Wedding Day

Eighty years ago, while attending J.C. Potter Elementary School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, providence united Boyd and Barb Norton in first grade. Neither then realized they were destined to become soulmates, but their academic acumen was apparent.

Boyd was passionate about chemistry, and he loved studying atoms, molecules, and how elements react to the environment. His father stoked Boyd’s interest by supplying his son with elements that often ended in explosions in his basement lab. “Fortunately, my explosions were nothing our local fire department couldn’t handle,” Boyd jests.

Barb, equally fascinated by science, loved physics. Cupid attempted an early coupling of these budding scientists when destiny united them in the same third-grade class. “Barb and I were in different classes during first and second grade,” Boyd recalls, in an era when kindergarten was not yet a thing. “It was more than apparent Barb’s love of science equaled my own. I was impressed how smart Barb was in those early years, but I didn’t realize how cute she was until fifth or sixth grade.”

Barb claims their romance blossomed in high school. “I readily accepted Boyd’s invitation to a school formal dance and knew destiny united us when Boyd served me punch from the punch bowl.” Soon thereafter, Boyd asked Barb to go with him to the Newport Jazz Festival, a date that revealed to both that they were meant for one another.

Following high school graduation, Barb headed to Florida Southern College, but Boyd, in need of funds, took a year off to work. Because of his intellectual acuity, he received top-secret security clearance to work on fabricating enriched uranium fuel elements for nuclear powered submarines. A year later, Boyd attended the University of Wisconsin for his undergraduate degree, then completed a graduate degree from Michigan Technological University.

Being consumed with his studies didn’t deter Boyd from showering Barb with ongoing love letters. “I kept every letter Boyd wrote during those years,” claims Barb.

After completing her college degree, Barb says, “Boyd handed me a ring and said, ‘Let’s get married.’” Boyd jokes, “Barb wanted me to get down on one knee.” Now in their 65th year of marriage, they created a life filled with excitement.

Driving from the East to settle in the West was an empowering experience when they first saw Grand Teton National Park. Boyd explains, “I accepted a post at Edwards Air Force Base as a nuclear physicist studying reactor safety at Idaho’s National Reactor Testing Station and Engineering Laboratory in southeastern Idaho. I was fortunate to work with a pioneering group of scientists in Idaho studying nuclear reactor safety for the Atomic Energy Commission. After blowing up a nuclear reactor as a test in 1962, I was put in charge of operations for two of the four reactors in the project.”

Describing himself as a “recovering nuclear physicist,” Boyd left his physics career in 1969 to pursue another passion: saving the world’s remaining wilderness with his camera and pen. He became a devoted conservationist, photographer, writer and activist, claiming this calling “had a little more excitement to it.” Barb adds, “When Boyd decided to become a freelance photographer, I realized a ‘freelance photographer’ was someone with a camera and a spouse who works.” 

Their devotion to one another as well as their united passion has culminated in international acclaim, as Boyd’s articles and photos have appeared in major magazines including Time, National Geographic, Smithsonian, Audubon and numerous others throughout the U.S. and abroad. Boyd has also written 14 critically acclaimed books including “Safari Journal,” “The Art of Outdoor Photography,” “Baikal: Sacred Sea of Siberia” (which was penned by Peter Matthiessen, American novelist, naturalist, wilderness writer, zen teacher and onetime CIA agent, but photographs are by Boyd), “The African Elephant: Last Days of Eden,” “The Mountain Gorilla,” and “Backroads of Colorado,” which Barb and Boyd coauthored. Boyd has also served on the board of trustees for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and was a director of Baikal Watch, which is dedicated to preserving Lake Baikal and other wilderness areas of Siberia. I would be remiss if I didn’t add Boyd’s pivotal role in establishing several wilderness areas in the Rocky Mountain region and Alaska, as well as the designation of Siberia’s Lake Baikal as a World Heritage Site. He’s also led photographic and natural history eco-tours to Tanzania, Peru, Borneo, Chile, Siberia and Antarctica. Blessed to see a smattering of Boyd’s award-winning photography reveals why he is the recipient of the Sierra Club’s Ansel Adams Award for Conservation photography, and why the North American Nature Photography Association gifted him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also a founder and Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and the International League of Conservation Writers. Actor, conservationist, and Academy Award winner Robert Redford presented Boyd with an award on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency for his “important and exciting environment writing and photography.”

Moving to Evergreen in 1966, the Nortons collaborated with Evergreen parents to establish The Open School, which honored the “development of the whole child” allowing students, supported by their families and advisors, to create personalized curriculums. It empowered students to take the personal, social and intellectual risks necessary to discover the joy of lifelong learning.

Intrigued by Evergreen’s newly built library in 1993, Barb not only applied and was hired, she went back to school to obtain a master’s degree in librarianship and information technology, then accepted the post as a children’s librarian. A few years following, she worked for Johns Manville Corporation as manager of the Technical Information Center, which combined her knowledge of chemistry and newly acquired library degree. When Golden Technologies Co. Inc. created Chronopol Inc. as a subsidiary to create biodegradable plastic, Barb accepted a position as manager of project information and conducted scientific literature research until the firm ceased operation. It was then Barb founded Norton Information Services and partnered with Boyd as an eco-traveler administrator, video editor, and book researcher.

Barb and Boyd on the Serengeti.

Throughout our two-hour conversation, Barb’s vivacious personality, perpetual smile and obvious love for her husband never waned. Both handle differing opinions by listening and respecting the other’s viewpoint. Boyd’s love, devotion and respect for Barb showcases they are equal partners with mutual trust, and Barb reveals, “I didn’t want to go to Africa when Boyd was excited for the new venture, but when we don’t see eye-to-eye, we interject humor and laughter into our conversation. Looking back, I would have missed so much by not going with him.”

Boyd has been shot at by bandits with an AK-47 rifle in Africa, charged by grizzly bears in Alaska, forded rivers with piranhas in the Amazon jungle, documented elephant and rhino poaching in Kenya, and met with Russia’s Foreign Minister in the Kremlin, just to name a few of his incredible experiences; and the girl he met in first grade has never failed to support or love him.

Boyd and Barb’s lifelong relationship remains a happy one, filled with deep devotion, radical acceptance, and a blissful bond.