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Matt Miller, science storyteller

BY TAYLOR WYLLIE

Matt Miller has this memory: he’s sitting on the floor of his grandfather’s home, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Finally, his grandfather opens the door, content after a full day hunting squirrels, and sits his grandchild down. He starts crafting this incredible tale, as only gifted storytellers can, about his magical adventure in woods.

And it sparked something in Miller.

Miller was 10 years old when he decided he would one day become an outdoor writer. He devoured outdoor-oriented magazines, and books of all kinds. He loved spending his time in the wooded outskirts of his small town in Pennsylvania, and had a deep appreciation of the scientific process.

All these years later, Miller, who joined OWAA in 2002, has created a career of what his grandfather did as a pastime: telling stories about the outdoors.

There are a handful of rules, so to speak, that helped Miller achieve his lifelong dream.

No. 1: He couldn’t let go of his goals.

No. 2: He needed to do whatever it took to get there.

No. 3: He needed to get his priorities straight.

“Certain things have never really been important to me,” Miller said. “Like being known as a great literary figure, or publishing a great novel, or being famous. All these things that can be a siren call to writers.”

Miller wanted to make a difference in the world, enjoy what he wrote about and cultivate a lifestyle that allowed him time with his family and outdoors and opportunities to travel.

As a science writer and editor of The Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science blog, Miller has found success.

Miller graduated Penn State University with a degree in English and secured a job in communications for the university’s performing arts center. It wasn’t writing about the outdoors, but it gave him deadline writing experience.

When he got all he could out of the gig, he quit and started freelancing. His wife was still in graduate school, studying plant biology. They weren’t starving, but money was far from secure. But Miller was able to tell the stories he’d been dreaming of telling since childhood.

He never wrote so much as he did during that time, he said. And the couple traveled the world together. They saw rhinos in India, Great White Sharks in the cape of Africa, lions in the Serengeti and birds in the Galapagos Islands.

Three years into freelancing, Miller took a job at The Nature Conservancy. While originally in communications, Miller sought out every opportunity he could within the organization, applied for fellowships, volunteered for additional work and even assisted on conservation projects to took him to places such as Colombia and Micronesia.

“When there were opportunities to write more creative pieces, I took them, even if I didn’t have the time,” he said.

He started the organization’s Cool Green Science blog five years ago. Others in the organization were skeptical. His colleagues said there wasn’t an audience for real online science writing in a world of cute cat videos and celebrity gossip.

The Nature Conservancy said if the blog attracted 10,000 views per month after one year, Miller could keep pursuing it. The blog now brings in 150,000 readers a month and it hasn’t plateaued yet.

“It has given me the freedom to cover things that I really love to write about like freshwater fish and how that relates to fishing, and wildlife natural history, and the intersection of outdoor sport and science,” Miller said.

He’s tracked timber rattlesnakes with researchers in New England who collared the snakes to better understand how they interact with the landscape. He’s written about pupfish, a freshwater fish that can survive in Death Valley National Park.

“I find life so fascinating because wildlife finds a way to survive, whatever the conditions, if we just give them a little bit of a chance,” Miller said.

But Cool Green Science isn’t only about the extremes. They have a series on backyard birds and critters. He’s even written about some of the excursions he and his wife Jennifer take with their young son Derek in their now home state of Idaho.

Miller, who is currently working on a book on freshwater fish and fishing, to be published by Lyons Press in 2019, couldn’t imagine life any other way. Miller quoted the outdoor poet Sydney Lea, who described himself as “a man in the woods with his head full of books, and a man in books with his head full of the woods.”

“I think,” Miller said, “that sums up me as well.” ♦

Former OWAA intern Taylor Wyllie recently graduated from the University of Montana with degrees in journalism and environmental studies. She’s been published on Montana Public Radio and Montana PBS and in the Missoulian. She’s currently focused on creative writing and can be found writing her beast of a science fiction novel at all hours of the day.

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