Just Out of Reach

A black bear gazes longingly at pine cones just out of reach high in a tree on a rainy evening at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in October 2006

A black bear gazes longingly at pine cones just out of reach high in a tree on a rainy fall evening at Yellowstone in 2006. I felt for her, trying to fatten up as much as she could for the long Wyoming winter but not wanting to risk injury and condemning not just herself but also her two young cubs. She and the cubs all made it down safely after eating the seeds in the cones, one cub in particular eating its fill.

(Almost) Out of Reach

A close-up of a black bear stretching to reach a pine cone on the Mount Washburn Trail (South) in Yellowstone National Park on October 1, 2011. Original: _MG_1378.cr2

My last day in Yellowstone had been wonderful, but I was hiking down from Mount Washburn on my last hike of the day and would soon leave for home. I stopped in my tracks when I heard a sharp noise to my left and was rather surprised to see a black bear eating seeds from pine cones in the tree beside the trail. The tree was on a steep hillside so even though the bear was at the top of the tree, we were almost at eye level. I made enough noise to be sure it knew I was there, but it didn’t pay me much heed as it tried to eat as many seeds as it could without moving from its perch in the tree. It would snap branches to bring pine cones closer if need be, or just stretch way over as it did here, all surprisingly at ease for a creature so large on branches so thin.

The First Carrot

A black bear in a tree reaches for a pine cone on the Mount Washburn Trail (South) in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming on October 1, 2011. Original: _MG_1238.cr2

The past few years at work have been productive but stressful and the last year in particular left me worn down and burned out. I hadn’t taken much vacation time but we either use-it-or-lose-it at the end of the year, so I was trying to decide if I should take most of the month of December off, or if I should take my normal fall hiking trip and then take a few weeks off at the end of the year. While the idea of a month away from work was very appealing, I decided to split up the vacation and take the hiking trip instead.

I realized that as a reaction to the stress I had settled into a funk and wasn’t getting things done that needed to be done. Needing either carrot or stick to get back on track, I settled on carrots with Yellowstone & the Tetons as Carrot Number One. Planning for the weeklong trip of hiking and photography forced me into action.

My contacts had long since run out and while I had been wearing my glasses instead, I prefer to photograph in contacts so I finally scheduled my overdue eye exam and got new contacts. And since it often rains during my fall hiking trips, I picked up some waterproof hiking shoes to replace my worn out pair, a small army of hiking socks to replace my threadbare contingent, and a couple pairs of waterproof gloves. All of which guaranteed a week of unusually hot and sunny weather during my week in Wyoming, but the wet weather gear has been put to good use ever since with the return of the rainy season to the Northwest.

Since I would be taking our much loved but aging Subaru Outback, I took her in for everything from routine maintenance to replacing a broken sensor and leaking head gasket and especially the broken cargo cover that left all my gear exposed to prying eyes. I also fired up iTunes to create some new CD mixes of recent music purchases to keep me entertained on the long drive.

Then there was an extra memory card and battery for my Canon 7D, which I’ve been meaning to order for a year or two, plus a portable hard drive for storage on the road. The hard drive was a much improved solution compared to the DVD’s I used to burn, the backups of the day’s pictures went much faster meaning I could get to sleep sooner. And while I didn’t need the new memory card for most of the trip, oh was I thankful to have it when I met this black bear eating pine cones on my way down from Mount Washburn. Yellowstone put on a show on my last day and I had taken a ton of pictures, and if not for the new card I would not have been able to photograph this wonderful creature during my last hours before heading for home. The extra card was also put to good use during my Christmas visits to Ridgefield.

There were other things too, like the car mount for the iPhone so that the little genius woman in the TomTom GPS app could guide me safely there and back again despite my notoriously poor sense of direction. Both the mount (from RAM Mounts) and the little woman worked wonderfully and the pair have kept me on the straight and narrow navigating Portland ever since.

All of which is a long way of saying that the hiking trip was not only great stress relief but also great motivation for getting things done large and small that have made life better ever since.

But I wasn’t quite finished with my carrots …

Taking Advantage

A black bear cub high in a tree eating pine cones at Yellowstone National Park on a rainy fall day in October 2006

In a world where might makes right being small wouldn’t seem to have any benefits. Indeed whenever the mother of this cub and its sibling sensed danger from another adult bear in the area, she’d send the little ones scurrying up into the trees. When it came time to feed however this little cub discovered its small size gave it an advantage. The larger bears couldn’t climb into the thin branches at the top of the tree so this part still had plenty of pine cones, ripe for the picking for the adventurous cub. Like a kid in a candy store, there were more cones at the treetop than the cub could possibly eat but it stayed for quite some time, feasting on the treasure it discovered.