What Makes You Happy?

Picking berries one by one while managing to avoid the thorns.

Picking berries one by one while managing to avoid the thorns.

Have you ever left somewhere you were visiting and felt like you were leaving home and it was the last time you would ever see it?  When I had to leave Yellowstone in May 2010 it was like I was moving to another country, saying good-bye to my friends nearly ripped my heart out.  During this trip I learned so much about myself and I couldn’t comprehend it all.  When I had left to come to Yellowstone I was asked a question, “What is it that makes YOU happy?”  Seems like an easy question to answer doesn’t it?  Can you answer it?  Every time I started to answer that question it was pointed out to me that my happiness was based on making somebody else happy.  I searched for weeks for what made me happy, where I was content; excited to be, wanted to be ~ I thought I was a happy person.  One night after dinner my photography friend who had convinced me to come back to Yellowstone said that I “had come back to heal.”

I can’t tell you how many times I nearly turned back around on the 1,600 mile long journey home.  The morning after the night I left Yellowstone the 3 bison carcasses that went untouched had 6 grizzlies and 12 of the Blacktail Plateau Pack wolves on them.  The action was shared with me blow by blow as I was driving.  I drove in tears a quarter of the way back.  If it weren’t for the horses waiting for me at home I’m pretty sure I would have turned around that day and gone back; I’d have left my gorgeous home and everything behind.  Before I had left the park my friends and I had already made plans to return in October; I had never been in October, they knew I loved fall and the colors and the Tetons was the place to be.  At the time it didn’t seem very comforting but I counted every day from the day I got home in May until the day I returned in October.  I still had a lot of soul searching to do and I wondered what it was about Yellowstone that was healing to me.

The first week after I returned home I felt paralyzed and lost.  I was really wondering why I came home.  I went through all my images from the trip more than once and it was the only thing that made me feel connected.  I continued to receive daily updates on the activity in the park until my friends returned home as well and with each report I wanted to be back in Yellowstone even more.  October seemed so far away at the time.

I contacted the woman I had met at the reining horse show before I left.  It turned out she was the owner of the largest horse magazine in the state and she liked my images so much so that she felt I would do really well photographing equine events and she would help me.  There is something to be said for being in the right place at the right time however the saying that nothing worth having is ever easy is also something I hold near and dear to me.  I have stood for many days in a row in 108 degree heat, in the freezing cold with the wind blowing and anywhere in between.  Anywhere that is but when and where it is perfectly comfortable.  I believe in order to get unique and special shots you have to work for them and you’re not going to find them sitting in a chair on the rail; I am always on my feet, moving around looking for better angles.  Some weekends I fought with myself over letting go of the “traditional” horse show images and not being afraid to try new angles and ideas.  I have lost hundreds of hours of sleep editing photos after working a more than full time job, riding two horses, doing chores and running almost every night.  When I felt like saying forget it another door would open.

October finally rolled around and with my bear spray packed I flew into Jackson Hole, why waste 2 good days on the road when I could be in the parks within a few hours if I flew?  When my flight landed and I got my rental car I still had 3 good hours of daylight left in the Tetons, no time to waste.  I quickly found a black bear, a gorgeous bull moose, a cow and a calf and burned up what little light I had left.  The next morning I planned to head to Yellowstone after hiking a couple of trails in the Tetons.  It would be a couple of days before some of my friends arrived and I was really looking forward to some nice quiet hikes and practicing some of the photography techniques my friends had taught me.

Fall in the Tetons

Fall in the Tetons

The morning light was gorgeous so I spent some time photographing the fall colors, aspen trees are my favorite ~ they were right, the Tetons is the place to be in October.  My first hike wasn’t a disappointment; I no sooner closed my car door and saw a black bear on the hillside searching for goodies.  A reminder not to forget my bear spray and once I had my camera I went the opposite direction and up the hill to some waterfalls and a lake.  When your alone you have a lot of time to think about things and see things you might miss otherwise.  The next hike was full of fall colors, lakes and more wildlife.  I started to wonder if I should wait to head into Yellowstone so soon and decided to take another road before I left the Tetons, it was the right choice as here I found a cow moose in a pond enjoying the late afternoon.  You tend to lose track of time when you have a great animal to photograph and before I realized it the sun was heading down, the moose had made my choice for me and I would be spending another night in Jackson Hole.

Black bear an a golden hillside

Black bear an a golden hillside

That night a friend who had already been in Yellowstone for a few days called and was really disappointed, so far he hadn’t seen much as far as wildlife and had been doing mostly landscape photography.  I was torn between staying another day in the Tetons and heading into Yellowstone; I decided the next morning I would just see where I ended up.  It was quiet that morning and after a nice two hour hike I decided I needed to head home, home to Yellowstone.  I spotted deer and elk along the way but I really wanted to get into Lamar Valley by late afternoon so I continued on.

Black bear cub watching from a log

Black bear cub watching from a log

I took a short hike out of the campground in Slough Creek looking for otters and that evening on the way back to Gardiner when there was nearly no light left I found another black bear.  I watched it eat berries until I could barely see it in the darkness, it was peaceful.  I watched from my car as it carefully selected which berries it wanted and used its tongue avoiding the thorns and would pull off each one.  These berries are tiny and I thought of how many berries it would take to fill this bear before winter came and how many hours it had to spend each day doing this.  The bear’s eyes were dark black and brown, large and protected which allows for more light to enter them and enables them to travel in the dark.  I wondered if it would continue eating throughout the night.  I sat there in my car for a couple hours that night and nobody else ever came by.  Photos were out of the question by then and when I finally decided to head to town I didn’t really want to leave.

