Welcome to part 2 of this 3-part series. If you missed part one, check it out here.
5. Believe in the possibility
I was heading towards home after a long day in Waterton when a hint of a black entered my vision, just before I turned around a bend in the road. I flipped the car around, drove back up, and confirmed my suspicion – the black figure was a beautiful black bear, foraging just down the slope on the side of the road.
‘Just a lone black bear,’ I thought to myself, ‘no cubs.’ As much as I hate to admit such bear-snobbery, I was not motivated to photograph a lone black bear that evening. I was exhausted after 16 hours in the field, had already gotten a chance to photograph a large, chocolate, male bear earlier in the day, and I still had a 3-hour drive ahead of me.
I raised my gaze, preparing to turn the car around, when I noticed another black figure. I found myself eye-level with this adorable little tree-hugger:
It turns out my lone bear was a sow with three cubs of the year, stacked vertically before me in a large spruce tree. Only one of the cubs, the bravest of the three, made it into a enough of an opening in the branches for me to get a few photos, but these few shots are pretty close to the exact scenario I had been wanting to capture for years.
Any bear in any tree would have been great – I am lacking in these types of images – but I specifically wanted a black bear cub of the year (born that winter so very wee in the spring) hugging the trunk of a spruce tree. I specifically wanted a spruce tree because I love the green. I had imagined the scene many times, thinking the most likely way to get a decent photo would be from a road where there is a downward slope on the side, allowing for a bear to be high in the tree and eye level with the road.
Basically, the exact scenario I had envisioned was playing our right in front of me. Similar to the bobcat, the feeling of finding something you’ve always wanted to see is indescribable, and it all starts with believing in the possibility. Thank you little black bear cubs for fulfilling one of my dreams 🙂
6. Chances are, it’s not a wolverine
I knew this, of course I knew it – when you see a dark figure in the distance, it is almost never going to turn out to be the most elusive mammal in North America. That logic, however, did nothing to quell the rush of adrenaline that surged through my body when I saw a dark figure lumbering across the glacial snow in June. My friends Jamie, Stacey and I were hiking through a mountain valley above Lake O’Hara, BC when the figure appeared.
‘Wolverine!’, I yelled, as I panicked to zoom in with my camera, sure I was about to see the the largest member of the weasel family loping across the snow. Instead, I was presented with a porcupine, waddling through the snow, at a faster pace than one would expect.
I should have known – the chances of the figure being a wolverine were painfully slim. Despite the fact that I was standing in a high elevation valley where wolverines are reported at least once a year, the odds of spotting this elusive weasel were still on par with winning the lottery.
However, my first trip to Lake O’Hara in June offered so much more than a remote chance of seeing a wolverine. Lake O’Hara herself, a soulful pool of blue-green water, forms the central point of a mountain oasis. A number of other small, reflective, glacial lakes speckle the valley, allowing the majesty of the mountains to invert and replicate themselves in perfect symmetry – double the beauty.
I did my best to capture the beauty…
We were also treated to a pair of Harlequin ducks, navigating the shore line of Lake O’Hara.
And there was no mistaking this porcupine – he hung out behind the out house near our hut.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to spend a couple of days in such a magical setting with some amazing friends. Given the fact I would have had to enter a lottery for spots at the back-country hut we stayed in waaaay back in November, I likely will not get there again in 2019, but I am definitely drawn to visit again some day.
7. Tune-in to the environment
In late July, I decided to refocus my photographic energies from the rugged mountains of the west to the expansive prairies of the east. The further south-east from Calgary I drove, the more I noticed the fields transforming from uniform rows of crops to less manicured, grassy plains, interlaced with bunches of aqua-green. Despite a lack of botany knowledge, I somehow knew the aqua-green hue was created by sage grass. I also somehow knew sage grass grows more abundantly in the slightly drier climate I had driven to, and this landscape was ideal for both badgers and burrowing owls.
I immediately started scanning for both of these species. Badgers are common but seldom seen, and burrowing owls are endangered in Alberta – even more difficult to find. It would be crazy to think I could find both species in one day, but I still allowed myself to believe.
I saw the family of badgers first – here are two of the three (mom left, junior right):
And here are two juveniles from the family of five burrowing owls I found later that day:
Not quite at the level of finding a wolverine odds-wise, but still so cool!
Subtle changes in the landscape are powerful clues as to the wildlife potential of the environment. Tuning-in allows us to see more, to decipher the shapes and contours as we a scan our surroundings. I believe this process is essential to finding and learning about our beautiful animals.
8. Inspiration comes in the most unexpected ways
Holding the life of a living being in our hands is both devastating and amazing. As pet owners, we know we will likely have to make a life or death decision for our animal companions at some point – it is a blessing to be able to end suffering, but the magnitude of the responsibility, combined with the loss of a loved one, is heart-breaking.
During a trip to Montana in early August, this responsibility weighed heavy on my heart, as I had just made the decision to help my beautiful cat of 14 years, Thor, move beyond this physical world.
Spending time with my family, looking for animals and being away from home helped a bit, but I was in a particularly foul mood on the way home. I stopped at a lake in Northern Montana that I had visited five days earlier in hopes of getting some moose-in-water therapy, but was instead inspired by a completely unexpected source: