Browsing Bliss Awaits You

It appears you're using Internet Explorer or an early version of Edge, which is a bit like watching a black-and-white TV with "rabbit ears." You're missing symmetry, joy and actual knowledge — not only here on my website but across the internet. I suggest you upgrade to Chrome or Firefox. You’ll discover a lot more nature, maybe even actual rabbit ears.

— Bryan

Greg along the Rio Grande in Texas on 17 Sep 2009 / Photo © Mike Murphy

A year ago today, over breakfast at a diner in his home town of Dripping Springs, Texas, Greg Lasley and I reminisced about his expeditions across the planet and the diversity of life he had captured as one of the world’s most talented and prolific nature photographers.

Greg and I talked about the moths, at least 18 species, we had seen and photographed that very morning before breakfast and the night before at the home he shared with his wife Cheryl. We talked a lot about birds and dragonflies and butterflies. And we talked about death.

Although he was at terms with his terminal disease, Greg was also game for a lung transplant that might give him a few more years. After all, at the very least, he wanted to get to the Northeast with Cheryl, particularly here to Vermont, one of only four states unrepresented in his vast body of photography. 

Before I left him that morning, Greg gave me one of his 1.4x teleconverters and a 300mm Canon lens, through which he had, in untold thousands of photographs, documented the diversity and drama of life on earth. “I won’t be needing this stuff anymore,” he said. To which I replied, “Okay, I’ll take it, reluctantly, but I’ll use it when we meet up in Vermont.” 

After our breakfast, we bumped elbows, said our goodbyes, and smiled at one another (we weren’t yet wearing masks in those early days of the pandemic). I hopped into my truck (in which I had been living while chasing nature in Texas) and drove toward home here in Vermont.

He gave so that we could see the world.

Gregory William Lasley, who died on January 30 at age 71, will certainly leave behind a legacy of nature photography — a vast library of life — from around the world. But a more sacred legacy, among his many wonderful attributes, will be Greg’s benevolence. It’s not a word I use or write that often. But in Greg’s innumerable and selfless acts of giving, in his desire to do good in the world, and to share its wild beauty and diversity with the rest of us, benevolence is indeed warranted — and yet at the same time feeble by way of comparison to Greg Lasley.

It’s not often you meet a Texas cop who chases bad guys and good warblers. The old-timer birders among us might remember Greg from back in the 1980s, when he would pal around the world with the likes of Victor Emanuel and Roger Tory Peterson. With Texas a frontier of new, rare and exciting bird sightings, Greg had a passion for photographic documentation of those rarities — and the cameras and skills to provide it. Maybe those standards had something to do with his serving in law enforcement with the Austin Police Department, retiring as a lieutenant in 1997. From there, he could chase and photograph nature to the far corners of the planet. As a guide for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT) from 1985-2005, Greg was a teacher and mentor to countless others. And until he died, Greg continued to give — photos, advice, data, praise, wisdom — to almost anyone who loved nature as he did.

When he began turning his lenses toward insects, Greg was, well, revolutionary. Like Roger Tory Peterson himself or Jimi Hendrix or Wayne Gretzky, in his insect photography, particularly dragonflies, Greg was creating and accomplishing something few of us had ever seen. Many of us now follow the trails he blazed.

We follow figuratively and literally. As if his photographic and civic accomplishments weren’t enough, Greg was a force of nature on iNaturalist, the crowd-sourced repository for nature observations around the planet. He himself contributed 38,983 observations to iNaturalist, each with a photo. In the early spring of 2019, as friends and I were chasing birds and bugs and botany around the southeastern US, Greg was in the field as well, not far away, posting to iNaturalist what he was finding each day. We were a few days behind him, visiting some of his hotspots and locating what he had found days before us. Even from a distance, Greg was our guide.

Distribution of Greg’s iNaturalist vetting — 451,428 records.

But Greg’s own iNaturalist submissions represent but a fraction of his benevolence on that platform. iNaturalist relies on a corps of volunteers to view photos and attest to the veracity of each submitted record. Greg vetted no fewer than — are you sitting down? — 451,428 iNaturalist submissions. Nearly half a million data points of knowledge and conservation. Nearly half a million points of Greg’s light.

When Greg died at home, iNaturalist and Facebook lit up with tributes. The accounts, virtually endless and poignant and heartwarming, constitute a monument to all that he gave us without hint of self-aggrandizement or self-interest. He gave so that we could see the world.

Once the pandemic had spread, and with his lungs failing from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (besetting him for no good reason in late 2019), Greg and Cheryl could no longer host visitors at their home. Although I will be forever grateful for my visit — including a supper replete with political insights from Cheryl, a savvy retired Texas judge (quite a pair, those two) — I wish I wasn’t the last person to stay with them. Greg had so many friends who knew him far better than I did; so many more of them deserved visits and even a chance to say goodbye.