Curious black bear cub

Curious black bear cub

Early the next morning I headed back to the spot where I had seen the black bear the night before not sure what the chances were that it would still be in the area and when I didn’t see it I went about another half a mile and parked my car.  It was so quiet here, I had a view overlooking a huge valley below and you could see for miles.  A few low clouds were moving in and out of the trees below and made for some interesting landscape images.  As I was standing by my car photographing the clouds I heard a noise in the brush on the other side of my car but I couldn’t see anything.   These are the moments when you wonder if you really heard something.   Even though it sounded like an elephant was running through the brush it will turn out to be a small bird.  About the time I figured it was just a bird I heard the noise again and a second later out bounces a black bear cub.  I know that the next noise I hear is definitely not going to be a bird because behind every little adorable black bear cub is one protective black bear mom.  I had the perfect spot where I was as I could rest my camera on the top of my car and take photos of them up on the hill and just when I didn’t think it could get any better out bounces another cub!  The sow and the first cub had already traveled further up the hill and didn’t seem concerned that this little one was taking its time investigating the berries and fallen trees along the way.  I sat in my car’s door jamb over two hours that morning, eventually forgot about taking photos and watched as the cubs climbed over logs, dug into them, imitated they’re mom, rolled and chased each other and I smiled and laughed quietly the whole time.

I wonder if she can see me if I hide here?

I wonder if she can see me if I hide here?

I started to wonder if it were safe for them to be so close to the bear I had seen last night, was it possible that they were related?  Would there be a problem if they crossed paths?  Had they already seen each other?  My list of questions for myself grew and grew as I watched them.  I felt so blessed to be able to see them and spend so much time enjoying them, there was nobody else around, no bear paparazzi and no distractions; I got to see bears being bears.  When the sow finally took the cubs and disappeared over the hill I whispered a quiet thank you for allowing me to observe her life for a short time.  And I wondered if I would ever see them again.

This whole trip turned out to be about black bears.  Yes, of course there are still bison and elk in Yellowstone but when I finally got on a plane to return home again I had counted 21 black bears in less than two weeks.  I took a few more hikes and did some landscape photography.  I spent time with great friends and met many new ones.  Flying home was worse than driving home in May.  I felt like I was once again leaving a part of me behind.  I thought about all the bears I had seen and the other wildlife like the lone young big horn sheep and wondered if they would make it through winter.  Mostly I wondered if I would see the two cubs again.

When I got home and looked through my images over the next week I became sick with ‘lensitis,’ it attacks most wildlife photographers out of nowhere.  One day your perfectly fine and the next  you start spending hours on researching it online and you go from drooling to foaming at the mouth.  Some start looking around for things to sale and even consider auctioning off the children.  We have all been there and we will be there again the following year.  I needed a bigger lens!!  My 300mm was just not getting me close enough.  When I returned to Yellowstone next May I wanted a 500mm lens.

Once again I heard the question “what makes you happy?”  I love my horses more than life itself.  When I’m with them even if it’s cleaning pens I feel great and I’m happy.  I can spend hours sitting and just watching them run and play or grazing.  I feel peace when I’m with them.  I am also happy when I’m in Yellowstone spending time with the different animals I encounter and learning all I can about them.  There is peace there, serenity.  The animals do not judge you, they do not care what size you wear or what you do for a living, and they simply wish to be allowed to live in peace as well, like us.  Being able to enjoy wildlife peacefully doing what they do every day makes me happy.  It was good to finally know the answer to the question but now what was I suppose to do with it?

Bump on a log

Bump on a log

Wildlife Lesson #5 – Bring Your Sense of Humor

Smile like this?

Smile like this?

There has been a bald eagle sitting in a tree in front of my place for a few days now.  I had seen him around Christmas time but was too busy to slow down to try and get some images.  Now he’s been back almost every night this week.  Day 1 ~ I wasn’t even allowed to get my camera before he knew I was coming and soared away.  Day 2 ~ He waited for me to be about 30 yards out of what I consider a good range, watched me, fluffed up, stretched out, then he tilted his head sideways to look at me and soared away.   Day 3 ~ Not even risking walking, jumped in the truck, drove up in front of the tree, rested the camera on the window of the door and took 3 dozen shots in bad lighting before he soared away.

Just kidding!!  You mean smile like this!!

Just kidding!! You mean smile like this!!

I’ve had a few friends who are entertaining the idea of getting into photography and they have been asking me lately how I get those great shots!  Tonight reminded me and I had to laugh.  The gorgeous bull moose above I nicknamed Bruiser.  I had tried several days to find moose on my hikes without much luck.  Then one late morning walking through a deserted camp ground I walked right up on him and 3 cows bedded down in some tall brush.  Sounds easy enough.  Took an hour for one of the cows to finally get up and when she did, she got up on the wrong side of the bed.  I was far enough away to know it wasn’t me she was mad at and after she stuck her foot in her ear several times she went over and bedded down with the other cows.  An hour after that is when Bruiser finally got up.  I have images of him on two knees, one knee, stretching, stretching more, shaking his head, stretching some more, smelling the flowers and eating willow; close to 700 images to be exact.  Out of them there are about 40 that I’m happy with.  A total of 8 hours, 8 miles or more over 3 days ~ 40 good images.  Not bad!!

