I’m Still Here

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I’ve had plenty of encounters with wildlife and I value everyone of them that I’ve had.  There are “encounters” and then there are those special moments that you will never forget.  Ones that stick with you and years later you can recount the entire moment second by second.  Those kinds of encounters are the ones that will change your life and sadly they don’t happen as often as some of us wish they would.

May 2014

I thought I saw something on the way back to town, the night before there had been a gorgeous cinnamon black bear in that area and I was hoping that I might see him again.  I was scanning the hillside, driving slowly and I thought I saw something so I stopped.  I was actually in disbelief; there you were starring right at me, down at me, right into my eyes.  You didn’t move and neither did I.  I wasn’t even sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing because you were backlit by the sun and were actually glowing.  The sun through your coat was on fire and outlining your body.  I was afraid to breath much less move for fear you would vanish or I would wake myself up and I wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up.  The girls in the car with me kept asking what I saw and I was afraid to say anything because if they didn’t see you then I would know that I was dreaming.  I finally whispered to them that you were there and they both saw you at the same time.  I was on the wrong side of the vehicle to do anything and told them it was up to them to get the photos because I knew the moment I moved you would disappear.  Sure enough you did but the girls managed to get a few images, none of them were ones to brag about but we could see you in them and that was all that mattered.

You were gone.  I tried to follow you but you had vanished just as quick as I saw you and not even a print left behind.  I heard your message, it was clear, but at the time I wasn’t sure what it meant.  There was no urgency in your movements, your eyes never left mine until you turned to walk away.  The moment was familiar.

We quickly discussed that this moment was ours and we wouldn’t share specifics with anyone.  We didn’t want you pursued and hounded like the others.  Once we got more information we found that you weren’t listed so we decided the next day if given the opportunity we would ask an expert; although the images weren’t the best the expert said they didn’t know you, hadn’t seen you.  That was enough for us.

Your message still didn’t become clear until talking to a friend of mine a few weeks later.  She reminded me of a few things from before and it made sense.  I’ve thought about that moment over and over again since then especially when things start to fall into place.  Your right, things are going to be okay, your still here.

I should be excited as there is good news coming from the valley.  Most of my heart is very excited however I’m also concerned.  Part of the reason I hesitate to talk about this special encounter is because I want her to have peace.  I want her to be allowed to live wild, be herself without being pursued and followed.  Do I want to know she is okay, how she is and where?  More than anything, but at what cost?  It’s not worth the price.  I also know that we, as photographers and advocates, set examples.  If onlookers with less experience and a lot of excitement witness our behavior or hear about something we do because we wanted a closer look and even if we are granted permission it now sets an example that it is okay for them to do so as well.  Eventually all the attempts to catch a glimpse, get an image, causes these animals to change their behavior, causes them to move away.  Where will they move to?  Possibly in a direction that can bring them great harm.  Or even worse, we habituate them, we leave footprints on them because they are young and either it costs them their lives because they approach people and it’s threatening, or worse, they become trusting and allow the wrong person in too close because they have lost the natural fear they were born with.

I have been following you since 1995 and in 2009 my dreams finally came true.  I have planned numerous trips around you because I would love to have the opportunity to see you again however in 2010 I learned how destructive people’s love of you can be.  It puts you in a very dangerous situation in many different ways.  Those are situations that I do not want to be responsible for nor a part of.  I decided if I were blessed enough to be chosen by you that you would present yourself to me and then I would cherish that moment forever.  I’ve been chosen twice now and I remember every second of these moments and I’m happy to say they were on your terms without incident and un-noticed.  I’ve had plenty of other encounters with you that have torn at my heart because of the behavior of others, people who care about you too but don’t realize how much influence their behavior has on you and those encounters only bring me sorrow.

I learned long ago to trust you, the messages you have delivered have come to be each time.  I trust it will be this way again.

Your still here.

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Legacy

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The young black pup woke up and hazily looked around, stretched as long as the small den would allow her to and yawned big. She slowly turned around, wondering where everyone else was and poked her nose outside. She missed her little sister; she had disappeared a few weeks ago leaving her nobody to play with that was the same size she was. Her uncle did a great job trying to keep her entertained but it wasn’t the same.

The sun shined bright outside and made the colors of the trees seem to be a brighter green. She laid back down with her front feet crossed, her head up, taking in all the sights around her. Below in a stand of aspen trees stood a small herd of elk enjoying the mid day shade that the trees provided. She turned her head a bit to the side and lifted her ears higher; in the distance she could hear the small gurgle of a stream as the water rolled over the rocks, rolling some of the smaller ones farther down the hill. In a nearby pine tree there were a couple magpies squawking at each other and every now and then they would turn and watch the pup for a few seconds before they went back to bickering at each other.

All her senses had become much stronger the past couple of weeks and she had grown so much bigger and stronger – she wished that she could go with her parents and the other adults when they left her protected area. Her parents told her she was still too small but soon she’d be allowed. Until then she was not to leave this little meadow that was a safe haven, a meeting spot where they would return with whatever elk or bison meat they were able to take down in a hunt over the past few days. Her little tummy growled; somebody would surely be returning soon with lunch.

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A chipmunk darted out from behind where the pup was laying and ran over to a fallen pine tree that was starting to become part of the earth it originally came from. She wasn’t allowed to leave the safe meadow but while she was waiting for the others to return she could explore and today she wanted to see if she could catch that chipmunk! She bounded out of the den, her legs longer and gangly didn’t always do what she wanted them to and she tripped a couple times as she ran to the log. Just as she reached the log the chipmunk dived down in a small hole on the other side of the log into the soft dirt and pine chips. The black pup quickly went to digging, determined not to let the chipmunk get away. After a few minutes the hole had been excavated but no chipmunk appeared so the pup walked to the other side of the log to see if there was another escape route.

Just below the ridge on the hillside across from the site sat a large black shadow blending in with the shadows of the rocks and trees. It was up wind so the pup couldn’t smell what casted the shadow that was watching her. The shadow belonged to her black uncle who had recently returned home to the valley he had grown up in with several other brothers and sisters. He had spent the past 6 months trying to find his mother who had disappeared when they had gone out on a hunt; when she didn’t return to the pack after a few days his sisters, brothers and father had spread out searching for her. He had found her scent at one point and spent so much time howling for her and hoping she would return. As each day passed without her return he became lonelier and decided to return home hoping to find the rest of his pack.

When he arrived back in the valley he was greeted with happy howls of his black and light grey sisters. There was also a new large grey in the valley now and the small pack was excited to welcome him back as there were two new pups to raise. Since his return one of the pups had disappeared causing them to be more watchful and protective over the remaining pup he was watching. He sunk down low when he heard a noise in the brush behind him; he knew better than not to be vigilant but had been so intent to

watch as the black pup explored and developed her hunting skills. The pup was smart and quick; she was growing every day and becoming more and more pretty. He quickly lay down and melted into the rocks and slowed his breathing, his lip curled as he could hear the padding of paws coming closer, unsure if it might be a bear that was after the pup or another who did not belong here that wanted to bring harm.