Yet merely by my being in his neighborhood at the time, I now carry with me not only the inspiration of Greg’s benevolence, but also something tangible: a camera lens that has seen the world. It is like a cellist receiving one of Yo-Yo Ma’s well-played cellos. A sacred responsibility. And I can only hope to do that lens — and the world — justice.

Six months after my visit, on September 3 at 8:57AM, Greg snapped his last photograph for iNaturalist, a Harp-winged Tripuda Moth (Tripudia quadrifera). And later that day he telephoned me to say that he and Cheryl had gotten the call and were on their way to San Antonio for his lung transplant. A week after that, with those new lungs, Greg would tell me in a text from the hospital that the recovery was the toughest fight of his life. I like to think that he didn’t lose that fight; instead, those lungs lost their chance to spend more time with Greg. 

Greg Lasley may not be remembered among the pantheon of American conservationists — from John Muir to Rachel Carson, from Edward Abbey to Robin Wall Kimmerer. And yet those who see wildlife and wild places, and bring them into focus for the rest of us, are indeed, in no small part, among our greatest heroes, our finest conservationists.

And so, Greg, as a police officer you saved the lives of people. As a husband and friend and citizen, you personified love and dignity and benevolence. As a photographer, you helped to save a planet. We should all aspire to such a life. 

65 comments
  1. Jim Allen says:

    My wife Megan and I met Greg and Cheryl on an Alaskan cruise many years ago. It was a very small ship with only 80 passengers. It gave me the opportunity to spend some time with Greg and learn a bit more about photography and dragonflies. We enjoyed the trip and have thought about our time with Greg and Cheryl many times.

  2. Tony B says:

    Greg was a very dear friend of mine. He told me all the stories about birding, when he was in the Air Force, and his time as a police officer. We became great friends during is last few months.
    He will always be remembered by me and many others
    Tony

  3. Mike Murphy says:

    Greg Lasley’s family, friends, former police colleagues, and freelance naturalists gathered today at 1 pm in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin to say “adios” to this remarkable, unassuming, driven, and generally incredible guy.

    The Cemetery, like a lot of TX right now, looked slightly weathered from the recent week-long deep freeze that enveloped the entire state from Feb. 11-18. Today’s weather hinted at spring though, with warm moist Gulf air moving through under slightly overcast skies.

    The Austin Police Department provided an honor guard, replete with a bag piper and coronet player. After short talks about Greg by several folks involved in different phases of his life, the honor guard ceremony capped the gathering in a most poignant fashion.

    I like to think some of Greg’s bird friends dropped by, too, since a blue jay, red-tailed hawk, and a 7-mourning dove flyover (in an unknown formation) made themselves known towards the end of the ceremony.

    ‘Twas a fitting send-off for a friend & mentor for many, one who truly enjoyed a life well-lived. Vaya con la luz, mi hermano, lo seguiremos lo suficientemente pronto.

    • Mike,

      I’m ever grateful for your account of Greg’s memorial. It seemed to be a fitting and beautiful tribute to a warm and benevolent person. We miss him a lot.

      –Bryan

  4. I first knew Greg as the “cop on the beat” where my camera store was located here in Austin. When there was trouble Greg was always just a call away. His interest in Photography was growing as his career came to a close and he became one of my best and favorite customers. A Canon fanatic he could make them sing. His bird photography was simply inspired. Later he and another customer and friend John Ingram, now also gone, traveled together, doing the Valley Land Contest and of course the work was superb from both but Greg’s encyclopedic Taxonomy knowledge of not only the male but also the juveniles and females was truly a gift. I had hoped to go shooting with him after I sold my business and retired and now regret waiting so long. I will never forget Greg, a giant among Naturalist, a great customer and great friend. My sympathy to Cheryl.

    • Jerry,

      Thanks for contributing these recollections of Greg, which are so wonderfully in character. I can practically see him there in the store. All of the accounts I’m reading among these comments here below my tribute, in a way, bring Greg to life for us all again. So many people miss him. Thanks again.

      –Bryan

  5. Another naturalist gone too early, just as so many of the naturalist-friends with which I chased orchids and birds in several states as described in my blog post — https://forestandfield.blogspot.com/2021/02/the-naturalists.html

    • Thanks for those recollections, Charlie. I read them with a blend of celebration and wistfulness. Yes, we so miss our friends and colleagues who joined us in the field to discover and enjoy the cycles of life. So I guess the sadness comes with gratitude, of course, for being able to share life with folks like these out there on the long, green path. Your pals constitute some impressive human beings! Thanks again.

      –Bryan

  6. What a wonderful and tender tribute, Bryan. This is the stuff our future will be made of.

  7. Ellen Spring says:

    What a lovely, heartfelt and insightful tribute.

  8. Marty Allen says:

    A beautiful heartfelt mindful tribute.

  9. We sometimes, for albeit brief periods, lose our great Vermont conversationalist, photographer, our master of wildlife brought to life in words, our nature promoter, our teacher, our nature comic, our Vermont explorer, adventurer, and Digital guide to Texas (and other hotspots). Now Texas through Greg and his wife, return him to us no less humble, no less articulate. Thank You Bryan for sharing the honoring of one whom you mirror. I am sure Greg’s inspiration and benovolence will let in great light through that historic lens Greg and Cheryl passed on to you.

