This blog, these photos, and my passion for the wild would most likely not exist had it not been for the influences of my Dad. If we trace our life journey back to the beginning, invariably we find our parents tracks scattered all over the path we may have mistakenly thought was all our own.
My Dad planted numerous influences when we were young that gave rise to my love of the wild, and eventually my pursuit of wildlife photography. There were the family camping trips to Pentwater, Michigan, occasional outings to the Nature Center and Kleinstuck Preserve, and always choosing to live near a little patch of wilderness in the city that became a convenient playground (and perhaps a baby sitter) for me and my brother.
Dad too was a photographer of sorts - not a professional or avid shutterbug, but he was editor of the yearbook at WMU during his college years and a camera was probably hanging around his neck most of the time. He always seemed to have a camera around the house, so the SLR was a familiar tool to me from an early age.
Most significantly, Dad was a life-long birder, and retirement gave him the time to more fully pursue that passion. It suited his shy, unassuming personality as well as his penchant for categorizing, something he did for over 30 years as the head librarian at Kalamazoo Central High School. Birding took him all over North America, including Texas, Arizona, Florida, California, Nova Scotia and of course all over Southwest Michigan. For me, it was the birding trips he and I took to New Mexico and Alaska that really began to secure my fate as a wildlife photographer.
There was one incident though that I believe really etched a love of wildlife and wilderness into my soul.
I was around 12 or 13 and the family went camping up at Wilderness State Park at the northernmost tip of the Lower Peninsula. We camped, in tents, right next to the beach at the main campground, which was in and of itself a primal experience for a wee lad such as myself.
One morning we got up particularly early and began the day with a breakfast I'll never forget. It was at a little roadside joint outside the park where we had homemade, plain doughnuts that were deep-fried right in front of us. Best donuts I've ever had. I'm sure Dad and the adults washed it down with coffee.
We then drove due east to Waugoshance Point, the peninsula that really defines Wilderness State Park. We drove as far as we could and then hiked for a half hour or so, which was a long way for us back then. We knew we'd arrived when we reached the shore and could see the peninsula shooting out into Lake Michigan. It was vast and open, unlike anything I'd seen before. It felt like the edge of the world. My dad began glassing with his binoculars and spotted a bird down the shoreline, way up in the sky. He was excited. He handed us the binoculars but you still couldn't quite make out any details other than it was a big bird soaring high up in the sky. He told us it was a Bald Eagle. It was my very first sighting and I knew it was a big deal.
Not only are Eagles majestic birds, this was during the seventies and Bald Eagles were endangered and rare in Michigan. My dad knew this and understood the import of a sighting, albeit distant and small to the eye. He shared this with us and when I think back on that moment it sums up so much about my love of the wild. That Eagle was just a speck in the sky, but knowing what it was and that it was so rare created a mythological dimension to the wild that has never left. This is the special something about the natural world that is nearly impossible to explain, but easy to understand when you experience it. My photography and video have been the never ending pursuit of that moment and sensation. May it never end.
That sighting was one of my Dad's greatest gifts to us, whether he knew it or not.
Sadly, Dad passed away Monday, December 19th from bladder cancer at Rose Arbor Hospice in Kalamazoo. I am forever grateful for all that he's given me.
My last post was a photo of this same buck, seen through a narrow opening in the woods. He was tending a doe in a muddy lowland area and never presented himself in a clearing. It was a constant struggle against clutter - trying to snap a shot without branches, shadows and treetrunks obstructing his dandy rack.
I snapped the above photo by rattling him in while a doe group was meandering in the area. When he walked on to the gravel road my heart raced because he was not only close--perhaps 15 yards--but was glaringly visible. Not a single obstruction.
What's particularly strange to me is that you can see his hooves, something normally hidden by grass or mud. Not only is this a strange reminder that nimble footed deer are trotting around the wilderness on what look like high heels, it makes this buck appear almost naked, as if a deer normally wears the forest, or the field. This raises the fundamental question: are animals in general "naked"? Or is fur like a kind of "clothing".
These are the things you think about when you're waiting for deer.