Over the top of the hill came another black figure at a nice long trot, in her mouth was the leg of a bison calf. As she got closer he realized it was his sister and he stood up, his head level with his shoulders and his tail wagging side to side. When she got to him she dropped the bison leg at his feet and greeted him, proud of what she was bringing back yet once again. For the past several months this young black female had been helping in the hunts and right after she would eat her fill she would grab a large remaining piece and run back over several miles back to the den to bring the pups food. For awhile it was mostly her running food back and forth while one of the parents watched over the pups, but when her brother returned home he took on the responsibility of pup sitting and training making it easier for the rest of the pack to leave to hunt. She worked hard for her size; she was smaller than the grey wolves in the pack and leaner. However nobody doubted her strength or her loyalty to the pack. She was every bit as strong and determined as her mother was to see to it that this family survived.

The male picked up the bison leg and headed down the hill, the female traveled right behind him only stopping for a moment to get a drink of water from the small creek. Below the site on the other side of the creek two grey shadows appeared and stopped for a moment as they saw the black male and female heading to the safe haven meadow as well. The female put her nose up and let out a long, low howl. The black pup stopped her chipmunk chase and suddenly looked around, excited that her family was coming home! Her tummy was growling and she wanted to play. Seeing her mother a little below the meadow at the base of the hill, her tail started swaying side to side very quickly and she let out the happiest, highest howl she could find………….

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She’s the daughter of a grey daughter of ’06, the Queen of Lamar Valley.

She’s the niece of the black son and daughter of ’06; Spitfire and Prince, the son and daughter of ’06, the Queen of Lamar Valley.

She’s the hope for the people that love the wolves and the Queen of Lamar Valley.

She’s part of a Legacy, the Legacy of the Queen of Lamar Valley, ’06.

Hear the Legacy howl.

Mother Nature and Balance

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Before leaving yesterday morning to take the horses out I quickly jumped online to see if there was any additional information concerning the death of 820F, the 2 year old, grey daughter of ’06 who we lost last year. I was stunned when I saw a post of a wolf that was murdered by a hunter in the Wyoming Bighorns. It wasn’t the post that stunned me; it was who was passing along the information that stunned me. Most of my friends are wolf advocates, wild horse advocates or both. If not then they are friends who love all animals, if they don’t agree with my passion for these animals they are respectful and have no desire to get into debates or arguments over them. We’re adults and can still be friends; out of respect we don’t bring up topics that rub each other the wrong way. A lot of my friends are also wildlife photographers who make money by photographing these animals.

So seeing this information being forwarded by a wildlife photographer I waited to see what the response would be to some of the responses that were coming in. He responded to one person who was obviously thinking the same thing I was; how could somebody who makes money photographing these animals share something like this? His response was that these animals do not belong in the Bighorns and if he saw one he would happily shoot it. That was all I needed to know to end the conversation however I was still included in it and just read in shock some of the ignorant comments made.

For people to “include” a well known ranch in supporting their hatred and opinions wasn’t a smart move. I actually have known the owners of this ranch they claim don’t want wolves there, for years. They have shared with me their sightings (or not) and how they have loved seeing wolves and wish them no harm. Whether or not the sightings on their ranch are true or not, they haven’t reported any problems, no loss of stock and absolutely no concern that they will have any losses. I’m happy to say they are not the only very well respected, very large ranch owners who feel the same way. I’ve actually been invited to two who would enjoy the opportunity to find some proof of wolves being there and both have said they are so allusive, rarely seen and have caused no harm and as long as there is no damage the wolves are welcome there. We’ve even sat and discussed ways to avoid issues and thinking ahead. So this is how hatred and ignorance is spread; like the group lied about PBR supporting them a few weeks ago these individuals are passing on false information to other’s and the fire spreads. Not all ranchers have the hated wolf mentality and for these people to lump these ranches into it isn’t right.

Although the false statements about the ranch noted above should have made me angry that wasn’t the statement that got to me. The winner for the most ignorant comment of the day went to “Get ‘em before they overrun the Bighorns……pretty soon there won’t be any moose or elk up there either…” I couldn’t figure out if I wanted to laugh or cry about this comment. Anti-wolf people (for the most part equal hunters) really need to think about what they say or write before they hurt themselves. The thought that most of them carry armed weapons should scare most of the human population. I can explain; hang on……………

First this comment leads me to believe these people have poor eyesight. I’ve read stories that ranchers have lost both cows and mules because hunters have “mistaken” them for moose! This also concerns me! If they are so excited to pull the trigger BEFORE figuring out it’s a moose or a cow, they shouldn’t be allowed to own a weapon. And if they can’t tell the difference between a moose and a cow or mule, I’m not sure those are the people I want doing “official” counts on the moose and elk population.

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Second this comment really leaves me concerned about hunting “ethics.” You see, you tend to change your story. When asked if there are enough moose or elk up there to issue hunting tags this year your eyes glaze over and the numbers reported are “plentiful” and “increased from years prior.” If you were told that due to the depredation on the herds and the increased number of success in the hunt last year you would happily tell us the numbers are inaccurate and the numbers are better than fine and it’s okay to allow a hunt. Based on the comment made above this would leave me to believe that the moose and elk numbers are very low and the elk and moose seasons should be called off. It sounds to me like we are at risk to make them extinct. It’s the wolves fault of course; they take down the sick or older animals maybe once or twice a week; worst case scenario that is 104 elk per year per pack. Keep in mind at this point we aren’t even sure yet if there are wolves in the Bighorns and I’m just basing this information on the statements you provided. I’m curious as to how many elk and moose hunting tags are issued each year?

I’ve sat with a group of people including hunters who have said there were so many moose in certain areas that they are considered pests and rats and they couldn’t wait till hunting season to get rid of some of them. Of course my hair stood up! I love moose as much as I love wolves and wild horses! I wanted to run off every moose I found in a 100 mile square radius. So in one conversation there are too many moose and in another, when wolves are involved, there are not enough and your worried?

So my question is, based on the information you provided, why when asked about moose and elk population are the numbers great when it comes to allowing hunting tags but when it comes to wolves possibly being in the area are the numbers suddenly declining at a drastic rate? It can’t be both, it can only be one or the other, it either is or it isn’t. This leads me to believe that your numbers are based on what you want for yourself and the numbers change based on what that want is. This concerns me because it’s not honest; if you want me to believe you, you must be consistent with your stories. I can’t support or trust you if you’re not honest. You have obviously seen the populations decline drastically due to the wolves so I’m relying on you for these numbers. I’m not there, I haven’t seen the decline – I only count cows and mules. They tend to be easier to identify and count as they don’t hide in trees and marshes for the most part.