Ppppffftttttssstttttt!!  My daddy can kick your daddy's butt!!

Ppppffftttttssstttttt!! My daddy can kick your daddy’s butt!!

Another hoofed cow who tends to wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  Bison are gorgeous in their own right however to get that “perfect” image it is pure luck!  I spend 10 plus days in Yellowstone and the Tetons and when I see bison in good lighting, I will stop and wait and hope for that perfect moment.  I’ll end up with 2 images I am proud of; the rest are every day bison, I’m so bored with tourists and photographers, behavior.  A total of 10 days in God’s country, I managed not to be treed by a bison, I get 2 nice images and I’m excited.

She wanted me in the picture!!!No, she wanted me!! I'm going to tell mom!! MMMOOOOOMMM!!

She wanted me in the picture!!!
No, she wanted me!!
I’m going to tell mom!!
MMMOOOOOMMM!!

One very uneventful wildlife day I decided I would not call it quits until I managed to photograph some sort of critter.  I had never seen many marmots before and had never photographed them.  I drag out the camera and get everything prepared in a nice area with decent lighting and a background where you could at least see what type of critter I was photographing.  I had been watching them for over an hour so I knew I was in a decent spot.  My problem ~ I did not notify the marmots of my intentions and explain the importance for lighting and background.  Instead of hanging out where I wanted them to be, they insisted on playing in front of the grey rocks where they blend perfectly.  A wasted afternoon?  Ohhhh heavens no!!  If anyone ever needs 300 images of marmot camouflage be sure to contact me, I know I can help you!

What do you mean this angle makes my butt look big?

What do you mean this angle makes my butt look big?

Those amazing mustang images, those are easy to get.  The nearest HMA is 4.5 hours from me……………………….one way.  On any given day the horses will be right next to the road but not on the days I normally visit.  I love to hike and the horses know that and just for me they normally position themselves about 2 miles up on a hill where I can see them so I know which way to hike!  Most of the time they will stay in that spot at least until I manage to get within good camera range, set up and manage to get several nice images.  If they don’t feel I’ve had enough of a work out, not just one or two, but the whole herd will start walking away from me in order to assist the calorie burning a little more.  I find it interesting that they know how important it is to walk farther uphill and away from my car, not downhill toward my car.  I have even skirted and nearly missed rattlesnakes while out photographing wild burros, this adds the high jump into the daily workout routine.  Later that evening when I’m reviewing images I come across maybe 60 out of 1,500 that I find exceptional or emotional.

Ohh no!!  My hairs a mess!!  No pictures!!  No pictures!!

Ohh no!! My hairs a mess!! No pictures!! No pictures!!

To get this wonderful image I was standing with a couple dozen other photographers in the cold for a few hours one May day.  We played several rounds of “100+ yard rule weave,” the park rangers were our referees making sure that when she moved away we stayed far enough behind and when she turned to come towards us, we moved far enough the other direction.  At one point we watched her from the inside of our cars when she wanted to break the rules of the game.  Out of 600 images I think I found 60 with her head actually up.  It is obvious to me she is camera-shy and we made her nervous.

So now when somebody approaches me and is interested in photography I smile!  I tell them it’s very rewarding actually and has many benefits.  You will be forced to become healthier and you won’t even realize it.  You learn about patience and with each encounter you get better at it.  You learn to be creative and look for amazing moments.  You will learn who your worst enemy is ~ yourself.  Most importantly if your are lucky like me, you will find happiness beyond belief.

Yeah!!  I'm walking away from this conversation!

Yeah!! I’m walking away from this conversation!

The End!  Literally!  This is a bear butt!

Although this little story was told in a humorous manner, please be cautious when photographing wildlife.  Please be careful photographing close to roads as the animal could move into the road.  Be sure to give them enough space that they don’t feel threatened or alter their normal behavior.

Thoughts for Wolves and Wild Horses

Corona from Sand Wash Basin

Corona from Sand Wash Basin

I started my day watching a documentary that Jim and Jamie Dutcher filmed about living with wolves.  I wasn’t shocked by any of the wolf behaviors or how they managed to live with the pack and raised the pups, nothing about that surprised me.  What surprised me was the opening of the movie where Jim was wrangling horses.  In Wyoming around the 1980’s.  Years before the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction program.   There were no wolves in the lower 48 states but one afternoon while he was out looking for horses he came across one grey wolf, shy but curious, hiding in the trees.  A few days later he spotted another one in the same area.  Fear wasn’t something he felt but like the wolf he was curious.   That is how his story began when he brought the Sawtooth Pack to Idaho where he and Jamie lived for 6 years, living with and documenting these wolves and the pack.  I wish I could do that.  Everything was on the wolves terms, if they chose to socialize with you, they did, if not, they didn’t.

