I’m Still Here

IMG_0141

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.

IMG_0186

Thank You For The Lessons

Image

I’ve been so busy the past 7 to 8 months that I haven’t even had time to think about this blog that I started; the horse show photography has taken off, new adventures have come along, more animals have crashed my barn and so much more.  We are gearing up for another wonderful trip and really looking forward to the wildlife, the hiking, the friendships new and old and the adventures.

This has been a relatively hard week for me, it’s been a year now since you’ve been gone.  They say time heals but I’m not so sure that is true.  I think about you nearly every day, I share your stories and the wonderful things you taught me, I think of all the things that I’ve accomplished this year and I want to share them with you but I can’t.  On the other hand I know that you know all that has gone on and I know you’re proud – if not for you none of this would be possible.

I received a message about somebody commenting on my blog a couple weeks ago.  The things he said about wolves were far from nice but then again he’s entitled to his opinion.  I have to say I think it’s a bit funny.  For one thing, you know absolutely nothing about me or who I am.  And it’s people like you who continue to make finding a solution impossible; rather than being a real man and discussing things and seeing both sides you choose to make rude jabs.  For all you know I could be your neighbor, your neighbor’s girlfriend or wife, one of your friend’s girlfriend or wife or the person who saves your life one day.  Your quick to make your comments and run without even knowing anything about me and it’s funny, I’m not much different than you.  Well, I’m not rude or disrespectful and I’m not afraid to have a civilized conversation with “the other side” so with that we are totally different.

My grandparents who I spent a lot of time with owned a sporting goods store and gun range.  Oh my!!  Yes we not only supported hunters, but we also hunted.  We didn’t hunt for sport, the pure joy of killing or out of hatred – we hunted to put food on the table.  My parents taught me how to raise livestock and I still do.  Oh no!  I eat meat.  I can rope, ride and train colts.  I’m not afraid to grab a calf and push them into a chute and I have a great respect for that calf’s momma.  I’ve probably cleaned more pens and barns with my own two hands than most.

I’ve read the comments about how “city folk” don’t know crap about how you “real ranchers” live and need to quit interfering.  Well, I’m not a city slicker and I’m not a stranger to getting dirty and hard work.  I’ve been kicked at, kicked, stepped on, shoved aside, nearly ran over and bucked off with some of the best.  I didn’t go to college but I did finish high school and one of the things my dad taught me was is if I worked hard enough, treated people with respect, was honest and had integrity I’d climb my way to the top.  I’ve done that with 2 of my own businesses as well as the company I work for and call my “real job.”  And when I’m done there I still come home to the ranch and do my chores here.  I’ve stayed up with the sick ones and bottle fed the orphans while many walk away to let “nature take it’s course.”   Personally I think that’s an excuse for people to be lazy and not take responsibility.

I’d be willing to bet I can out shoot you with a revolver or a rifle any day, however I don’t shoot at live animals unless they have brought it upon themselves to harm my animals.  It’s a good thing that I take protective measures before I need to resort to this, that is called “ranch management.”  It’s not about tossing animals out onto green grass and hoping they reproduce, it’s about being responsible and foreseeing the future and what it takes to be profitable without assistance from the government.

My dad fought for your freedom and then came home and continued to “protect and serve” you.  That was another thing he taught me; when a person needs help regardless of who they are or how you feel about them you reach out to help them.  Might be something you might want to think about the next time your so quick to be rude and disrespectful to somebody you don’t know just because they support wolves and grizzlies being on the Endangered Species List and mustangs being left correctly managed on BLM land where they belong.  It would be horrible for one of us “city folk” to drive by you if your buddy shot you in the hip during one of your hunting trips on accident and waved as we drove on by just because we judged you as one of them “horrible, wolf hating ranchers” rather than a human being in need of emergency assistance.  I’m entitled to my opinion just as you’re entitled to yours; neither of them are any less important than the other.  I’m not that much different than you are sir.  I’ve busted my butt to get where I am today and to have the things I have.  I have seen and taken care of things that would make your stomach turn.  Thank God the people in my life have taught me about respect, courtesy and compassion not only for human beings but the animals we share this land with.  I was also taught to stand for the things I believe in and to do it in the right way and I will continue to do so.

So thank you for sharing your story by commenting on my blog the other day.  You have taught me even more very important lessons and I really appreciate it.  I’m more determined now to continue fighting for what I know is right.  The next time you are driving down the dirt road and you pass a white Dodge dually with a woman driving and she waves; that’s me telling you thank you!

Image

Legacy

6892

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.

6877

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………….

6979

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.

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.

2269

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.

2269

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.

2417

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

1094

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.

2124

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.

1216

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.

3461

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.

5244

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.

7881

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.

7932

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.

8001

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.

8081

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.

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.

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.