Richard Wiese has spent his career bridging cultural gaps.
Traveling to all 7 continents, he’s tagged jaguars in the Yucatan jungles, led expeditions to the Northern Territory of Australia, joined the largest medical expedition ever conducted on Mt. Everest, discovered 29 new life forms on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and cross-country skied to the North Pole.
The Weston resident is host and executive producer of “Born to Explore,” the award-winning PBS television series produced on Main Street. He’s also in his 3rd term as president of the Explorers Club, a 116-year-old international organization dedicated to the 4 corners of the earth — plus oceans and outer space.
Richard Wiese in Borneo, with a wild orangutan.
Yet on Tuesday, Wiese created an important cross-cultural connection with just one person: the woman sitting next to him on a plane, stuck on the tarmac in Oslo.
The woman was brought on the Norwegian Air flight in a wheelchair. When she was seated, a flight attendant spoke to her in English. It was clear to Wiese that no matter how slowly she talked, his seatmate did not understand a word.
The woman fumbled with her phone. Wiese was able to figure out she was from Bangladesh.
He typed, “Can I help you?” — and then used Google Translate to ask the question in Bengali.
Flying the friendly skies: Richard Wiese and his seatmate.
The woman wanted her son to know she was on the flight, as they waited out a delay.
Wiese contacted her son — in Bangladesh.
Weise then learned she was lactose-intolerant. “That was an unusual translation,” he says. He told a flight attendant, who found a special meal for her.
Wiese texted the woman’s son when they landed, and made sure she got off the plane okay.
A screenshot of Richard’s texts.
“JFK is not the friendliest place in the world,” he notes. It was nice she had someone who cared — even if he “spoke” Bengali only with a smartphone.
“It felt good to help someone,” Wiese adds. “It was as easy for me to do that as it was to answer emails. And it’s nice to know you can use your phone for something other than that, and games.”
Carla Marina Marchese is a beekeeper and honey connoisseur. She’s got a Weston farm, sells honey in Westport, and founded Red Bee honey and an accompanying blog.
The other day, she wrote:
Today is National Honeybee Day. But we’re not celebrating.
A thriving colony of bees in our apiary mysteriously perished without explanation. The incident is suspicious, and particularly disturbing because 2 days earlier this colony was alive and active. Since my apiary is just outside my honey house I can view the bees and their activity easily without going outside. In my 18 years of keeping honeybees, I have never had a colony of bees wiped out instantaneously.
Less than one week earlier, I was thrilled to be in my apiary with Richard Wiese. He lives in Weston, has an office in Westport, and is the host of “Weekends with Yankee.”
He was filming an episode for PBS that would feature Red Bee Apiary nationally. This was an incredible opportunity to showcase the importance of honeybees and their pollination activities, as well as the honey-making process.
Carla Marina Marchese and Richard Wiese, at Red Bee apiary.
We spent a glorious morning among the bees. We spotted the queens, watched as worker bees performed their ritual dances, and tasted fresh honey being made right before our eyes. Everything about honeybees is mesmerizing.
Although one got under Richard’s bee suit, it added to the true experience and the magic of honeybees.
On the Wednesday after filming, I took a walk over to the hives. I was alarmed to see a pile of dead bees cluttering the entrance board. More dead bees had poured like a waterfall onto the grass in front of the hive.
I desperately ripped off the outer cover to look inside: a massive graveyard. I felt nauseated and destroyed. How could this happen? Thousands upon thousands of honeybees, silenced all at one time.
My gut tells me they were exposed to nearby pesticide treatment. What if it was a neighbor spraying for weeds? Or the power company spraying to prevent growth along their power lines? The town very well could have been spraying for mosquitoes or ticks again.
Right now I do not have answers. I have contacted our state bee inspector to take a look, and will send samples of bees to the lab for evaluation.
Once I have answers, I will share them. There has been an overwhelming interest in the plight of honeybees and the use of pesticides in our environment. I posted pictures on Red Bee Honey’s Facebook page, and it went viral.
It is heartening to see the outpouring of concern. Now more than ever we must fight to save the bees.
