place on campus:
The hill in the College Farm’s top-back pasture, during sunset.
Favorite Dining Hall food:
Food served during the Local Foods Dinner.
As a kid, I wanted to be …
… a pilot.
On choosing a major:
I have a strong interest in environmental science and sustainability. I also was influenced by friends who had already declared an environmental-science major.
I love to cook, sail and cross-country ski.
Most important thing I’ve learned so far:
To get to know my professors as well as I can.
My favorite class so far has been [Lecturer in Art & Art History] Andy Bale’s photographic landscape class. Art gives me a chance to think and process, and the class was a great break from my [other] classes. For the second half of the semester, he had the class work on an independent landscape project. I, naturally, chose the farm.
About my research project:
My photography professor and I were awarded a student-faculty research grant by the Center for Sustainability Education (CSE). Together with eight people from the University of Delaware, we traveled to the Madre de Dios River in Eastern Amazonian Peru to work on a cultural documentation of the Ese’Eja tribe. The goal of the project was to document everyday life of the Ese’Eja. The cultural sustainability of the tribal nation is in danger, as the outside world is encroaching on their ancestral land. The Ese’Eja have already lost millions of acres.
What I did:
While I was in Peru, I photographed many aspects of [Ese’Eja tribe members'] lives, and I took GPS waypoints everywhere I went. I worked through blistering heat and tremendous rain storms. Every night I climbed into my tent (after shaking out my sheet to check for tarantulas) and was up in time to watch the sunrise.
What I learned through this experience:
One of the first things I heard someone say when I arrived in eastern Peru was that we had something for everything: a lens for a specific activity and light, granola bars in case we were still hungry, little batteries for all of our electronics, tents to keep the bugs away, bug spray to keep the bugs away and wipes to wipe the bug spray off our faces. I was humbled by the simplicity and thoughtfulness of their lives. Every morning I woke up to watch the sunrise over the river. I was usually met by about 10 people who had come to do the same thing. I would sit with them, not understanding a word of what they were saying in their native tongue, but it didn’t matter, because we were all just admiring the beauty of their home. It has been a while since I have just sat and watched the earth.
About my current project:
This summer I am spending time in CSE using geographic information systems to make maps of the village we visited, along with fishing grounds and logging sites on their land. The maps and a collection of my photographs will eventually be published, along with other team members' illustrations and photographs, in a book for the Ese’Eja, [which is designed to help the tribe members] share their culture and history. I am working on having a showing of my photographs during the 2015-16 academic year. I also am working on applying for a series of grants, so I can return to Peru next spring.
On meeting a fellow visual adventurer:
Just a few weeks before Professor Bale asked me to join the team, I had the great chance to meet [environmental activist and award-winning photographer/documentarian] James Balog [during his 2014 visit to Dickinson to accept the Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize at Dickinson College for Global Environmental Activism]. I was incredibly inspired by his work. He has a great way of mixing photography and environmental science.
If I could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be …
… Armory Ross, an onboard reporter in the Volvo Ocean Race.
The first camping trip I led as an Outing Club executive. Leading this spring-break kayaking trip to Ocracoke, N.C., encouraged me to spend more time developing my outdoor leadership skills. I have since led other Outing Club trips, and I will be co-leading a WILD (Wilderness Introduction to Life at Dickinson) pre-orientation trip to the Delaware Water Gap with incoming first-years.
Traveling the world to document and photograph cultures and the environment.
Published June 22, 2015