Salazar is leaving in March and going home to Colorado but now who will take his place?  I’m praying it is somebody who is educated and compassionate about animals.  Somebody who will hear both sides and won’t make decisions based on money and hatred.  Will base decisions not based on government statistics but statistics from independent sources that are honest.

Four years ago, there were reported to be 67,000 wild horses on public lands running wild and free.  Today there are less than 32,000.  I visited a holding facility back in October and it broke my heart to see these once proud, fiery and fun loving horses put in crowded pens.  There were week old foals in large pens of mares being chased by other mares, mares fighting between pens and stallions chasing each other.  Normal behavior for horses in captivity, but painful to watch these horses that were use to wide open spaces take out their frustrations on each other.

Four years ago there were 1,650 wild grey wolves in the Rockies.  This year alone 605 have been killed.  The Yellowstone wolves have declined by 25%, bringing the number down to around 80 within the park.  Of the wolves lost:  824M of the Mollie Pack, 829F of the Blacktail Plateau Pack, 754M of the Lamar Canyon Pack, 823F of the Junction Butte Pack, 762M and 763F of the Madison Pack, 793 of the Snake River Pack, 832F of the Lamar Canyon Pack – all collared wolves.  And in December of 2012 two collared wolves were found shot, killed and left decaying in the Grand Tetons.  These numbers are heart breaking and overwhelming.

This afternoon I read a blog posting by a wildlife photographer that I have great respect for who lives near the Tetons, Mike Cavaroc (http://blog.freeroamingphotography.com/) and he wrote some very valid points.  We can continue to wallow in our hatred and anger or we can find solutions.  I see both sides of the wolf issue but I will always fall on the side of the wolves.  Do some wolves predate on livestock?  Yes.  Those wolves should be dealt with appropriately.  Do I believe in hunting out of hatred, fear and revenge?  No.  Do I believe in hunting to put food on your table?  Yes.  Can wild horse populations get out of control?  Yes.  Do I believe in managing them?  Yes.  They can be managed properly through bait trapping and birth control.  Those are my opinions; many may not agree and that is okay with me.

I do not want to see these animals hurt or tortured; I’d much rather be involved in bait trapping of wild horses and the use of birth control to keep healthy populations and make sure all the horses that are in holding pens go to good and caring forever homes than see them chased by helicopters, hurt, live out their lives in holding pens or sent to slaughter.  If the BLM walked up to me tomorrow and asked me to help them bait trap some horses and dart other mares with birth control or they will go out with helicopters and round up 250 next month and some will be injured or die and then they will be shipped to slaughter you can bet I will be the first one to show up before the sun comes up ready to help.  Is it the right thing to do?  I’m not sure.  Is it the best solution?  I’m not sure of that either.  Do I support this 100%?  No, not really.  But I sure don’t see any other great ideas falling from the heavens at the moment and I would much rather them include me in helping to do something that has far less harmful side effects than to do something kept in secret where wild horses I have grown fond of could be injured or worse.  A good short term solution would help us work together to develop a stronger, better, long term one.

I'm not ready to share this story just yet, but I will.

I’m not ready to share this story just yet, but I will.

I have wondered for months why with so many wild horse and wolf lovers we are quickly losing ground.  I’ve spent many nights crying myself to sleep wishing it would stop and wondering how I could stop it.  I have been furious and at times full of hatred.  Each time though I have come back wondering what I can do to stop it; it is one of the reasons why I started my blog.  I was stunned at some of the hateful and nasty things I saw posted by wolf lovers about the hunters; if we want to be heard and respected you cannot fight a battle by being one sided, closed minded and blinded with rage.  You can’t fight it alone either.  I have a deep respect for Wolves of the Rockies and WolfWatcher, as hard as it has been they have managed to stay calm and rationale and have been the voices of reason.  I wonder how much duct tape they have needed to use in order not to say the wrong things.  I have to believe they can do this because they are “keeping the end in mind.”  They are fighting to save the lives of the remaining wolves, what we all want.   We will lose some of the fights and as much as I hate to say this we will have to give a little to win the ultimate goal for both the wolves and the wild horses.

I know I’m not alone in how passionate I am about wildlife, mostly wolves and wild horses.  My life has been changed in so many positive ways because of them and many of the people in my life now I know because of them.  We are the majority and we should work together to find solutions to help the wild ones we love rather than allowing hatred and vengeance consume us which will paralyze us if we allow it.  There are many great advocate groups out there working for both causes as well as photographers and individuals.  I was recently at a meeting regarding wild horses but I had another interest there as well, wolves.  A question was asked; can you imagine if both groups were to come together the strength they would have?  I’m not sure but it sure wouldn’t hurt to try.

Through Wolf’s Eyes

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

My name? I’m not sure. At the place I originally came from I would normally hear them call me 897M but I have no name. It was pretty there. Lots of room, green grass, rivers to play in, rocks to climb and some really big mountains. It would snow a lot there when the days were short. There was also a lot of elk and bison there, hundreds of them. The best time was when the short days started to become long again and the sun made the earth warm the family didn’t have to hunt as much because we would find the old and weak dead near the water’s edge. Sometimes the big brown bears would come and take the dead from us but we would normally fight for it and win. There were lots of others like me there too, not family though.