Traveling to all 7 continents, he’s tagged jaguars in the Yucatan jungles, led expeditions to the Northern Territory of Australia, and joined the largest medical expedition ever conducted on Mt. Everest.
He achieved the first ascent of an unclimbed mountain in Alaska, discovered 29 new life forms on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and cross-country skied to the North Pole.
“Born to Explore” is also the name of the award-winning PBS television series, which also aired on ABC for 5 seasons. It’s produced on Main Street in Westport — and Wiese, a Weston resident, is host and executive producer.
Richard Wiese in Borneo, with a wild orangutan.
The Explorers Club is right up Wiese’s alley. Since 1904 the New York-based organization has promoted scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space. Club members have been first to the North Pole, South Pole, the summit of Mount Everest, the deepest point in the ocean, and the surface of the moon.
So it’s natural that Wiese was elected 44th president of the Explorers Club.
It’s his second stint at the helm. He also served from 2002 to 2006.
“In my lifetime, science and nature have never been more under siege,” Wiese says.
“Our world needs scientists and explorers more than ever before. I am proud to say that since 1904, the Explorers Club has stood for innovation, conservation and the value of different cultures. Our members make a difference, and I am honored to serve as its next president.”
Wiese’s honors include an Emmy, a Genesis Award, an AP Folio Award, and the Walter Cronkite Award for contributions to journalism and exploration.
Today is Earth Day. Richard Wiese — host and executive producer of the Westport-based “Born to Explore” TV series — sends along a timely note.
It’s co-signed by Jim Fowler — Wiese’s longtime friend, “Wild Kingdom” spokesman and Darien resident — as well as Dr. Marc Bekoff, a coyote expert at the University of Colorado who has worked with both Wiese and Jane Goodall. They say:
Nature and its wildlife are under siege. We also are witnessing a new generation of children who regard the outdoors as “a place that doesn’t get Wi-Fi.”
When Richard moved to Fairfield County almost a decade ago, he was told by neighbors not to leave his young children outside at dusk because coyotes might eat them. At the time this sounded amusing — who leaves their 2-year-olds alone anywhere, much less outdoors?
Richard Wiese and his family, enjoying the Westport outdoors.
Fast forward to the present. Not a day goes by where someone confesses that they are afraid to go outside because of the “coyote problem.” Worse yet, some are even arming themselves just in case.
There are many threats in our lives, but coyotes should rank far behind guns, alcohol, drugs, distracted drivers and even lawn mowers.
Yes, each year, 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors, and more than 20,000 are injured.
The representation of animals — especially carnivores — in the media is based on bad science or no science, which is bad for the animals. What does the available data show? Coyotes very rarely attack. To put it in perspective, meteorites have hit more homes in Connecticut than people who have been harmed or killed by coyotes.
Research clearly shows that coyotes and other urban animals fear people. Most animals don’t associate good things happening to them around humans. Whenever possible they avoid us at all costs.
What should we fear? Or rather, be outraged by? On any given beautiful day, we have legions of children sitting on a couch hypnotized by their electronic devices. Digital crack.
We fear that we are raising a generation of children who have “nature deficit disorder “ and are totally removed from the outdoors.
Psychologist Susan Linn notes, “Time in green space is essential to children’s mental and physical health … And the health of the planet depends on a generation of children who love and respect the natural world enough to protect it from abuse and degradation.”
We should appreciate the presence of coyotes and educate ourselves on how to coexist with them, rather than instilling fear of them. Let’s encourage the media to provide a more balanced view of coyotes (and other animals) based on what we know about them rather than irresponsible sensationalism. And for goodness sake, get your kids outside, let them track mud into the house, have grass stains on their knees and be thoroughly exhausted from fresh air and sunshine.
We need to re-wild not only our children, but also ourselves — before it’s too late.
The story described his abuse, rescue by the Connecticut Humane Society, and subsequent adoption by Westporters Jim and Laura Pendergast.
But at the couple’s summer home in Maine, Junior suffered a stroke. His rear legs were paralyzed.
