An Interview with Dr. Christopher Van Tilburg
If you could visit any time, place or person, when, where or who?
I’d like to check out the 1960s. Not the Summer of Love music scene, but the wholesome surf culture of San Onofre, Southern California; rock climbing life at Yosemite National Park’s Camp 4; and skiing and hiking Chamonix and Zermat, in the French and Swiss Alps when life seemed less complicated.
What do you keep by your side when writing?
Not much, like Michner. I have a table, lap top and the few references I need for whatever project I’m working on. I compose on a laptop, always have. It’s all about simplicity and flexibility: I like to be able to write an article while on an airplane to Chile, or edit Wilderness Medicine magazine in the car waiting for my daughters at the dance studio. I wrote two books while on 24-hour shifts at the hospital during downtime between patients. I still have all my laptops. My first was a Zenith Data Systems, with a 10-megabyte hard drive: nowadays that would hold a few pictures and a couple songs.
Who has been the greatest influence in your life?
Other than my Dad—who was a master at balancing work and play, family and personal time—it would be Michelangelo and DaVinci. They struck the duality of being scientists and artists with vigor, obsession, and intensity. Irving Stone’s fictionalization in The Agony and the Ecstasy best describes the two dissecting cadavers in the catacombs of Florence by candlelight. They were inquisitive and inventive, creative and technical.
What’s the most sentimentally valuable possession you own?
My first passport, which is actually my Mom’s issued in 1963. When I was 14 days old, I was stamped as an endorsement at the American consulate in West Germany. It set the stage the way I live my life.
What do you do with your free time?
I work at a hospital. Some people organize their life around work. I do the opposite, plan my life around volunteering at my daughters’ school, writing books and articles, and, like last week, backpacking with my girls in Indian Heaven Wilderness. I fit in work when I can. I sought out and found flexibility with my doctoring career. People ask how I balance the multiple facets of my life as a doctor, parent, adventurer, and writer. It’s about simplicity, low overhead, time management, and the continuous quest for the good life.