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The runner up comment, “When mankind took over the responsibility of managing this planet from mother Mother Nature it had and still has no idea. Mother Nature did a fine job.” I’m not sure exactly what this meant (and forgive the quote, I only copied what was written)? If you’re trying to say that Mother Nature was doing a fine job until mankind interfered with her, I believe that this is very true. A perfect example was how when mankind eradicated the wolves they not only allowed other species of animals to become weak and sickly, it caused over population in grazing animals that has drastically changed the ecosystem and caused a lot of damage. We’re currently doing it again if you look at what is happening with the polar bears and what is happening to the environment they have lived in for years. If you’re excepting responsibility for mankind making one mess after another that we cannot fix, you’re so right.

If however you’re saying that we were given responsibility of managing this planet and given the right to repeat history by eradicating predators that were here and did just fine long before mankind interfered, I think you are horribly wrong. I personally didn’t ask people to take on this responsibility of Mother Nature Management and I feel we are far from perfecting it. Until we can get rational people with good eyesight from both sides who are not “paid” by one side or the other who have no personal gain on the matter then I don’t think we will ever have a good management system. The fact that biologists were recently “fired” off the board providing information about delisting wolves because they may have provided information that would have hurt the information that hunters and ranchers gave shows exactly how far from perfect mankind’s management is. Mother Nature finds balance and co-existence; as of yet I don’t see mankind doing this much at all.

I’m not one to put this wildlife photographer’s name on here to destroy him. I figure he will do that to himself. It makes me sad that he will sale wildlife and wild horse images to put food on his table and then in the next moment take the very way these animals survive away from them. Eventually we will all lose the ability to see these wonderful animals, there will no longer be a chance to photograph them and he will lose his ability to put food on his own table and he’ll have no one to blame but himself. Maybe at that point we can say Mother Nature found balance?

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Fight for Wolves………….

2382I was really happy when I saw that another very active wolf supporting Facebook page shared my blog last week. It really helps keep me inspired and motivated and it lets me know that the work I want to do has not been for nothing. Due to last year’s wolf hunt and the loss of several of our valuable Yellowstone wolves in addition to wolves that we don’t know personally I made the decision last week not to share posts or images that give current locations of the Yellowstone or Grand Teton packs. I have to say that I believe that by the time we get that information and it is shared the wolves have moved on and are no longer there but it is just something that concerns me a bit. I also believe that the murderers who are after the Yellowstone wolves most likely know their location far better than we do and that the way they are choosing to hunt is not a sport; shooting an animal that has become habituated to people and lost fear of them is not a challenge and therefore not “hunting.”

Yesterday I received a message that a wolf hating Facebook group had gotten the support of the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) and that the PBR would be placing their stickers of hatred on the PBR trucks. I know many bull riders and rodeo people and I thought this was an odd thing for the PBR to be a part of. That’s a pretty large association for a small group of hateful people to claim to be a part of so I contacted PBR and asked. I was relieved to receive a quick response that confirmed what I thought and PBR is in the process of having that mis-informed statement made by that group removed. I have to say thank you to PBR. I can understand individuals having their own thoughts and opinions and that is their right but for an association like PBR to take that stance I was a bit concerned.

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Knowing that group has mis-informed the people that follow them makes me wonder what else that group has been mis-informing people about where wolves are concerned. I really believe if you are going to take a stand on an issue that you need to do your own research and seek your own knowledge and not be led by a group who is doing something based on hatred and spite. I do my best not to speak about something unless it’s a topic I know a lot about, something I’m passionate about and have done my own research to learn about; both the goods and the bads. If this group is willing to be dishonest about something like a large association supporting them what else have they mis-informed people about? That is really something important to think about.

Out of curiosity I visited their Facebook page and website; it is full of wolf hating products and comments which is what I expected. I was hoping to find a first and last name of the person behind it but it only had a first name so that I couldn’t find out any further information on them, that didn’t surprise me either. Of course the page goes on about elk hunting in Idaho and how the wolves are responsible for the population of elk declining since they were reintroduced; blah, blah and blah. I wonder if these same people believe that what the elk herds have done to the ecosystem in the Rocky Mountain National Park is okay and how much longer these herds will have food and will stay healthy when there are really no predators within the park to manage it? It isn’t a secret that there is already a serious problem and yet the park is hesitant to reintroduce wolves here and at the same time the public freaks out when the word “hunting” is tossed out. At the rate the elk population is growing it is obvious that something needs to be done it just depends on what makes more sense and sits better with the people. Keep in mind when the herds start to die of starvation or disease the blame will be placed on the ones who were not allowed to make a decision and no decision was acceptable.

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I visited Rocky Mountain National Park last week; I went moose hunting. I have to say I understand the adrenaline rush that hunters get and the excitement they feel when they find that big bull elk they are looking for. When I found the big bull moose I was looking for I was pretty excited, I took a few shots but sadly the willows were in the way and I missed the shot I was looking for. Then I realized I was surrounded by about 20 other people all trying to get that shot too and the excitement quickly ran out; this moose was habituated to people and really there was no challenge. I decided to leave and try to find a big bull who was more of a challenge. A little later while hiking I got the shot I’ve been wanting for awhile; my blood was racing, my heart pounding! I raised my arms for the shot! It was right there in a green open meadow, walking across, stopping occasionally on its way to a stream. It doesn’t get any better than this. It was so quiet and peaceful. Once it crossed the meadow I could barely stand still! This was going to be a winning shot. I quickly looked around and there was nobody there. This was perfect. When it jumped off the embankment and into the water my heart lept into my throat and I took the shot. Now it was a fair hunt; this moose was not habituated to people, wasn’t posing and was more of a challenge.

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God Only Gives You What You Can Take………..

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Once again, I’ve been off line for a bit.  Just when I thought I had been given enough God added more to my plate.  So I wonder now, just how much does God think I can take?  I’ve devoted much of my life to fighting for animals.  The wild horses, wolves and many more who don’t have a voice, who can’t speak for themselves, who are being murdered or removed from the land that belongs to them.  So why does bad things happen to good people?

Those that know me know that I try to ride my own horses about every other night if not more.  I rush home after working an 11 hour day in Denver and if I don’t ride, I’m out walking, hiking or running.  Not only are my animals my top priority but in order to keep up with and photograph the wildlife I love, I have to be in good enough shape to get to them.

After returning home from California and my dad’s funeral all I wanted to do was spend time with Blueper, the horse who has been there for me through all my hard times, my best friend, a horse I rescued from abuse.  I never expected him to have a flash back moment and jump out and away from me a few weeks ago.  I landed on my left side; the first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t hear.  After figuring out I hadn’t broken anything I walked over to him, lounged him for awhile and started to get back on when I realized I still couldn’t hear.  I put him away and went in to the house to sit for awhile.  The horse trainer I’m friends with always manages to call at just the right time and so he didn’t ruin that reputation, he called right on time.  I explained to him what had happened and that I couldn’t hear and after about 20 minutes of arguing I decided to go to the emergency room.  I wasn’t sure why.  I wasn’t hurt, I just couldn’t hear.

