“Life zigs and zags but it works out, especially if you’re living your purpose. I think that’s huge,” said Cherie Pittillo three minutes into our conversation. I knew instantly when I sat down to interview Cherie that we were kindred spirits and the time spent at the foot of the bridge in Barron Park was less like interviewing someone I’d never met and more akin to sitting down and catching up with a childhood friend.
“I was in a corporate rat race, and I could win it, but I realized that in the end I’d still be a rat,” Cherie stated as she let her story begin to unfold:
She told me that, at the age of forty-five, she decided to opt out of the “rat race” and leave financial security to pursue her passion as a wildlife photographer. “I just don’t understand why people have to get heart disease, or retire, and then say ‘If I had only…’”.
It was quite evident that Cherie wouldn’t be one of these “If only” cases as she began to describe working off the cost of Baja, California in the San Ignacio Lagoon photographing eastern Pacific gray whales. If I were to list all of Cherie’s accomplishments and all of the places that her bliss following journey has taken her, this article would be a series of books. I must, however, try to paint the picture of how the decision to follow her heart, passion, and purpose has synchronistically designed a life of authentic beauty, peace, and ultimately a fulfillment with each step of her journey that she embodies with a grace that is truly rare.
It was on that trip with the whales that Cherie was asked to promote the trip’s organizers on the east coast.
Upon her return to the east coast she accompanied BBC cinematographer, Andrew Anderson, as he was shooting a documentary. True to Cherie’s nature she began taking photos of her adventure. She later learned that there was a book that was to be released with the film and her images were in the book: a mere two months after leaving her financial security in the corporate rat race Cherie Pittillo was a featured photographer in a BBC book!
In another synchro-destined series of events, Cherie joined a friend of hers at an art show in New York where she met a gentleman who was looking for wildlife photographers to submit to the National Zoo Wildlife Festival. Unbeknownst to him when he asked for her portfolio, she didn’t yet have one. She went home, assembled a portfolio of her works, and lo and behold: her first photography show was at the National Zoo.
That art show led to a phase of her career jurying art shows from 1995-1999.
Her life has been filled with serendipitous turns that have found her unexpectedly selling her house in the States and staying in Australia with a friend for a month, leading photo safaris in Africa, living in the Yucatan for eight years, becoming an internationally published author on nature and wildlife, and co-founding the first bird club in the area (which has since grown exponentially) to name just a few.
In our time talking together in the park Cherie told me of her childhood, growing up on a dairy farm with four brothers, taking care of animals and getting in tune with nature which I believe gave birth to her wanderlust and her passion for animals and the outdoors.
Her goal is to get people outside. “You need a balanced life. If you’re not getting into nature you’re not getting clear of all this chatter, clutter, and chaos in your brain,” she says.
Cherie’s parents had bought a house in Tice in the 1960s and her family had been coming to visit the SWFL area until the house sold in 1995. This is her first time returning to the area since the mid-nineties and she has fallen in love with the country-side of LaBelle and has been making friends and blazing trails, of course, in just her short time here.
As our conversation came to an end in the park that day a family of birds (which I don’t know the name of but Cherie does) came to visit with us too; as they walked closer and closer, almost encircling us, it was as if they could sense her love for all animals and they were showing up to give thanks for all that she has done for wildlife all over the world. In fact, I’m absolutely positive that is what was happening.
Cherie is headed out to embark on more adventures soon, but she will take a little piece of LaBelle with her in her heart until she is able to come back to tend to the seeds that she has planted here: seeds of friendship and seeds of inspiration. Bon Voyage Cherie! We will see you soon.