“To be, or not to be, that is the question”
“Now let me think. Did I leave the stove on? Probably not as I don’t own a stove. Still, you can’t be too careful.”
“O say can you see …”
As I descended Mount Washburn on my last hike on the last day of my trip to Yellowstone in the fall of 2011, I met this black bear feasting on pine cones up in a tree beside the trail, the bear and I at eye level courtesy of the steep hillside. The bear was relaxed and hardly anyone passed by in the late afternoon so I sat down and spent a blissful hour watching it fatten up for the winter. At last it ambled down the tree and waddled off into the forest and I continued down to my ever faithful Subaru to start the long journey home. I couldn’t have known then it would be my last hike in this wonderful park, and as I recall my last bear sighting as well. At least I went out on a high note!
At the start of May I got up early and went to a favorite trail I hadn’t been to in a while. I soon came across mule deer so close to the trail I could have photographed them with a wide angle lens, but it was rather dark yet so rather than risk startling them I continued on towards the scene I planned to photograph at sunrise.
Further on the dim light suddenly intensified and turned pink, not nearly as strongly as the time when I was visiting my favorite saguaro but I couldn’t figure out why it was happening at all. The sun was still below the mountains and there were no clouds I could see to reflect the light, but perhaps the mountains hid more than just the rising sun. I looked around for something to shoot and had to smile when I saw the family of deer were occasionally visible through the desert scrub. I was far enough away now to need a telephoto lens but I was pleased I could include Troon Mountain in the background, as somewhere betwixt us and the mountain sits my home.
I watched from afar as the deer drifted in and out of view until they disappeared for good. The pink light stayed but for a moment before turning yellow, then a sickly white, then dying away until the sun at last cleared the hills. I tarried too long with the deer to have any chance of reaching my original destination so I went a little further down the trail to my favorite rock formation and soaked in the moment when the light suddenly floods across the desert.
It’s a little embarrassing that after a few years in the desert I can still struggle so to predict the sunlight, my excuse that I love rainy days and spent decades in an area with a plethora of them only goes so far, but it’s alright if I never get much better.
Sometimes it’s nice to be surprised.
My wife and I isolated during the holidays but we did end up hosting a hungry family a couple of days after Christmas. I heard some grunting when I stepped outside and looked up to see a family of javelina scattered about the yard. I went back into my office for my camera and telephoto lens (they are tolerant, not tame) and saw Boo was in my office. I put him onto the window seat as some of the family walked right below it and he was mesmerized, I think it was his first time seeing them. I felt sorry for the one that must have wandered too close to a teddy bear cholla although the prickers didn’t seem to bother it.
Though I only saw it in silhouette I knew from shape and size which of our ground squirrels I was seeing as I came down the Saddlehorn Trail. This is a rock squirrel, the one I see least. The trail wound away from it so this was my only good view, I did like that I could put the tops of saguaros behind it for context as it looked out from atop the large granite boulder.
While I don’t have a phobia about insects and in fact enjoy photographing them, I don’t like the feel of them walking on my skin. I’ve tried to work on it over the years, especially when it’s an insect that won’t harm me, such as this visit to the Oregon coast when flies swarmed around but didn’t bite. I felt for this harbor seal who was getting hounded much worse, they even walked across its eyeballs. It raised a flipper to shoo them off but they didn’t stay away long.
A squirrel peaks out from the neighbor’s bushes in the spring of 2007. Although Oregon has native tree squirrels in our urban Portland neighborhood you’d only find species introduced long ago, like eastern grays and eastern foxes. Our dog Ellie never paid them much heed but they were endlessly entertaining to all six cats over the years, with Emma and Trixie probably their biggest fans.
I’ve always taken great comfort in photographing the same scene over time so it was a delight on a visit to Yellowstone in 2011 to retake a shot from 2009, although this time with a difference: I used a telephoto instead of a normal lens.
While on a visit to Ridgefield on a rainy Christmas in 2011, I accidentally took a short nap while in a pullout beside Rest Lake (I mean, given the name of the lake, hardly my fault) which meant I was lucky enough to be in the right position when driving past the meadow that I got to spend quite a while watching a coyote hunting voles in the rain. It’s what I loved about the auto tour, getting to watch animals behave naturally at relatively close distances without disturbing them.
These pictures are a bit bittersweet as while I got to watch the family at length multiple times that winter, my pictures from a couple of months later would be my last photos of coyotes at the refuge as they were shot to create a safer haven for the threatened Columbian white-tailed deer that were about to be transplanted. Thankfully the deer seemed to be establishing themselves by the time I had to say goodbye to the refuge so hopefully coyotes have been allowed back since.
I’m not sure the many Townsend’s voles in the meadows around the refuge missed the coyotes, although perhaps they didn’t notice given the wide variety of predators that ate them. It was always a little hard to watch through the big lens as one little life was snuffed out, even knowing it allowed another life to continue. I always hoped to photograph a vole on its own but I only ever managed to catch them when something else caught them first.