I drove myself to the hospital, walked about a half mile around to find the emergency room, signed myself in and waited about 10 minutes to be seen.  I waited another 20 minutes to get a CT scan and while waiting during that 20 minutes I got very sore and stiff.  The doctors really hadn’t even touched me yet, but I they had already hurt me!  They came back to my room after getting the CT scan results, 2 trauma doctors – I almost felt special until they told me that I had a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain and told me I had to spend the night so that they could observe me in case I needed brain surgery.  Up until then I had no stomach upset but when you deliver that kind of news to somebody like myself, you can bet it will make a person puke!   Lucky for the horses and dogs I have great friends who stepped up to not only run and feed them but they also rushed to see me in the hospital.

By the next morning the bleeding had stopped, I still couldn’t hear and I had a wonderful headache and over night I swear a semi truck hit me.  Amazing how sore a body can get when your allowed to sit and do nothing.  I walked into the emergency room just fine, I was leaving barely able to stand or walk.  Over the next 10 days or so the headaches were enough to drop me to my knees, my hearing still hasn’t returned, I found out I lost my sense of smell, my new house finally closed escrow and my landlord needed me out of the home I was in a week after landing on my head, I had horse shows to photograph and animals to take care of.  Again, thank God for friends and family.  Friends pretty much moved all my things while I shot a horse show one weekend.  Pretty amazing.

The accident was about 5 weeks ago now and my hearing on the left side and sense of smell is still gone.  I still have my sense of humor when my head doesn’t hurt.  The support of my friends and family has been the best blessing ever and I’ve even met new friends who make me appreciate life even more.  A very wonderful wildlife photographer emailed me a couple days ago and let me know she was thinking about me and felt my tenacity and strength was amazing.  It made me think of the things I’ve been “given” lately that somebody above thinks I can handle.

Blueper has now made me go through all the emotions; what did I do to make him feel he needed to hurt me, is he in pain and I’m not seeing it, does he have a mean streak horses with his breeding are known to have, did he do this on purpose or did I hurt him to cause him to do this?  Fear has set in.  I wanted to start riding about 2 weeks after the accident, not him but my other horse, Reno who I feel I can trust but the doctors said I’m not allowed to do anything that might jar my skull; sadly that includes riding, running and even leading a horse.    For my lifestyle this is pretty much not acceptable.  I’ve been on my best behavior, I haven’t ridden but I’m leading and working my horses from the ground and I’m not running but I am walking with my wonderful dog Drifter again.  Walking has helped reduce the leg cramps a whole lot and also reduces my stress.  Drifter was really missing our journeys and is again a happy pup; if my animals are happy, than I’m happy.

After the pain reduced there was a time when I was sad when I realized I couldn’t smell anything.  I love the scents of fruit candles, cake and cookie batter.  I was proud that my house always smelled good when you walked in.  I love the smell of horses and the barn.  It’s always nice to be able to smell a bear, something dead or where a mountain lion marked it’s territory before they see or smell you.  The next day I realized how much I would be saving by not buying these candle scents.  And although it has to be done I often can’t handle the smell of cleaning the dog’s yard, now it isn’t so hard to do.

A couple weeks ago we spent a weekend with some friends of ours at their ranch.  They raise and train some amazing horses and I got to spend the day sitting on the fence to watch them ride; I may be a little bit afraid but my heart wanted to be riding one of those horses.  They also have a month old fawn they found as an orphan they are taking care of.  As I watched her run and play it really lifted my heart.  So tiny, so innocent, so precious.  I could have spent all day with her.

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On the way home from the ranch I thought of my friend’s message.  If this is what I’m “given” then I’m lucky.  This accident could have been far worse; I can still see which allows me to see the things I love the most – the wildlife, my animals and the horses I love to be involved with.  I can still walk and hike so I can see the animals I so love in the places I love spending time.  I can still take photos and capture amazing memories.  For a moment I thought about what it would be like not to be able to see Hobo, Quad mom with her cubs, Spitfire or the wild horses.  That was a thought I wanted to erase just as quick as it came.  That wasn’t what I was “given,” thank God it was a lot less.  I have frustrating moments when I have to adapt to different ways but they are moments that go away.  I feel lucky.  I can still do the things that mean so much to me.  I’m hoping that as the fracture heals my hearing will as well and hopefully my sense of smell will return.  Time will heal the fear and I’ll ride again.

In the meantime I’m going to get back to working on the things that I want to accomplish; working on educating people and sharing wild animals with people who want to know more.  God wouldn’t give people gifts if He didn’t want you to use and enjoy them.

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Thank you Legend of Lamar Valley

You ever have one of those weeks where when somebody says that “God only gives you what you can handle” makes you want to scream that God needs to find somebody else to pick on? I’ve had about 3 of those months now back to back. I really had to wonder what God was thinking when my father passed away in April; really!? Enough was enough. I’m more than happy to share the stage with somebody else. Add that to everything else that has been going on and saying I’ve had writer’s block is putting it very gently. Things have slowly been coming back around, and I do mean slowly. I’ve sat and stared at a blank paper for weeks now and nothing has come to me.

A couple of good friends and I took off to Yellowstone and the Tetons in May; a trip filled with mixed emotions but it is where I go to heal, a place my dad shared with me when I was a teenager, a place I love and a place I consider home. We had the trip of a lifetime. To say we saw wildlife is an understatement. Our days were filled with moose, grizzly and black bears, cubs, badgers, coyotes, bison calves, wild horses and most importantly……………wolves. I’m not sure what the reasons were behind such an amazing trip but we left feeling like three of the most blessed people on the planet. They had never been to the parks before, never seen wildlife like this and seeing the expressions and being able to share stories about these wonderful animals in the parks was wonderful.

A couple of days before we left the important, heart breaking news was the report of Daddy’s Girl (831F) being murdered by Bill Hoppe in Gardiner. I’m sorry if you feel “murder” is too strong a word to use but it’s true. Anyone who would knowingly leave out decaying animals in an area close to a national park known for grizzly bears and wolves so close to a tourist area is either a complete idiot or he knows exactly what he was wanting to do and how to do it. The fact that he forfeited the second permit he had was most likely simply because it occurred to him what he had just done to his business; after all it is mostly tourist money that sustains businesses in that area and most tourists there year round are there for one thing – to see wolves. I hate math, not a strong talent of mine, but even I can add this up.

