Dave Stalling grew up in Westport. After graduating from Staples in 1979 and earning a forestry degree from Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks, he enlisted in the Marines. He served in an elite Force Recon unit, and attained the rank of sergeant.
Dave then received degrees in journalism and wildlife at the University of Montana. He has worked for the US Forest Service, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups, and served 2 terms as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation.
Dave currently works as a writer, editor and activist (click here for his blog). He lives in Missoula with his son Cory.
Dave Stalling and his son Cory.
Recently, Dave was interviewed about his passion for protecting wild places and grizzly bears. Among the podcast topics: how growing up in Westport helped shape his beliefs, values and life’s work. Here’s an excerpt:
My dad was a pretty interesting guy. He grew up during the Depression and did a lot of fishing and crabbing and hunting, mostly to help feed his family. He quit high school after Pearl Harbor, and joined the Marine Corps. He was in some horrendous battles; he fought on Iwo Jima, Saipan, Okinawa.
After the war, because he didn’t have a high school degree, he never really pursued his dreams. He actually wanted to get into wildlife and forestry and move to Montana, so I kind of lived my dad’s life. He was incredibly knowledgeable, self-taught about wildlife.
We did a lot of hiking, camping and backpacking. Growing up on Long Island Sound, in Westport, Connecticut, we spent a ton of time pursuing fish that migrate up and down the East Coast, called striped bass.
Dave Stalling cooks dinner. These are not striped bass.
We would fish for them mostly at night. We would go out there, and he’d take a kind of scientific approach to it all. He kept track over many years of what times of year, what the moon was, what tides were, and where he would catch these fish.
Maybe he would set up on the northeast corner of Cockenoe Island at a certain tide during a certain moon in October, and catch these big migratory bass that come through. We would catch them up to 40 or 50 pounds, but there’s been stripers netted in commercial fishing boats that were over 100 pounds. They’re big fish. And really good eating fish.
What really helped influence me was my father went far beyond just teaching me how to catch fish. He was very passionate about the wilds. He taught me about sandpipers, horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, sea robins, scallops, mussels, lobsters — everything that made up the world of the striped bass. He would tie it all together for me, and of course talk about the importance of keeping healthy estuaries and that sort of stuff.
At the same time, he would get really sad and tell me stories. He’d point out places where there’s now big giant mansions along the East Coast, big estates and golf courses. He told me how when he was a kid those were salt marshes and estuaries, where he used to fish and crab.
It had dramatically changed in front of his eyes — which I can relate to now because I’ve been in Montana for over 30 years, and see the same kind of stuff. When I first moved here, I had permission to hunt on this ranch just outside of Missoula. It’s now Wal-Mart, Costco and all that development.
Parts of Montana are still pristine.
He taught me to go beyond the fishing, and really appreciate what sustained these fish. I guess through that I developed a really strong connection to the environment, to the wilds.
There’s also a desire to protect it all. At the time striped bass were rapidly declining, because of PCBs and other chemical pollutants in their spawning grounds, like the Chesapeake Bay and Hudson Bay. So I learned a lot about that.
He traveled up and down the New England coast, attending meetings and fighting to protect the striped bass that meant so much to him.
I got a lot from him, obviously. He was a good man. He passed away 16 or 17 years ago. I miss him every day.
David Stalling loved the outdoors. Growing up in Westport, he was an avid hiker, camper and fisherman.
After graduating from Staples High School in 1979, he served in a Marine Corps Force Recon unit. He has degrees in forestry and journalism, has worked for several wildlife conservation organizations, served as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation, and is a passionate advocate for conservation. He lives in Missoula.
But Stalling did not take nature photography seriously until he went walking in the woods with his son.
Nearly a decade ago, Cory was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. A severe form of the disease, characterized by rapid muscle degeneration. Eventually, even involuntary muscles are affected.
Cory and David Stalling
Cory is now 17. When he was 12, and first slowed down, Stalling would walk ahead. He’d sit on a rock or log, and wait for his son.
“I started noticing surrounding details: diverse, smaller, colorful plants; rocks painted with lichen; the geometrical shapes of tree buds; the beautiful, ever-changing arrangements of raindrops, snow, sun, dew shade,” Stalling recalls. “It was the art of nature.”
He surprised himself that — despite a lifetime of roaming the wilds — he’d overlooked such details. Or taken them for granted.
Or didn’t even know they existed.
