One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

21 February 2016

In a Small Moment

At first glance, it is a sea of sagebrush…then a remarkably camouflaged predator appears.  The coyote’s focus is directed at something in the sage…

In nearly three decades of wildlife photography, this is one of my favorite photos…in some ways, it tops the list.  This photo speaks to me of so many things I love about wild places and the wild creatures that inhabit them.  It is a small moment suspended between two creatures, the fleeting segue between the immediate past and the infinite mystery of the future.  In this moment ANYthing can happen.

Driving through Yellowstone one Spring, I looked out to see this coyote moving through the sage…it paused…listened…then focused and froze.  That alone was beautiful…then I followed the line of focus to find the ground squirrel, also frozen.  Amazingly, in that sea of sage…both predator and prey were visible.  They held one another in a stare…

Take a moment to imagine, if you will, how many encounters like this you drive (or walk) by every single day.  These creatures have evolved to dissolve into their environment…and they do it well.  Even when we are aware of the camouflage and LOOKING for wildlife, we miss countless encounters like this because we are looking for something else or lost in thought or irritated by that slow driver who will just not use the darn pullout.  We miss so many of these moments, in great part, because we are not in the moment.

Over my ears of observing wildlife, I have seen many interactions between predator and prey.  Chases, ambushes, pounces, dodges, captures and narrow escapes…success and failure (the definition of which depends on who you’re rooting for).  It is the compelling and tragic and beautiful dance of survival.

These two creatures held one another’s eyes for what seemed like minutes…then a sound caused the coyote to flick an ear and the spell was broken.  In that nanosecond, the ground squirrel vanished.  The coyote relaxed and then continued making its way through the sage.

14 February 2016


In early June of 2004, I was wandering Yellowstone in search of inspiration.  As I drove along the Calcite cliffs above the Yellowstone, I saw a couple photographing from one of the pullouts. The man stood back watching as his blonde companion stood on the rock wall shooting through the trees into the canyon.  Being ridiculously shy, I couldn’t bring myself to approach and ask what they were watching…and the trees were too thick to see for myself.  I waited for a few moments and then left…but I was intrigued.  Several times I drove past and they were still there.  As soon as I noticed them gone, I pulled in to have a look.

Through one small opening in the trees, I could see one of the calcite pillars…and an osprey sitting on top amid a pile of twigs.  As I watched, her mate started calling from above and then came in with a branch to add to the nest they were trying to build.  My biggest lens at the time was a 300mm and I had no tripod.  I stepped up onto the rock wall and started shooting.  As I would learn later, they returned and drove by several times figuring that I would quickly lose interest and leave “her” spot.  That didn’t happen…despite wicked thoughts flung in my general direction.  Focused and fascinated by the osprey pair, I was oblivious when the couple returned….even when the girl stood glaring daggers at my back.

Introvert that I am, I didn’t take my focus off the birds to start a conversation (maybe I could feel the thought daggers, lol).  Eventually, the girl realized I wasn’t leaving…so she set up her tripod and began moving closer and closer, finally edging in next to me to aim through a gap barely big enough for the two lenses to shoot through.  Without a word, I made as much room as I could and we started photographing the osprey pair together.

We’d been shooting for a little while when, suddenly, a third osprey rose from another nest out of sight below as the male we were watching arrived at the nest.  They faced one another, suspended above the nest and then lifted into the air, fighting…locking talons, then tumbling toward the river below.  Our shutters clicked and when the birds vanished from view, we looked at one another with wide-eyed surprise, simultaneously exclaimed “COOL!” and then started laughing.  

In that moment, a great friendship began.  In the nearly 12 years we have known one another since then, Cathy and I have shared some amazing experiences with the wildlife we love.  Along the way, we have seen one another through some rough times, as well.  We discovered that we shared similar philosophies about so many things…not the least of which being our approach to observing the wild creatures that inspire us.

This is one of my favorite images, an extraordinary moment captured with the luck of timing.  The nearly mirrored osprey  remind me of the “jinx” moment (first of many) that sparked a treasured friendship.

There are so many reasons I choose to find my inspiration in wildlife that is truly wild…and it isn’t always about the animal.  Sometimes it is about the people…