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Daddy’s Girl (831F)was a Yellowstone radio collared wolf, I think it is safe to say that the biologists and wolf supporters know more about these wolves than most parent’s know about their teenage children. The data from the radio collar showed that she was nowhere near his livestock the night they were killed and since Mr. Hoppe decided to leave decaying carcasses lying around during some unseasonably warm weather pretty much promises that anything that eats meat, including domestic dogs, were sure to become curious and come around. If this isn’t “baiting” than it is irresponsible livestock management. Not only does it attract predators who have behaved like this in this area for hundreds of years longer than Mr. Hoppe has resided there, but it is also a breeding ground for disease which no responsible rancher would want to subject their healthy livestock to. Sadly Daddy’s Girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time, brought out by natural instincts to check on a decaying carcass where Mr. Hoppe had declared that anything resembling a canine was guilty and he murdered her. Lucky for his neighbors their family dogs weren’t out roaming that night or they would have been the guilty party.

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Hearing this news a couple of days before leaving on our trip was heart breaking. After seeing several images of her that photographers and wolf supporters posted I became very concerned that it was the wolf that I had encountered that changed my life a couple of years ago. I contacted several friends of mine and after doing some research we concluded that the wolf I knew was 831F’s sister, a year older. I was a bit relieved however it was short-lived. One evening we were on our way back to town when the Blacktail Pack was spotted. We watched them for over an hour, into dark, and we met a supporter who has done a lot of research on Yellowstone wolves over the years. We stood and chatted with Barbara once the Blacktail Pack left the area for a long time; out of the 60 or so remaining wolves in the park now only 27 are what they consider “visible” wolves. The remaining wolves are in remote sections of the park and seldom seen or noticed. To some that may not sound alarming but here is some additional information; Yellowstone is over 22 million acres. Place 27 wolves inside the park and calculate what sort of chance you have in being able to see a wolf. When there were over 200 wolves within the park boundaries the odds were greatly stacked against seeing wolves 3 years ago, now your chances are even far less. Everyone knows how much money wolves bring in to this area from wolf supporters who come to the parks just for them each year; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when people start to become discouraged because they can’t see wolves and after a period of time they will stop visiting. They will stop bringing their money and the only people this will hurt are the businesses that rely on them in the area (hotels, gas stations, restaraunts, etc). Bill Hoppe does not solely rely on livestock to make a living; he is actually an outfitter and owner of a guest ranch. Part of his livelihood was already affected by the ‘mistake’ he made. Imagine what not having visible wolves will do in a couple of years to these other business owners. It is sad that people like Mr. Hoppe who hate wolves for whatever reason, are so selfish and so wrapped up in that hatred, that they haven’t thought about what they are doing to other hard-working families who make a great deal of their livelihood taking care of visitors there to see wolves. Sadly they will start to lose revenue and start shutting their doors all because a few selfish people who they may not even know wanted revenge.

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I finally worked up enough courage and asked Barbara if she knew anything about “my wolf,” the older sister to 831F. She said that she had left the park a few months after I had seen her. They won’t say that she is deceased, she has simply dispersed. Several members of the Blacktail Pack are also reported as “dispersed.” They have not returned to the park after another member of their pack was murdered out of the park boundaries. Last year this pack was relatively large and provided well for their family; now the alpha male and female are the only ones remaining and it looks like they will not have pups this year. One carries the blood lines of the Druid Pack. I hope and pray that those lines can prove to be strong enough to overcome the odds and next year they are blessed with all strong and healthy pups; pups that will make the Blacktail area come alive with singing.

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Losing ’06 early this year was devastating, again – murdered outside of the park. There is no sport in the hunting of a collared or uncollared Yellowstone wolf. They are so accustomed to seeing people and have lost their natural shyness and are far from allusive. ’06 was very visible and would hunt and feed close to the roads as well as raise her family there. I remember seeing her before they would call her pack an official pack when the pups were first-born. I remember watching the two black males bring food back to the den from miles away when several live elk stood right at the den entrance. I remember checking on them every morning before dawn for over a week, hoping I would be able to see them without the help of a scope and how discouraged I was when it didn’t happen. Following her the next couple of years was simply an amazing blessing. The things she shared with and taught so many that had come to visit the park can never be replaced. She was a brave and strong girl and after seeing Spitfire several times in May, I’m happy to report that she is her momma’s daughter. ’06 taught her well.

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I am also a daddy’s girl. My dad taught me to fight for what I believe in, be honest, fair and respectful. He was a lifelong firefighter and arson investigator; loved the outdoors. When I came home back in May 2009 and told him I was selling my gorgeous, brand new home in California and moving so that I could be closer to Yellowstone and the wild animals I love because of a once in a lifetime chance encounter with a black wolf, he smiled and said he understood. I explained that I want to be closer to them so I can work harder to see they are protected, that people are educated about them and I wanted to write about them he encouraged me. Losing my dad hurt and it is taking time to regain my focus and continue that fight. There hasn’t been anything to write about that was or is more important than him and how much I miss him. And then last night out of the blue, Jann with Legends of Lamar Valley who doesn’t know me at all nor have I ever shared my writings with, cross posted a poem I wrote after my encounter with the black wolf. It reminded me why I left my place in California and moved to a strange place so far away from all I knew. To fight for the animals I love; the wolves and wild horses. The ones without a voice who are facing the most danger right now. The ones we have lost who have given so many so much. I’ve always wanted my dad to be proud of me and he always challenged me to succeed.

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Some may have taken away from us some wolves we loved, it hurts and we have lost our focus. Be warned however, soon we will find that focus again and we will find a way to come together to protect these wonderful animals who have as much right to be here as you do. We will renew our fight and we will be stronger than ever. I know this because I know my dad and now I have an angel watching over me and the wolves and he will see that we succeed.  Miss and love you dad.  Happy Father’s Day.

Four Gals and a Wild Horse Herd

Cosmo's band

Cosmo’s band

What happens when you mix a BLM meeting in Craig, CO with the Sand Wash Basin Wild Horses near Maybell, CO, winter weather in February and 4 gals who love wild mustangs?  You find strength you didn’t know you had, friendships that will last forever and adventures you have to experience yourself to appreciate.

Since I was able to finally share the meeting notes regarding the Sand Wash Basin horses recently I thought I would also add in some details about the trip out to Craig, CO.  You honestly didn’t think we would drive all that way and not attempt to see the horses did you?  Snow?   What snow?  We had a couple of weeks back to back before the 2/2/2013 meeting that dumped a few feet of snow.  I was contacting friends that lived out there or who were already there right up to the moment we were leaving.  They reported that roads weren’t too bad all the way to Craig, CO but that wasn’t what I cared about……………….what about the roads to the horses?  Every report that came in wasn’t good but there was a chance on our way out there Saturday that it would warm up and melt a bit.  Would it be too much to ask for 2 feet or more of melt in 8 hours?