    I hope Cheryl has the opportunity to visit Vermont someday and meet with some of the folks who admired and so appreciated Greg’s work.

    Bernie

  10. Roger Irwin says:

    A great tribute to a wonderful documentary photographer and even nicer person. A great loss to us all. I would have loved to have been able to meet him and his wife. Thanks for this.

  11. georgeann says:

    wow, Bryan! you did it again, with love and remembrance. How I wish that I knew him personally, but now I do know him well, and have learned so much from you, too! thanks, georgeann

  12. Tony Schoch says:

    Thanks Bryan for that touching and comprehensive tribute to Greg. As with so many others, I will miss the times we spent in the field, his help in so many ways and mostly his friendship. Well done my friend.

  13. Britt says:

    I feel a wash (tidal wave) of inspiration come over me as I look at that map all lit up with Greg’s contributions. A lovely tribute, Bryan. May his spirit live on in all the places and hearts he touched as well as through the images you’ll bring to life with the lens he gifted you. It’s a big torch to carry, but I see it shining brilliantly in your hands.

  14. Mike Blust says:

    I remember Greg for his humility. As accomplished and knowledgeable as he was, he always felt he could learn from others and was as quick to defer to their experience as he was to share his own. Bryan – is that by any chance the lens that Greg kept above water while shooting damsels in Maine?

  15. Mike Hannisian says:

    Thanks for writing this! I met Greg in 2002 when I was the Executive Director of The Valley Land Fund which, at that time, ran the world
    ‘s richest photo contest and in which he was an entrant. Since then, I had been privileged to sped time in the field with Greg on numerous occasions in various states. I miss him greatly.

  16. Louis & Beverly Megyesi says:

    Thank you, Bryan, for sharing your moving tribute for Greg Lasley’s amazing accomplishments.

  17. Patricia Fontaine says:

    Thank you Bryan, for writing a tribute to Greg that is as beautiful, detailed, and inspiring as his photographs and his legacy.

  18. Hal White says:

    I only knew Greg from a couple of meetings of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas. What you have said about him captures beautifully the person he was. Great guy. He will be missed!!!!

  19. Joyce Kahn says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful man! Thank you, Bryan, for introducing him, albeit after his death, to this extraordinary human. I think the person who suggested you write his biography was right on the mark. You are a fabulous writer and bring to life everything you write about. I am sorry for your loss, his wife, Cheryl’s, and the world’s.

  20. Donna Cundy says:

    Man you can write. *hug*

  21. KAPEZ says:

    Bryan,
    I known you as my long, great friend, and you can tell with the heartfelt memory you noted, you have many as well. Sorry for yours and the world’s loss. Long live the CONNECTION and all the future explorers of the world.
    Sunshine to ya!
    Garry

  22. Sally Edwards says:

    Such a beautiful tribute to a truly wonderful guy. I didn’t know him well, but I was fortunate to spend several hours with him a couple of years ago. He was a super nice person.

  23. Cynthia Leavesley says:

    Bryan, what a loving and poignant tribute for a very special person. We’re so sorry for your loss.

  24. Linda mirabile says:

    Thank you Bryan for sharing your thoughts and for sharing Greg. Your tribute has helped shed light on a true pioneer and hero in the conservation world. Thank you and I’m sorry for your loss.

  25. Nancy Frass says:

    Such a lovely tribute to a fellow I wish I had known. So sorry for your loss.

  26. Mark Paul says:

    A beautiful tribute

  27. Ann Creaven says:

    He needs a good biographer, why not you, Bryan…so he can be known to future generations.

  28. Janie says:

    An evocative tribute to one both extraordinarily gifted and giving. You honor his life and legacy. thank you.

  29. Nancy Chickering says:

    I don’t know the man but what a wonderful tribute, and what a wonderful life he gave to the world

  30. Ann says:

    Thank you! I think Greg’s photos of South African dragonflies that he shared at Dragonfly Days in 2008 were got me hooked, and his kindnesses at the Austin DSA in 2019 only reinforced my appreication of him.
    And nice that his lens lives on . . .

  31. Jenn megyesi says:

    His iNat comments on my submissions made me believe that i was worthy of their submissions. I still look at his entry for my red-breasted nuthatch with wonder that such a great photographer would take the time to compliment my point and shoot submission.

  32. Janie Henderson says:

    Thanks for this beautiful tribute, Bryan.

  33. Daniel Bisaccio says:

    A beautiful tribute to a friend and conservationist for all. Thank you for sharing this and I look forward to your photos through his lens.

  34. Kenneth Tennessen says:

    Thanks Bryan. When I think of Greg, and that will be often, I will be reminded of kindness and grace.

  35. Sandra.bruggemann says:

    A beautiful tribute Bryan.

  36. Pam Hunt says:

    Well shit, Bryan, you got me crying. Peace.

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