He has traveled more than 100,000 miles. He has stood atop a ship and crouched in a cave. He has watched an Amish family collect sap and a tricolored heron sit on her eggs and a raccoon gnaw an ear of corn. He has seen blue marlins and bald cypress trees, peat bogs and purple passionflowers, trout lilies and trilliums, yellow-crowned night-herons and yellow lady's slippers, scarlet tanagers and showy swamp mallows, pickerel frogs and at least one albino opossum.
Middleton Evans has traveled those miles and seen all this in that most exotic of locales:
"The thing that people say in unison is that they didn't realize Maryland had all these things," he says.
Evans didn't either, until he started looking. Make that focusing. The result has been three books of photographs -- "Maryland in Focus," "Baltimore" and the most recent, "Maryland's Great Outdoors" -- that represent one 33-year-old man's education about his native state.
He knows that Maryland's 10,460 square miles contain a smorgasbord of natural delights -- 2,250 species of herbaceous plants, more than 800 kinds of wildflowers, 470 species of woody plants, 320 species of birds, 100 kinds of butterflies, 80 varieties of reptiles and amphibians, 75 species of mammals, 42 native orchids and two dozen different kinds of ducks.
He knows something else:
"Things die because we want to build new homes or shopping centers."
It wasn't his purpose, but Evans' latest book could be used as Exhibit A in the state's struggle against urban sprawl. Gov. Parris N. Glendening, whose plan to curtail sprawl was one of the highlights of his legislative package, might consider giving gift-wrapped copies of "Maryland's Great Outdoors" (Middleton Press Inc., 1996, $45) to the 188 members of the General Assembly.
Under his "Smart Growth" plan, the governor wants to use state money to encourage development of areas already populated. Otherwise, he says, a half million acres of forests and farmland will be gobbled up by 2025.
To Evans, the debate is about more than numbers. It's about leopard frogs.
Several years ago, Evans discovered a haven for leopard frogs on the edge of an office park in Burtonsville. He returned this spring to photograph them at breeding time.
"There's now a parking lot where all those frog ponds were," he says. "Everything was filled in. Those frogs, to survive the winter, burrow into the mud at the bottom of the pond. That's how they survive, or they freeze to death. They were all entombed when that parking lot went through.
"It was just very disconcerting to think about all those beautiful animals."
Photos at heart
Evans is a photographer, not a politician, but most of all he is a teacher. And he was his first student.
It wasn't supposed to happen like this. He was supposed to be crunching numbers instead of crunching the frozen ground on nature trails. He was supposed to be lining up assets and debits instead of lining up the perfect shot of the Inner Harbor. He was supposed to be in an office instead of in a duck blind.
Evans graduated from Duke University with an economics degree in 1986. He endured the interview process, but "my heart wasn't in it." What he wanted to be was a photographer, a desire that blossomed when he spent a semester studying in London.
He and his family formed Middleton Press Inc. to publish his work, and Evans went exploring.
His first book, "Maryland in Focus," was published in 1988 and sold 15,000 copies. The second book, "Baltimore," has sold almost as many. When that was published in 1992, Evans needed a new project.
"All I knew was that I was going to do a nature book and I was going to coordinate with biologists and use any resources possible to determine what we have in Maryland that is of interest," he says.
He believes "Maryland's Great Outdoors" is the first photography book devoted to the entire state's natural heritage, and he should know. Evans' home is filled with more than 400 books of photography -- "I really pore over them" -- but he says he is most influenced by the work of former Sun photographer A. Aubrey Bodine, who produced "The Face of Maryland" and a dozen other books in a storied career.
"I'm always thinking, "How can I create the ultimate coffeetable book?' Evans says. "I haven't yet, but I feel I'm progressing."
His wildlife expertise has grown as well. When he started his career, Evans says he could recognize a few birds and that was about it.
Now listen to him:
"You can go to any meadow in Maryland and just be amazed at what you find. Just the caterpillars alone I've seen in this state. If someone would have shown me four years ago the caterpillars I've seen in Maryland, and told me they were from the Amazon, I would have been very impressed. Yet all of these spectacular things occur in Maryland."