The Pendergasts committed to water and physical therapy, plus acupuncture, twice a week.
Junior was slow to heal. So the couple purchased a wheelchair.
The dog fought and cried. Finally — thanks to treats and sheer determination — Junior walked.
Today he runs on the beach, plays with other dogs, even swims.
Junior the Wonder Dog.
The “06880” story highlighted Junior’s star turn on “Born to Explore.” That’s the Saturday morning ABC TV series that offers inspiring stories from around the world.
“Born to Explore” has Westport roots too. In a small warren of 2nd-floor offices next to Bobby Q’s, Richard Wiese and a tiny staff produce 26 episodes a year. The entire series is planned, organized and edited right on Main Street.
A world map inspires Richard Wiese in his Westport office.
But this story isn’t really about Junior. Nor is it about “Born to Explore.”
It’s about Laura Pendergast — Junior’s owner — and her work with other animals.
With a nod toward Jim Fowler, former host of “Wild Kingdom.” He’s friends with Wiese, and has visited “Born to Explore”‘s office.
Fowler will be back in Westport on Tuesday, May 3 (7 p.m., Terrain). The Emmy Award winner will be honored at a fundraiser to support animal welfare. Wiese serves as emcee.
The 3rd is global: the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Dr. Laurie Marker — founder and executive director of the Namibia-based group — will be honored at Terrain too, for her ground-breaking work.
Dr. Laurie Marker and friend.
The fundraising event — called “Rescue You Rescue Me” — includes wine and hors d’oeuvres; a fashion show by Anthropologie; live music; live and silent auctions, and private discounted Terrain shopping. Westport’s own Cynthia Gibb — who has rescued many animals — will model.
This story has meandered, from Junior the Wonder Dog and Richard Wiese to stray dogs, cheetahs and “Wild Kingdom.”
That’s not unusual. There’s a big world out there to explore.
But when you come right down to it, we’re all connected.
(For more information on the “Rescue You Rescue Me” event, click here. To order tickets, click here.)
NOTE: If you’d like to see Junior, the Wonder Dog’s TV episode, it’s on Netflix. Search for “Born to Explore, It’s a Dog’s Life.”
Planning the event (from left): Julie Loparo, Sara Burke, Marita Driscoll, Laura Curley Pendergast, Sue Smith. Dogs: Violet and Rico.
Richard Wiese has eaten rotten shark in Iceland. (“It’s putrid — the worst food I’ve ever had.”)
He’s gone to sea with the only commercial fisherwoman in Chile. (“She was so subdued at first. Out on the water, she turned into Meryl Streep.”)
He’s slopped through dung-filled dye pits in Morocco. (“Places no one would go.”)
He’s traveled all over the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. With a tiny crew — 2 cameramen, a sound guy and a producer — he films astonishing stories of unheralded people and places.
After each trip — up to a half dozen a year — Wiese heads home to Westport. There — in a small warren of offices on the 2nd floor next to Bobby Q’s restaurant — he and a staff of 4 turn the footage into 26 annual episodes of “Born to Explore.” The fascinating Saturday morning TV show is entering its 5th season on ABC.
A world map inspires Richard Wiese in his Westport office.
Most Westporters have no idea that the show is planned, organized and edited right here in Westport.
Those who do may not realize how successful it is. “Born to Explore” has been nominated for 11 Daytime Emmys. According to Wiese, only Ellen DeGeneres has more for syndicated shows.
And she’s got more folks doing her hair than Wiese has trotting the globe.
“Born to Explore” is an apt title. Wiese’s father — a Pan Am pilot — was the 1st man to solo the Pacific Ocean in a plane.
Wiese himself climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with his father at 11 years old. In 2002 he became the youngest president ever of the Explorers Club. He’s been on the go — cross country skiing to the North Pole, living with pygmies in Uganda and aboriginals in Australia, even helping discover 202 forms of new life in the 1st microbial survey of New York’s Central Park — after graduating from Brown University.
Richard Wiese first climbed Kilimanjaro at age 11. He’s been back, as this poster in his office attests.
