The son of a career military officer, Lee Alloway was born in Korea and as a U.S. Air Force officer himself, he lived in 10 U.S. states as well as Guam, Germany, Hungary and “the usual unusual locations during deployment.” He has spent a total of 28 years in Virginia, moving here in 2000.
Lee graduated with a BS in chemistry during the Vietnam War. His plans for graduate school were derailed by a low draft number and a “Welcome” letter from his draft board. Believing that Vietnam would look better from the air than from the ground, he signed up for a 6-year tour with the Air Force and enjoyed it so much he stayed another 20 years. He worked in Germany and Hungary for a few years after retirement before returning to Virginia, where he worked at the Pentagon for another 14 years. His work and travel has taken him to every U.S. state and more than 100 countries.
When and how did you become interested in nature and the natural world?
“My earliest memories are of growing up in Georgia with a forest behind the house. I spent most of my free hours roaming the woods, eating blackberries and looking for snakes,” Lee recalls. “I did lots of camping in high school and worked for Kansas City Parks and Recreation as a camp counsellor in the summer during college,” Lee noted. In addition to dogs, cats and birds, Lee had pet snakes (some venomous), coyotes and one skunk. “Interest in nature never left me.”
Describe what you do on your property to support a healthy ecosystem.
Three years ago, Lee and his wife purchased a house set on three acres abutting Culpeper County's Lake Pelham. Their property is surrounded by 58 acres of forest on one side and the lake on the other side, offering them “plenty of biodiversity to track.” Over the last three years, they have planted native trees and grasses on their land and have nurtured wetland plants and milkweed along the lake shore. The added benefit is “the natives and the fruit and vegetables we grow attract plenty of bugs for me to photograph,” Lee said with a smile. He and his wife also observe many snakes in their area and actually had black snakes denning in their basement their first year in the house.
What is the most amazing thing you have experienced in nature?
Given his extensive travels and many unique experiences, it’s not surprising that Lee found this a tough question to answer. Here are just a few he shared:
➢ a close encounter with a parrot snake in Belize, a vibrant green snake with an amazing blue tongue;
➢ an unexpected and breathtaking sight of thousands of azaleas blooming at high altitude in the Himalayas; and
➢ the spectacular waterfalls and forests of Bhutan (80% of the country is forested) as well as the sound of thunder echoing through the valleys. “Bhutan (Druk Yul) deserves its name as Land of the Thunder Dragon,” he noted.
What is something you would like to share with ORMN members?
“I've been a photographer as long as I can remember,” Lee explained. He set up a dark room and processed his own film while he was in elementary school. He noted that his interest in macro photography is more recent, starting about 20 years ago. Lee began going to BugShot workshops, which are photography classes offered in the United States and around the world that focus on the local insects. When the pandemic hit and stopped him from traveling, he began to focus on photography of local bugs. His surprise at the diversity of local insect life convinced him to share his findings with his neighbors.
“My mother and sister were both librarians, so I grew up around books and have several thousand books in my own library” Lee related. “I have written songs and poetry most of my life but only got around to publishing anything in 2010.” Over the last two years, Lee decided to combine his publishing experience and his photography of local insects by self-publishing three books on insects, which are all illustrated with his photographs. “I begrudgingly accept the advent of e- books and have produced e-versions of most of my recent books,” Lee noted. His three latest books (Wazzat Lep?, Wazzat Bug? and Wazzat Beetle?) feature some of the 1,000 species Lee found one season, which he says speaks well of our biodiversity here in central Virginia. His books can be found on Amazon, a local bookstore in Orange called Spelled Ink and directly from his own company - Ancient Eagle Press (https://ancient-eagle-press.square.site/)
Interviewed by Charlene Uhl, April 2022
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