Vogue, pinto mare from Cosmo's band

Vogue, pinto mare from Cosmo’s band

Deb met at my house, she doesn’t have horses but she has worked in the animal industry her whole life and loves all animals, especially the horses.  We picked up Megan who is proudly owned by a mustang she adopted a couple years ago and from Megan’s place we picked up Kriszta who has owned mustangs and horses and actually spends weeks in the back country re-enacting buffalo camps; like the cowboy and Indian days.  They spend weeks in the back country with no phone service, no internet and no bathroom.  Just so we are clear – that’s too much uncivilization for me and I’ll be staying home on her next trip out there wishing her well and much fun!  I’m happy to live that excitement through her eyes.

What I didn’t mention yet is that we didn’t all know each other very well; I’ve known Deb for years from a distance.  I met Megan about 8 months ago from a distance and Kriszta I had just met at a meeting about mustangs a few weeks before.  Megan knew Kriszta but they didn’t know Deb.  Four women in a rented 4 wheel drive, driving 5 hours one way on icy roads to a BLM meeting – what could possibly happen?  The things we do for the animals that we love.  Although Megan and Kriszta owned wild horses, none of my friends had ever seen the Sand Wash horses and two had never seen wild horses in the wild.

Cowgirl from Cosmo's band

Cowgirl from Cosmo’s band

Our trip to Craig went well, we made it with about an hour to spare and although the roads were icy they weren’t too bad.  We went to the BLM meeting at 1pm and the first question we asked was how much snow was still out where the horses are and has anyone been out there?  Oh yes, we did ask how some of our other friends were doing, but after we asked about the road conditions.  The news wasn’t great, almost everyone refused to attempt getting out there.  The meeting was a couple hours long which gave us a couple hours left of daylight to get out to Sand Wash Basin to check the roads.  You honestly didn’t think we’d give up and head home with our tails between our legs did you?

We rushed out to the horses, as a matter of fact I think the highway patrol officer said I was rushing too much but we made it safe and sound anyway.  Our spirits lifted a bit when we saw tire tracks and the vehicle we were in fit almost perfectly in those tracks.  Did I forget to mention that I only recently moved to Colorado in July and this was technically my first off road adventure in snow?  Well, that’s okay, it really isn’t important; the girls had given me great instructions on how to make this happen more than once on the way out to Craig.  I did pretty well not allowing it to fish tail and slide and we made it in about 3 miles, up around the hill you zig and zag up but we hadn’t seen any horses yet and we were starting to worry.  When we topped the hill I noticed there wasn’t much snow there, as a matter of fact you could see the dirt and my heart raced……………..we can go further!

Cosmo trying to flirt with Cowgirl who could careless

Cosmo trying to flirt with Cowgirl who could careless

We sat on the hill scanning the land below us and still, no horses, so I asked if we should continue on.  The three of them have done this all their lives pretty much and if anyone knows about this stuff it is them.  They all agreed and said we should keep going.  I looked down the road, picked my track and gave the car gas and away we went.  It was amazing!!  I think we went another 50 feet and the car suddenly slid to a stop.  We all sat in the car and looked at each other for a few seconds and then Megan and Kriszta jumped out to see what had stopped us.  Deb and I tried to jump out with them too however our doors kept bumping into the snow that was over two feet up the side of the doors.  I think that was when I realized how we got stuck and what stopped us.  I looked to see where the sun was, we had maybe two hours of light left.  Deb and I had thrown a camping shovel in the car at the last minute and they went to digging.  After the first 30 minutes it was pretty obvious that unless a flash heat wave were to occur, we weren’t going to budge.

Megan

Megan

At the meeting Megan had spoken with a lady who gives wild horse tours out at Sand Wash Basin all year long and the lady gave Megan a business card.  Megan wanted to talk to her more about riding a captive wild mustang out with the wild horses and how safe that was.  I don’t think we intended to use that phone number so soon, but that was the only person we knew or could call at the moment, if you have cell service of course.  Four cell phones and only one had service, we’d take it.  A little over an hour later this wonderful lady and her husband showed up to rescue us!  His Dodge pulled this 4 wheel drive right out of the snow with the parking brake still on and made it seem easy!  They had us follow them back out to the paved road and once there we asked them to let us take them to a big steak dinner or pay for fuel – they refused.  They mentioned that it would be best to stay out of Sand Wash until after spring when the snow melted and the mud dried and we agreed they were right.  We followed them back to town, dodging deer, elk and two domestic cats along the way.

Kriszta

Kriszta

We went to dinner and when we got back to the hotel Megan and I tried to find a way home that was safe where we might be able to see other wild horse herds.  Sadly the roads through Wyoming were horrible or closed and going home along the I70 with weekend ski traffic didn’t sound like much fun.  We were resigned to simply heading home in the morning.

Kriszta’s husband called late that night and his comments about why we would go so far, why would we give up, we can do this – was what she relayed to us that morning.  We all looked at each other, loaded up the car, grabbed something to eat and drink and headed right back out to Sand Wash Basin!  We knew we could safely get in for at least 3 miles and from there we would walk till we found horses.  The day before I had learned a very valuable lesson; do not ask three very experienced Colorado girls how far you should go UNLESS they are actually looking at the road!  So as we left the safety of the solid pavement, I made them promise not to look for horses but to watch the road to tell me when to stop while I looked for the horses!  Far safer.

The handsome young boy, Milagro

The handsome young boy, Milagro

About a mile in we passed some teenagers in a Dodge pickup exploring along the road which made me feel better, worse case they could help us out.  In another mile I was looking at all the snow and sage brush where the hills came into the flat land and in the middle of all that white, about a mile out, I saw grey horses nearly blending perfectly with the snow.  I yelled “horses” and slid the car to a stop.  I carefully checked all my mirrors for traffic and since there wasn’t much we left the car right in the middle of the road, changed clothes, grabbed the camera gear and started walking.

As we got closer to the horses I was able to see that it was Cosmo’s band and on the other side of a gully was Hoot, Kiowa, Juniper and another young stallion.  We stopped about 200 yards away as Vogue and Cowgirl watched us and as we were standing there the expressions on my friend’s faces made the whole trip worthwhile, tears of happiness at just being in the presence of these horses were on everyone’s cheeks.  We discussed the horse’s personal comfort zones and how each horse is different and that same horse might be comfortable with you being so close today and it might change tomorrow.  Cowgirl was a bit more concerned than the others but she did allow us in pretty close to the herd.  I scanned the hillside for any other horses that I may have missed and was stunned to see two other warmly dressed creatures with cameras on the opposite side of the gully!  We hadn’t passed any other vehicles coming in but the kids with the Dodge.  I finally spotted Robin’s truck on the top of the hill where we had gotten stuck the night before.

When ignored go roll in poop so you smell more attractive?

When ignored go roll in poop so you smell more attractive?