When I turned two I felt the need to move on and find a family of my own. I traveled far within this area but the families were tight and not welcoming so they drove me further and further out of the place I once called home. I didn’t want to fight or cause trouble; I just wanted a mate of my own. I eventually ended up in mountains I had never seen before where the families were fewer and smaller but I wanted land of my own where my family would be safe from others so I continued traveling in the direction that the sun set. One long, warm day I came across a rather large family who had sent their daughter away and she joined me. It was nice to have company after so many months.

We crossed many rivers, mountains and black lines with noisy machines that went very fast. We did our best to stay up high to avoid the animals that walked upright on two legs that drove these machines and lived in square dens above ground. Sometimes we would see them up high on the mountains but we would hide in the trees and watch them as they ate the elk or deer and when they would leave we would approach to see what they left behind.

As we traveled the mountains became smaller and so did the trees in places but there were still Aspen trees, elk, deer and other hoofed animals. We no longer saw the big brown bears but we still saw the black ones. We had to go around many tight lines with barb stickers on them, sometimes in these areas we saw a new hoofed animal but they didn’t smell like elk and we had plenty to eat here so we avoided them. Since the mountains were shorter it was getting harder to avoid the animals that moved upright on two legs but we did our best to stay hidden in the trees.

Eventually we found an area where there was lots of room, Aspen trees, elk and deer and water. This is where we stopped when the sun became shorter and my mate had her pups. Since there were no other families here it was easy to find food and watch the pups grow bigger. We could tell that before us one like us had been here but its scent was long faded and we wondered where he had gone. When the sun started becoming longer again the pups were very large and strong, we often went out as a family to hunt elk and deer but we did our best to stay hidden. The animals that walked upright on two legs with the machines were more here and meaner. They carried long sticks that exploded and we would see them chase the new hoofed animals with small machines until they were tired and weak.

Sometimes we would have to move through these areas to get where the elk and deer were and another kind of hoofed animal lived. Their hooves were not split and they moved very fast. The upright, two legged animals didn’t come here often unless it was to stalk the fast hoofed animals or to chase the other hoofed animals on small machines. The fast hoofed animals seem to be more powerful than the upright, two legged animal and the split hoofed ones because they were seldom harmed even though they were stalked. They stayed to themselves and hidden mostly. We would also see coyotes and fox here and another that looked like us but who traveled with the upright, two legged animals and they smelled. There was lots of food here, places to hide and water but we would only stay to hunt and then return home to the place of the Aspen trees. The pups had grown so much now and were able to travel farther from home and learn how to assist in our hunts of rabbits and deer.

During the season of the short sun more of the two legged, upright animals appeared by our home in the Aspen trees. It was strange how they followed our paw prints and would stare at our droppings. The droppings would disappear when they would leave in the big metal machines that brought them here, were they taking it back to their den? Them being so close to our home scared us and we moved further back into the trees and hid more and traveled more at night so they wouldn’t notice us.

We spent many days here happy; playing, hunting and hidden. One day when the sun started staying up longer two of the four pups went with my mate to the hunting grounds to watch for elk, we needed to bring back food for the new pups born many moons before. The hunting ground was quiet, no split hoofed animals were nearby and only the fast ones with no split hooves were close. They hid as they watched a metal machine go by with coyotes in the back; they were very still and lifeless. When it disappeared from the valley they continued on looking for elk but none were found that day. As they started to return for home my mate smelled dying rabbit, at least which would hold the pups over until the next sun. As she reached for it there was an explosion. She jumped backwards, startled and began trembling and shaking her head and pawing at her mouth. She told the pups to run and hide as she began gasping for air and staggering, she couldn’t get enough air into her as hard as she tried. Many minutes later she was quiet and lifeless like the coyotes on the metal machine. The pups tried to wake her up but there was no breath, they lied across her and howled begging her to get up and take them home but she wouldn’t move. When the sun finally left the sky they howled for her to come with them one more time and when she still did not move they ran for their home in the Aspen trees.

I heard the pups when they were close and knew something was wrong as they cried with low moans and whimpers. The other pups and I left the new pups sleeping and met them at the edge of the Aspens. I took one of the pups who had originally stayed with me and one who knew where his mother was back to the hunting grounds with me while the others stayed to watch over the new pups. She was just sick I was sure and I could bring her back to the Aspens and help her. The sun was just starting to come over the hills when we got to where she was, the area smelled like the two legged animals that walked upright. We searched for most of the time the sun was in the sky; sometimes we would stop and howl, waiting for her to answer us. No howl came back. We laid down in the shade to wait but she didn’t come. When the sun left the sky we returned home to the Aspen trees and the other pups that were waiting.

