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.