Kriszta headed across the gully to get closer to the four horses on the other side while Megan, Deb and I stayed with Cosmo’s herd.  We discussed the dynamics of the herds; the lead mares, who appeared to be very much in foal, how healthy they all looked and we watched as Rounder provoked Cosmo into proving who the official band stallion was here.  We marveled about how even though sorrels are not our first choice on the color list, how Milagro didn’t just have wonderful conformation but he had a wonderful disposition as well and if not able to remain free would make some lucky person an amazing horse.

Megan quickly filled an 8GB card with images as we watched Kiowa curiously approach first Robin and then Kriszta on the other side of the gully.  Hoot had his hooves full trying to prove he was the main stallion over Juniper and we watched him snake her around and spar with the other young stallion that followed behind them.

Three hours never goes by as quickly as it does when you’re standing in the middle of nowhere, in God’s country with God’s wonderful animals.  When you see wild horses that have been adopted and are now living safely with new owners you can’t help but notice the wildness about them and wonder what their lives were like.  Being out here with them, seeing them how they are meant to be, living free and watching over each other can bring you so much more joy than you can ever imagine.  It was difficult to pry ourselves away knowing we wanted to be close to home when the roads started to become icy again.  We still had to make it back to the main road which after seeing Cosmo’s band seemed so far away.

Our tires hadn’t even hit the pavement leaving Sand Wash Basin when we were all already planning on when we could return.  Of course it should be after the snow melted and the spring rains dried up and it would be safer when the deer and elk headed back to the high country.  How does next week sound?!

Cowgirl and Milagro

Cowgirl and Milagro

To my friends; Deb, Megan and Kriszta – thank you for sharing this adventure with me!  I couldn’t imagine anyone else I’d have as much fun doing this with as you guys!  I look forward to our next adventures and can’t wait!

What Is In A Name?

The intense expression of a wonderful cutting horse!

The intense expression of a wonderful cutting horse!

Do you ever wonder how famous or important people ended up where they are now? Was it luck? Due to their family? That they had enough money to buy themselves in? Or because they were actually really recognized for the talents they were blessed with?

We were out at dinner last night with a couple that we have spent time with in the past. I’ll be honest, I think the husband is a wonderful, caring and helpful person, but I have to admit I struggle with the wife. Deep down I think she means well but there are times when she opens her mouth long before she ever thinks about what is going to spew out and it really gets to me.

Last night the conversation started out with what happened to her starting on Friday. The weather has been great here in Colorado, in the mid 60’s, perfect for riding. She owns 7 horses, ages vary and she has Quarter Horses and Arabians. From day one she has made it clear to me that she believes Quarter Horses are stupid and slow to learn while Arabians are such over achievers. I believe anyone who thinks horses are stupid believe so because they have been outsmarted by one or more regardless of breed. Like people, all horses learn at their own speed, their own way. My own horses are Quarter Horses and I will happily admit that I have been taught many lessons by all of them, including what I thought I knew that I really didn’t!

Relaxed flexion

Relaxed flexion

Sadly, her horses are more like lawn ornaments than riding horses. Those she enjoys riding are all around 8 or younger and get ridden maybe 12 times……………………….in the past 3 years. They are gorgeous and in great health ~ okay maybe they are a little chunky. Since I’ve moved to Colorado she has ridden with me maybe 3 times and my heart has been in my throat every time. I put my heart, soul and complete confidence in my young horse who is 6 this year; we do everything together and go everywhere. As far as a reliable trail horse he has often times been the one to take the lead and bring older, more experienced horses through horrifying situations, including one of this lady’s horses. Am I silly in having this much faith in a young horse? I’ve been riding him since he was 3 and he has never let me down, not even when I’ve let myself down.

I’m also confident in saying after working and training with several trainers from western pleasure to cutting, I don’t know a whole lot. I can learn from almost anyone and I pick and chose what I like and will remember. I’m not above asking for help and looked for a trainer the first few months after I arrived here, I wanted one who worked with cowhorses that lived close by. I found one! A very nice man; he admits he has a lot of learning to do himself and we actually share what knowledge we do have. I’ve ridden with him several times and he helped me right from the very first day.

Back to the lady who we were having dinner with………………………. She decided that for the first time in over a month she would ride her 6 year old mare with maybe 60 days training in 3 years. In the last 8 months she has been stepped on and broken a bone in her foot when a mare ran by, pushed her and then jumped onto her, she got stepped on a couple months later when her mare wouldn’t back out of the horse trailer so she drug her around by her bit inside the trailer when “spanking” her didn’t work and a few other incidents. I’m not sure why but I dared to hope that this weekend would be so much better for her. She was unable to catch any of the horses who have never run from her in the past, for the farrier on Friday. When she finally caught her mare on Saturday the mare literally drug her, face first through the sand injuring her arms and hands and then to end the perfect weekend, stepped on her other foot. I sat listening to this in stunned silence; I have learned that talking to her doesn’t help. Then she spews out how Quarter Horses are so slow they never learn. I started to point out that working with a horse only once every 3 months is probably the largest part of the issue but was quickly interrupted, so I continued to listen.

Ranch horse loping quietly

Ranch horse loping quietly

She informs me she has asked around about my “trainer” and nobody has heard of him and rattles off several names of well known trainers all of whom I’ve never heard of. To this I sit with no response. It actually makes me very sad; these horses will continue to disrespect this woman until she is seriously hurt again and it isn’t because they are mean animals by any means they just simply don’t know and have no boundaries.

World famous #10.  He is retired from running Mammoth in Yellowstone this year.

World famous #10. He is retired from running Mammoth in Yellowstone this year.

This morning during a conversation with another friend I mentioned how I would never stand a chance in a photography contest or competing with other well known wildlife photographers and that I don’t have a name for myself. My mind quickly went back to the dinner conversation last night about one of my trainers that nobody has heard of. Several revelations came to light:

1) Everybody has to start somewhere! Bob Avila, Teddy Robinson and Trevor Brazile didn’t just wake up one morning knowing everything, with numerous horses in their barns, being asked to put on clinics all over the US and winning everything. They actually had to learn, to gain experience and practice long before great things happened. Granted some have to practice and work harder at certain things than others but they were not born this way!
2) Everybody has their own special gifts and talents. What might come naturally to one person may not be so easy for the other person. I know people who can create videos and have mastered Photoshop but when you hand them a camera and tell them to catch that horse turning a cow on the fence I am greeted with a blank stare and asked if the camera is even on.
3) Everybody has something to learn. You can be great at what you do, maybe even be considered a professional but if there is nothing else you desire to learn then what? I was once told by a Native American that once you have decided you have nothing else to learn you are dead. I guess I have no need to worry about being dead soon as I have a whole lot left to learn!
4) Just because you don’t have a “name” for your self does not mean that you are not great at what you do or that you are not “worthy.” A lot of things have to do with being in the right place at the right time and desire. Maybe my “unknown” trainer is happy doing what he’s doing in life and he gets great joy in actually knowing all his customers by name and the horses they own. Maybe that photographer who isn’t on the cover of Nat Geo actually finds more value in knowing that the mustangs they photographed 6 weeks ago are safe and sound because they were able to see them again and have been able to spend hours volunteering to make sure other mustangs aren’t being rounded up and potentially being driven to slaughter.
5) Just because you have a “name” and are well known doesn’t make you a happy person. Enjoying what you are doing each and every time you step out to do it is what makes you happy; even when the horse your riding is having a bad day and spends more time dragging your knee on the fence than standing on its own feet or the eagle you set out to photograph does nothing but poop on your backpack you set down before it chose to land on that branch above you and your too afraid to go grab it for fear it will fly off.