We stayed close to our home in the Aspen trees for a few suns and only hunted small game hoping she would return. We would howl often in hope she would hear us and respond letting us know she was coming home but no howl came back. I went back to the hunting grounds several times alone looking for her where she had been now only smelled of metal machine and the animals that lived in it. The pups were growing fast and the smaller animals we were finding close to our home in the Aspen trees was no longer enough to take their hunger away. We needed to find an elk and it should be soon. One day as the sun was leaving the sky and darkness was close I returned to the hunting ground again. After looking again for my mate I started to follow the trail of the elk. They were coming down from the high mountains now. I could tell they were close as I weaved in and out of the short trees along the river here. I stopped a little while later, hiding at the edge of the trees when I spotted an elk by the water. It was lying down with its front half in the water, the other half out on the bank. I waited for a long time for it to get up but it didn’t, I could actually smell a bit of death. I walked toward it slowly, weaving back and forth in case it did get up but it continued to be still. As I got closer there was a trace of the smell of one of the upright, two legged animals but it was very faint, I thought maybe it had been why the elk was dead; we had seen them often use one of the metal exploding sticks on the elk and other fast moving hoofed animals. The animals would fall quickly and lay quiet, sometimes it would take awhile, but their breath would leave them as the upright, two legged animals would roar and then get in the metal machines and go away. It was odd that they did not stay or take away good food like bears, lions, coyotes and we did. The fallen hoofed animals would eventually feed the others for days if they were left behind once the stench left the area and they felt it was okay to approach.

The elk had no breath left in it and it smelled safe, I was in a hurry and needed to take back food to the pups at our home in the Aspen trees. I started to tear into the hide and glanced around, the air was uneasy it seemed. I tore into a softer area of the hide and suddenly there was a loud explosion from where I had grabbed, a very strange and powerful stench. I jumped backwards, shaking my head and pawing at my mouth and face. I couldn’t take the smell away and ran toward the river, water would surely remove what it is that was taking my breath away. I rolled in the water, face first several times but my breath was getting harder and harder to take.

My name? I don’t think I have a name, Lord. Other than the number I was once called I sometimes would hear wolf or grey wolf. Is it important? I’m worried about our pups. They are out there without guidance and there was still much to learn for even the older pups about hunting and staying safe. We miss their mother; do you know where she may have gone? Why can’t I return to the pups Lord? Without us they will not know where to stay, what is safe to hunt and what to avoid. If one is injured the other may not know how to help it. My mate………………………..I see her now by your side. She looks many seasons younger again and a darker grey like when I first saw her and her family. We are home? Safe with no metal exploding sticks to fear? Please Lord, watch over our pups.

And Lord, please forgive them, the two legged, upright ones, they don’t know what they do…………………

*************************************

Imagine if a government agency or agencies in a state where wolves were still federally protected were to keep the presence of wolves a secret. Then due to pressure from corporate ranchers and their own reasons for personal gain decided to take matters in their own hands to make sure the wolves were taken care of before the rest of the public found out they were there. It happened. It may still be happening. I was recently asked by a group to assist them with another issue and in our discussion wolves were brought up. At first I thought it was “mistaken identity” – they had to mean coyotes. After more research I turned up evidence of wolves. The number of the wolf is made up. Through my research I followed a wolf’s journey and need to tell their story. I’m not finished yet………………………………..and I won’t give up.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

The Missing 6

Image by Deby Dixon The remaining members of the Lamar Canyon Pack .

Image by Deby Dixon
The remaining members of the Lamar Canyon Pack.  I encourage you to visit her on Facebook and purchase images that you enjoy.  By doing so it helps her to be able to visit the park to continue bringing us her images and her stories.  

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Deby-Dixon-Photography/163901370329842

As of today 6 wolves of the Lamar Canyon Pack haven’t returned home to the park.  This is 06’s pack and family along with the beta male who was murdered in the hunt a couple of months ago.  Each passing day that they don’t return home makes us worry more; where are they?  Were they murdered too?  Are they coming back?  I didn’t sleep last night because I wish I were closer to the wolves, closer to the park, wish that I could do something, yet not sure what it is that I can do.  Was the last time that I saw wolves in the park really going to literally be the last time?  These wolves were part of our family, we watched them grow up and thrive.  I still wonder how one person has the right to steal something away from others that brought them so much joy.

Last year people wanting to see wolves generated over $35 million dollars to the areas near the park, I have to wonder if the proceeds from selling wolf hunting tags brings in that amount?  Montana reports that there were 11,000 less hunters in the state this year and I also wonder why that is?  And I really wonder why, if there are so many more wolf lovers and supporters than there are wolf haters and hunters, why we have lost so much ground?  The ground that is costing our wolves their lives.  I do believe that most of the ground that our wolves blood has been spilled on is public land, land for the people………………ALL people.  And if that is the case, why doesn’t our voice matter as well?

I understand the need for wildlife management which is probably why I didn’t shut off the conference I was listening to with Doug Smith yesterday after the first ten minutes.  Hearing how he believed that wolves should be hunted at first had me asking why then did he become involved in the wolf recovery program!?  However since I have worked in the veterinarian field all my life with both large and small animals I understand the need for population control, regulation, survival of the fittest, etc.  I’m not a PETA person and do not believe every animal, domestic and wild, should be running lose on the streets of every town either.  No, I don’t like seeing animals in captivity in zoos or sanctuaries but I do believe that for most of the people in the world this is the only place they will ever see wild animals and it’s important that they are educated about them.  I’d be willing to bet that 90% of wolf and grizzly bear lovers have never seen one in the wild?  On the other hand I have no intention of taking a wolf’s life either.

The Missing 6 haven’t returned and a judge yesterday also overturned the decision made a few weeks ago giving us a buffer zone around the Yellowstone boundaries for the wolf hunt.  This was a compromise in a way.  Would we like all the wolf hunting stopped?  Yes.  Will that happen?  No.  Can we figure out something that will give us some neutral ground?  The buffer zone seemed to be it.  Now I wonder just who it was that kept a roof over that judge’s head all these years or perhaps just bought him a new one?

