Sharing nature helps a photographer to heal from a challenging past and to live well with frontotemporal degeneration.

This article was written by a guest contributor, and the views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author.

I was born to a father who did not want children and I was abused as a child, making me fearful and insecure about life. The one thing he allowed me to do was be in the scouting program.

When I was 12 years old, my Boy Scout troop went on a backpacking trip in the mountains behind my home. While in the mountains for the first time, it was like I had a vision —this was now my home.

All photos courtesy of Kerry Brinkerhoff.

Nature seemed to heal me like nothing else could. Later in life I would learn I was an empath, and that nature is what keeps empaths in balance. I felt a mission to show others the healing aspects of nature.

Around 12 I bought my first camera and wanted to share nature through photography. In my junior year of high school, I took a photography class and talked my mother into secretly helping me buy a Canon camera that I could use in the class, and she did. I knew my father would have never allowed that to happen.

All photos courtesy of Kerry Brinkerhoff.

Photography has become a very important part of my life. In some ways, I feel my early dementia has made me all the better at it.

– Kerry Brinkerhoff

Sharing my passion

At 16, I was made a Junior Assistant Scout Master, and I started taking younger boys backpacking. Then I had the means to really photograph wildlife and nature. I was backpacking with kids, friends or myself every weekend so I could do so.

During my senior year, the photography teacher asked me if I would be his assistant in the photography class and help younger students learn the ropes of photography. So, not only was I feeling the honour of being the teacher’s student assistant, but also of having a dark room all to myself.

From then on, I was taking boys into nature and then my own children. In time, my children learned the ropes of backpacking and I didn’t have to do anything, as they could set up like clockwork. This gave me more freedom to photograph and explore nature. I have mentored young people all my life. Teaching them to love nature has been my main goal. For many years, I would show slide shows to the youth I mentored.

When Facebook came along, I felt like I had a mission to teach everyone I could reach about the beauty and sacredness of nature. So, I used my photography to share nature with as many people as I could.

Photography has become a very important part of my life. In some ways, I feel my early dementia has made me all the better at it.

All photos courtesy of Kerry Brinkerhoff.

Living with frontotemporal degeneration

In 2008, my life was falling apart. I was getting lost in familiar places and couldn’t recognize familiar objects. I could no longer manage the family money. My short-term memory was gone, among other distressing things.

My ex-wife thought I was having early Alzheimer’s disease and pushed the doctor, who sent me to a neurologist. The neurologist did not believe it was Alzheimer’s but didn’t know what it was and called it a pseudodementia. He put me on a medication that helped bring back a lot of my stability.

In 2016, I went to work with my mother who was struggling with dementia. We were able to get her into a research study and they proved, through numerous scans, that she had extensive degeneration of her brain and  had the behavioural type of frontotemporal degeneration (bvFTD).

When they gave us information to read about it— bingo! — I knew that was what I had been struggling with as well. We could see how a great-grandmother, grandfather and his brother had also struggled with the same symptoms. So, I knew we had a genetic line of bvFTD, and I was the one to have it in my generation.

Reading up on my symptoms and about bvFTD, I was able to gain insight into my condition and have worked to learn every way I can live with the degeneration.

As an empath, I still need nature, and so I spend as much time as I can in nature photographing the beautiful world that heals my soul.

All photos courtesy of Kerry Brinkerhoff.


Kerry Brinkerhoff is a long-time nature photographer and a former National Park Ranger with the United States Park Service. He lives with frontotemporal degeneration in Brigham City, Utah. Kerry appreciates his good friend of over 50 years who picks him up for regular hiking adventures. Here, Kerry shares some of his remarkable life story and a few of his incredible photographs taken on recent hikes.