“Born to Explore” followed the publication of Wiese’s guidebook of the same name. He’d watched a lot of “exploring” TV shows. They all seemed sensationalized, or “lacking authenticity.” His goal was to show not only scenery and convey discovery, but to offer an understanding of the rich diversity of people around the world.
Litton Entertainment was looking for exactly that kind of programming. A strong partnership was formed (though Wiese retains full editorial control).
Since “Born to Explore” debuted, Wiese says, the cultural component has grown even more important. “We think we’re helping change perceptions of the Arab world, Africa” and other misunderstood places, he notes.
Last fall, during a Turkish crisis with Syria, Wiese was filming in Turkey. “The people were so warm and non-threatening,” he says. In Africa, he met a wonderfully intelligent 11-year-old Zulu girl. Wiese would “put her against anyone at Staples High School.”
With 3 young children at home in Weston, Wiese says, his shows also reflect “an appreciation for mothers everywhere.”
Richard Wiese respects everyone — and connects with people everywhere. This photo was taken in South Africa.
“Born to Explore” is filmed from Belize to Botswana, Iceland to Indonesia. But many of the ideas are generated at 42 Main Street, simply by looking at a large map of the world.
Another idea came from Jim Fowler, of “Wild Kingdom,” “Today” and “Tonight” show fame. Visiting the Westport office, he suggested a show about the northernmost alligator on the planet.
Developing an idea is one thing. Then comes the hard part: finding guides, getting permits, figuring out how to reach interior Africa or South America.
Handling horses in snow is one of Richard Wiese’s many talents.
But Wiese and his staff are creative — before and during each shoot. There is no script. “We make on-the-spot decisions, and proceed,” Wiese says with pride.
The approach works. “We see the world in such a different way than if we were tourists,” he explains. “We meet such salt-of-the-earth people.”
They may not speak a common language. But Wiese, his crew and the men, women and children they film communicate through food, music, art and nature. “If you share a meal with someone, you understand them,” he says.
On most exploring shows, Wiese says, “the host is a superhero who survives everything. Well, that person doesn’t exist.” Although Wiese comes close to being superhuman.
So what’s it like — after traveling the world — to come back to Westport?
Wiese — who grew up across the Sound, on Long Island — loves it. “Life is about seeing the world, wherever you are.”
One of his favorite spots — anywhere — is Compo Cove. The other night, he and his son fished in Sherwood Mill Pond.
Sounds as if — like his father and grandfather — the young boy is born to explore.
Farewell Travels seems like an odd name for a website. Perhaps it is filled with tips on trips to take if you are dumping a partner? Terminally ill? Or even your final destination, after you’re gone?
The name becomes easier to understand once you learn its founder and editor is Westport’s Susan Farewell.
Farewell — a former travel editor at Condé Nast Publications; freelance writer and editor for “Travel + Leisure,” the New York Times, and in-flight and regional magazines; and travel correspondent for radio and TV programs (among much more) — has launched a “boutique online travel magazine for the discriminating traveler.” The 3rd edition has just gone live.
The lead story asks “Where is travel going?” (The answer: Despite earthquakes, economic woes, security lines and flight delays — pretty well, for reasons ranging from adventure and food to romance.)
There are sections on family travel, health and fitness travel — even “travel fashion tips” by “Queer Eye” star Carson Kressley. Farewell covers the waterfront — and mountains, deserts and cities — around the globe.
FarewellTravels takes the world as its stage, but many of the stars are from right here in Westport.
Susan’s husband, Tom Seligson, oversees the multimedia productions for the site — animated maps and the like. The films are edited by Compo Beach resident Charles Gelber. Even Tom and Susan’s Bedford Middle School daughter, Justine Seligson, gets into the act, writing a teens travel column.
The site — designed by Westporter Miggs Burroughs — includes artwork by Elaine Clayton, who also lives in the Compo Beach neighborhood. Even this month’s video focuses on a local travel adventurer, Richard Wiese.
But the success of the magazine reaches far beyond Westport. Readership continues to grow, with subscribers in 46 states and 41 countries.
“06880”‘s tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.” FarewellTravels is doing the same.
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