Unless wolves are re-listed the hunts will go on and the people who despise them the most will be more than happy about it.  As much as I don’t want to agree with them, they have a right to their opinions and sometimes they may be right.  I also have a right to my opinion and I don’t want to see wolves hunted at all and I also know that will be met with resistance as it’s not practical.  In Doug Smith’s conference he stated very strongly that hunting will NEVER be allowed in Yellowstone.  That if you wanted to see an uprising even mentioning that would bring one on.  That implies to me that the wolves do belong to the people and we have a say in what happens to them.  When the wolves of Yellowstone do wander outside of the park boundaries and heaven forbid predate on livestock, we (the people) have a plan in effect to reimburse the owner’s of that livestock.  It’s interesting – isn’t this what is expected out of any good pet owning person?  If a domestic dog were to kill livestock a responsible pet owner would reimburse the owner of the livestock for the damages too.  However an irresponsible pet owner most often would never be found and the livestock owner would never be compensated – I would say this happens far more often than the responsible pet owner scenario.

I would also hope that if the pet owner’s dog were to get lose and wander (or in most cases in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming the pet owner’s dog is not confined and wanders when it needs to) onto a neighbor’s ranch that the neighbor wouldn’t just assume the dog was out to attack his stock and just because it went under his fence he would shoot it.  I would hope that he would watch the dog to find out where it lived and once he knew he would either take the dog home or call the neighbor to make sure everything was okay and let him know their dog was lose.  Where I come from my neighbor’s dogs come and go across the property boundaries all the time.  Most of the time they don’t come all the way over to my place, they stick to what I would consider a safety zone.  However at times they do come over to visit and laugh at my dogs that are confined in a large yard.  When I see them I watch them awhile, maybe pet them, look over to see if the neighbor is around and then let them be.  As long as they aren’t tearing my dogs or horses into pieces they really aren’t hurting anything.  As of right now I have yet to storm out the door with a shotgun to take care of them.  This seems to me to be how good neighbors and pet owner’s act.

I might be reaching a long way but I don’t see the wolves being that much different.  The Wolf Recovery Program and we (the wolf lovers) seem to be responsible pet owners with the park being the ranch.  On the other side of the park’s boundaries are more public lands and some private.  Sadly the wolves do not understand park boundaries and they wander.  As much as I wish I could stop the hunting of all wolves I know that it isn’t possible, but what I would hope for is that as decent neighbors we would be granted buffer zones around Yellowstone and the Tetons where sometimes our wolves wander too.  We have been responsible neighbors and if our wolves predate on livestock we have reimbursed the livestock owner, if our wolves have caused trouble they have been destroyed and if our wolves have become habituated to people because PEOPLE have fed them, they have also been destroyed.  A buffer zone doesn’t seem to me too much to ask as a compromise.

Lucky for this wolf she is safe within a zoo.  She will never be stalked by hunters or mutilated by a trap.

Lucky for this wolf she is safe within a zoo. She will never be stalked by hunters or mutilated by a trap.

In return we will continue bringing millions of dollars to your states so that we can continue spending time with something we own.  If your cattle or horses wander over onto our public lands I promise I won’t shoot them or run them off, I most likely won’t even call in law enforcement but if needed I will run water out to them and doctor any that need it.  And if your dog happens to wander over onto our place we’ll take it in for a couple days where the coyotes can’t get it, where it’s warm, until you can come and get it.  It’s what good neighbors do.

 

 

My New Year’s Wish

Once again, I’m jumping ahead of where I wanted to be in what I post, but I didn’t want to let a special day slip by without recognizing it.  Things change so very quickly these days, time flies by and unless we are paying attention or can grab the opportunities by a toe nail, we miss them.

Reno

Reno

This year has found me living a whole new chapter of my life, one I never expected to come my way.  Normally I’m a pretty shy, private person; it’s hard for me to meet new people, I normally wouldn’t go places that I’ve never been before much less venture out on my own.  If there is something however that I’m not afraid to share with people it is that I love animals – all animals.  They are fascinating and have so much to teach if people could just take a little time to watch, listen and keep an open mind.

My own horses changed my life a few years back.  A young horse came into my life that had been abused.  When I first saw him tied to a horse trader’s fence as a yearling I saw a horse who would take the right person anywhere they wanted to go.  I originally purchased him for somebody else.  After having him home for 2 weeks it became obvious he had been abused; tried to climb out of the round pen, scared to death to be touched, people terrified him but things like blowing white trash bags, water holes and other horse eating obstacles he was fearless of.  I tried not to be involved in his training that much because I had bought him for somebody else until I started hearing how worthless the colt was and how he’d never be good at anything.  Rushing a young horse that has no trust in people ever works and he was being pushed beyond his ability.  I started to become more involved as I saw what other’s did not; fear, respect and kindness.