Bison cow in Yellowstone National Park

Bison cow in Yellowstone National Park

I spent most of my day yesterday going through images for an upcoming show; I have thousands of wildlife and wild horse images that I haven’t had the time to actually look at or edit and I was stunned over some of them that I found last night. Although I love all wildlife, from my images it is pretty clear that I understand wild horses the most. I have a long way to go in understanding my camera and Photoshop however; there are things I want to learn how to do and have yet to find the time to do it. It frustrates me to no end and then I see an image like the ones I saw last night and I’m proud to say “no re-touching has been done to this image.”

I still have a lot of images I want to capture! I have images in my head of certain scenes and feelings and I won’t stop until I get that. I pride myself for not being a “traditional” horse show photographer. When I shoot horse shows I’m looking for something unique, something inspiring and an image that tells a story and shows emotion. Traditional images are wonderful to have but I want more.

As far as my “unknown” horse trainer is concerned, I’m not sure who he aspires to become but I do know he has a wonderful wife and some great kids. He knows all of his clients and a little about their lives and they are at his barn a lot and I’ll be darned if most the time he isn’t smiling when I have been there. I’m also not being charged $150.00 for an hour lesson and being told my horse needs to be left in training for 6 months so he can fix what I broke. My horses are ridden or turned out nearly every day; they are respectful and trustworthy, talented enough to overcome the problems I hinder them with and forgiving. They may not be on their way to the AQHA World Show but in my eyes they are winners every day as they continue to learn despite me, they give me 150% and I’ve done the work myself ~ I don’t just get on at the gate.

So the next time I’m feeling a little “inadequate” or unworthy I’m going to do my best to remember that everyone has to start somewhere. I’ll encourage people to go after their dreams and wants but most importantly to pursue what makes them happy. Most importantly I’ll remind others that just because they haven’t heard of or about a person doesn’t make that person any less important, talented or valuable. Maybe they just haven’t been discovered yet! And depending on the choices that they make on how “worthy” that they decide that person with “no name”  will be whether or not they are talking about how well they knew that person before everyone else did and are able to call them a friend or saying how sorry they were that they didn’t give that person a chance back when they were nobody.

Femur's mares from the Sand Wash Basin wild horses.

Femur’s mares from the Sand Wash Basin wild horses.

Wildlife Photography ~ How Close Is Too Close……..?

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

A friend of mine and I were talking about a photo we saw this morning of 4 photographers running away, one of them leaving their tripod with the camera as fast as they could; approaching the camera was a younger grizzly bear.  The bear wasn’t running at them, it actually appears like it’s on a Sunday stroll.  We were laughing and he said that bear spray may have prevented this.  His next comment was “Stupid photographers!” and then he said, “Ohh wait!  I’m a photographer!”  We both laughed.  The photo was sent around and it was meant to be funny and it was.  Of course this led us to even more conversations and memories.

I normally don’t like photographing animals when there are fences in the back ground or houses but if I see wildlife I will stop regardless of where they are just to take a look.  One afternoon a few months ago on the way to the Rocky Mountain National Park to hike in the snow; the snow hadn’t arrived yet, it was nice out and as we drove through Estes Park near the golf course, we spotted a herd of elk.  Of course we stopped.  We walked out taking in the herd and noticing who the big bulls in charge were and how far away they were.  The rut was over but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t react if you were to get too close.  We stopped after we noticed 2 pretty large bulls about 200 feet from each other, they were still singing away and we didn’t want to be in the middle if they wanted to discuss who was boss.

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

As we stood taking a few shots from about 80 yards and watching the cows and calves move by one of the bulls stood to his feet and started walking the direction we were standing so we started backing away.  There were no signs of aggression on his behalf but I like my personal space and I wanted to keep his happiness just the way it was.  I turned when I heard something running up behind me just in time to see a younger blonde woman run right by us with her iPhone in hand yelling about how cool it was to see a bull elk up so close.  Don’t worry, it’s okay, she stopped probably about 20 feet from him!  My friend and I looked at each other, our mouths dropped to the ground and our eyes huge!  It was obvious to us that day that God does protect certain people out there in the world!  She stood for a long time photographing this big bull and occasionally even got in closer while my friend and I stood in amazement.  When we finally walked back to the car we were laughing about the whole thing; had we attempted to do that it wouldn’t have ended so nicely.

I was reminded about the time I was out photographing Mountain Goats about 8 months ago.  I love sitting down a safe distance from the animals I am shooting and watch behavior and how they interact with each other.  I had never photographed Mountain Goats before, they were so pretty, there were so many of them ~ I planted myself on a rock, took a couple hundred images and then just sat and watched.  One younger kid seemed to have lost its mother.  I sat on that rock and watched her over 2 hours as she approached other mother’s and was chased off, other kids didn’t play and she continued her search, crying.  That made me want to cry.  I would take some shots off and on and as I continued watching her I started taking more images as she got closer, I was using my 300mm lens at the time.  At one point I felt myself leaning backwards so that I could get more of the little goat in my frame and I even started scooting backwards on my rock to get a better shot as I kept trying to pull my lens back.  I finally put the camera down frustrated that I was missing out on decent shots because my camera wasn’t helping me.  When I did I realized the little girl was nearly in my lap!  I guess it wasn’t the camera after all.  She stood in front of me crying out a few times before she realized I wasn’t her mom either and moved on.  About 30 minutes later her mother and twin jumped down from a rock formation behind me; they were not there when I sat down!  I had never intended to get that close and personal with the goats, but through my excitement with having the opportunity to spend time with them I got closer than I ever expected.

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

My friend and I continued to laugh about the image with the grizzly bear but I can say I have been so intrigued with shooting certain wildlife and forgotten my surroundings while looking through the view finder at times.  Lucky for me when I do shoot bears I’m with a group who is very experienced and we watch out for each other.  Normally I’m the one who forgets to shoot the images and am watching and learning from new behaviors and can sound the alarm if they are getting to close for my taste.  My favorite animals to shoot are normally horses, wild and domestic.  The domestic horses have no concept as to what personal space is and as soon as they see a camera feel that you want them to come in closer!  And I still haven’t figured out what it is with wildlife sticking out their tongues!

Blueper's nose on a snow day.  Didn't see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

Blueper’s nose on a snow day. Didn’t see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

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.