So Stalling started to capture what he saw with his camera.
“My son taught me to ‘slow down and smell the roses,” he says. “And — while I was at it — to photograph the thorns.”
David Stalling’s photo of a bighorn sheep.
His images are popular. Stalling has won national awards, including a recent 1st-place prize from the National Wildlife Federation. He sells limited-edition prints.
Every December, Stalling combines his love for photographing the wilds with his love for his son. He creates a “Calendar for a Cure,” to raise awareness and funds to find treatments and a cure for Duchenne MD. Besides Cory, the disease afflicts 400,000 people worldwide.
“It’s a genetic, muscular degenerative, fatal disease for which there is currently no cure,” Stalling says.
“But there is hope. A lot of treatments, like the steroid-based medications Cory takes, slow the progression.” Promising clinical trials are underway too.
“I use my photography to focus on hope and beauty, while helping my son and others,” Stalling explains.
Images from David Stalling’s 2018 calendar.
Cory — a high school junior — spends as much time as he can in the beautiful, wild mountains surrounding his home.
And, following in his father’s footsteps — literally and figuratively — he’s a budding photographer too.
(To enjoy 365 days of wild Montana in 2018 — and help Cory and others with Duchenne MD — click here. The calendar costs $19.95)
No matter what you thought when you saw the headline above — fist-pumping agreement, or blood-boiling anger — read this about the author of today’s post. He’s a Westporter — but his back story may surprise you.
Dave Stalling — a 1979 graduate of Staples High School — moved to Montana in 1986, after serving in a Marine Corps Force Recon unit. He has degrees in forestry and journalsim, has worked for several wildlife conservation organizations, served as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation, and worked to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” through the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. He is an avid hunter and angler, and a passionate advocate for wildlife conservation and gay rights.
The recent school shooting in Newtown overwhelms the ability of my heart, mind and emotions to even comprehend. When I went to Staples High School in the 1970s, such a thing was unheard of.
Yet guns were prevalent in our society. I had one: a shotgun to hunt ducks and pheasants. Before I was trusted with it, I took an NRA safety course — back when the NRA focused on responsible, proper handling and storage of guns, and worked in a nonpartisan manner to protect reasonable gun rights. It was before they turned into a radical, uncompromising, extreme right wing branch of the GOP.
I keep hearing the tiresome old NRA cliché: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people!” Which is inevitably followed by arguments of how dangerous baseball bats and knives can be, “yet no one is calling on banning them.” But when was the last time a sick and twisted person walked into a school or a movie theatre and was able to quickly kill a lot of people with a baseball bat or a knife? It takes a semi-automatic or automatic weapon to pull such a tragedy off – the kind of weapon designed to kill people with no legitimate purpose outside of the military.
I became pretty proficient with powerful and dangerous weapons while serving in a Marine Corps Force Recon unit. They are tools of war. It’s ridiculous to think citizens should have a right to possess such weapons.
Dave Stalling and his son Cory.
Perhaps it’s not the “weapons” that kill people, but I assure you from my experience you can fire a lot more rounds more quickly, and kill a lot more people more quickly, with a 7.62 mm M60 machine gun than, say, my 7mm-08 bolt action hunting rifle. That is why Marines and soldiers are issued and trained to use more proficient tools of the trade. And why nobody walks into a school or movie theatre and kills a whole bunch of people with a baseball bat or knife.
I hope I never lose the right to keep the rifles and shotguns I use for hunting. I keep them locked in a secure safe at all times, unloaded (and separate from the bullets and shells) where only I can get access to them.
After I left the Marine Corps and moved to Montana, I found elk hunting to be a good, sustainable way to live in that part of the world. But I never had the need or desire to own semi-automatic and automatic rifles designed to efficiently kill lots of people quickly.
The only people I’ve met who have such weapons seem to do it for their egos, to brag about, to feel more manly, or to “defend” themselves from a government that apparently might come after us all if we don’t have machine guns. It’s a violent and macho attitude, promoted by the NRA.
The NRA doesn’t kill people, but they sure do their part.
We live in a society that glorifies violence. We live in a society where weapons are easy to obtain. We live in a society where some people think we should all be able to own any type of weapons we want.
We live in a society where violence is considered good, legitimate entertainment but love between some people is considered disgusting, immoral and sinful. And we live in a society where far too often people walk into movie theatres and schools and randomly kill innocent people.
It really makes no sense. I hope we figure it out.
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