We had days where I would sit and wonder if what I was sure I saw in him was really there but those day’s were outnumbered at least 25 to one.  When we did have a set-back I’d eventually realize it was my fault.  I ended up spending more time than the person who owned him was which made me sad.  After my trip to Yellowstone in May of 2009 I had a trainer help me with the colt; I knew for my safety that I couldn’t get up on him.  While he was gone I worried about him but when we would go to see him he was making progress, slowly.  Steve had to gain the horse’s trust before anything else could be done; all the hard work I had done with the colt meant nothing to him where a stranger was concerned.  After the first 30 days Steve asked to keep him another 30 days for free because he liked him so much and saw a lot of potential.  It was nice to have somebody else confirm what I had seen in the colt was right.

The colt came home and two weeks later my world fell apart; turned out the colt and I had a lot more in common than we both realized.  Then one afternoon I came home and he was gone.  I was terrified about what was happening with him, where he was or who he was with.  I knew if I reacted to the occasional comments I would get about how worthless he was or that he was being shipped to the killers and showed that I cared it would make things worse so even though my heart was breaking I tried to act like I didn’t care.  Then one day I got a phone call that he couldn’t afford to take care of the worthless horse and he needed to bring him back, I could have him.  The next day I came home and found the colt 300 pounds under weight, terrified and in not such great shape.  I stood outside his pen and cried.  At least he was home and alive.

This was when I figured that I had nothing to lose.  If the colt killed me, so be it, at least I was going to die doing something I loved.  It was time I put a lot of my fears aside and not look back.  I started going places I wouldn’t normally go or hadn’t been in years, met new friends, rode in places I’d never even consider before.  I’m terrified of heights, any heights, but on this colt it didn’t matter.  I would never ride alone as it wasn’t “safe” but now it didn’t matter, we went all the time.  I had nothing to lose.  Everywhere we went I’d have people stop me and tell me how nice this colt was.  I’d smile and say thank you.  He came a long way in a short time; I guess if I was going to put aside my fears, so was he.

Blueper

Blueper

Growing up I knew I always wanted to work with animals.  I wanted to live in an area where I could work in saving them.  Either in conservation, rehabilitation or rescue – or all the above.  I spent 5 years working at the Marine Mammal Center where I rescued elephant seals, sea lions, harbor seals and an occasional dolphin.  Those were some of the most rewarding years of hard work I ever did.  I spent 18 years as an equine veterinary technician and 10 as a small animal tech.  My dreams of working for a zoo with the other animals that I loved was always put on the back burner so somebody else could live his dreams, but I never gave up the one where I’d spend time in an area that was wide open doing things for wild animals.

In May 2011 I went to Yellowstone looking for answers.  I had a gorgeous home, had wonderful people in my life and great friends but one of my neighbors was making my life miserable, I needed a change but I was once again afraid.  I went to Yellowstone looking for something to guide me and give me a direction.  One evening on the way back to Gardner I got the answer I was looking for loud and clear (more about that another day); I was shaking, crying and happy.  I couldn’t sleep the next two days while I was still in the park.  Two weeks after I got home I called a real estate agent and put my house on the market.  When I told them what I wanted for my home they laughed and said it would never sale in such a horrible economy for that price – it was worth it, but nobody had that kind of money.  I just smiled and explained I wasn’t in a hurry, I’d like to be moved by next May and if it happens it happens.

My photography and interest in the wildlife and wild horses has continued opening more and more doors for me and I have met some of the most amazing people who have become great friends.  My colt has taken me to places I never thought I’d go and I was right about him taking somebody where they wanted to go, I just had the wrong person chosen for him to take.  I have a feeling in the next couple years I will be that person.  He continues to amaze me by being solid, trustworthy, overcoming his fears and being the best friend I have ever had.  Now I have trainers come up and compliment me on him and tell me they wished they had a horse in training as nice as him.  I continue to smile and when nobody is looking I hug him and thank him for being my hero.  He gives me strength and shows me every day that I can do things I never thought I could.

Almost a year after I put my house on the market, the following May, I got the offer on my house that I wanted.  Shocking to say the least.  I had planned on heading to Idaho so that I could be close to the parks and close to the wolves but somebody had other things in mind and I ended up in Colorado.  I didn’t dwell on being disappointed but figured there was a reason and I rolled with it.  I’m now located in the middle of several wild horse herds in Colorado and Wyoming that need people to speak out for them and I’m only 8 hours from the parks I love.  I’ve been here for 7 months now and I think there have only been two weekends where I haven’t found something to do that didn’t involve wildlife or horses.  I still have a lot of things I want to see and accomplish.

I may not be as close to the wolves as I had originally planned and I haven’t forgotten the answer I got that day in Yellowstone yet I know I’m supposed to be here.  I won’t give up my fight for the wolves and I’ve been given something else to fight for too; the wild horses.  My two boys, Blueper and Reno, are my heart and soul.  They keep me grounded and bring me back to reality when I think about running off from time to time, but they also remind me that I’m their voice, the voice for the ones who can’t speak with words.  And that I need to be able to speak when they cannot.

I want to wish everyone a great 2013!!  It’s a chance to start new and start living the dreams you have had that you may have been putting off.  Don’t put them off anymore!  Go grab them!  To all the new friends I have made along the way, I’m so excited!  We are going to have so much fun in 2013 and we will accomplish a lot.  And to those of you I haven’t met yet, well you will see that I love wolves and horses (domestic and wild) along with other wildlife and I intend to make sure they are heard about, cared for and not taken advantage of.  Hope to see you out there!