Interpreting the Wild

Yesterday I went to check on what was left of a bison carcass that had been harvested by hunters the day before, only to find out yet another had been taken. This may seem quite disgusting to most people but to a wildlife photographer this can be a boon of scavengers coming together to feed on the remains. When I saw dozens of ravens and magpies hopping and flitting behind the willows I knew I needed to find a clear view, a cover to set up in and wait to see who else might show up. Oddly enough the only suitable blind with a clear view of the gut pile was a vault toilet in a campground so that would have to do. Glamorous huh? I buried my car in the snow trying to turn around so it seemed I was going to be there for a while; fine with me.

Once my tripod, camera and myself were hunkered in as best we could, I began to settle in and really absorb the landscape and try to figure out exactly how the hunt had went down.  There were other remains from the first bison over my left shoulder but I couldn’t see the exact location. However, it wasn’t long before I realized I didn’t really need to and it was actually more fun to listen and watch the ravens and they commuted between the two with furious communication.  Nature was telling the whole story to anyone who would calm their mind and stifle their internal dialogue.  Every time the eagles would decide I was no threat and sneak in for a morsel my mind would race and I realized I was actually talking to myself and feverishly snapping images.  “Brad, what are you thinking..that ISO is way to high, these are going to be all grainy, maybe I should move to get a beter angle”…all the while hammering the shutter release.  When the eagles would scatter it seemed as if the wilderness became so quiet and it was then I realized the wilderness was alive and boisterous, it was my mind that had quieted again.  Only with a quiet mind did my senses sharpen and I could hear the ravens, the magpies, the distant eagles, something chirping from the willows, the snow melting and dripping off the shelter, the breeze through the cottonwoods.

For me, trying to interpret the wild is as much of a challenge, joy and reward as any image I happen to capture while doing it. When you become something more to the landscape than just a passing observer but actually part of the landscape.  When you’ve sat nearly motionless for hours and the bald eagles know you’re there but feel cautiously comfortable enough to come feed less than 100 yards away, you are slowly becoming part of their landscape and how they are interpreting their world.  In these fleeting moments of grace, the wild comes alive and something wild and primordial in us comes alive too as we reconnect with a part of our human spirit that still soars when we see three eagles having a pow-wow on the hillside.


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