There are times when I’m drinking up the atmosphere in an idyllic, peaceful setting while casually observing and photographing wildlife. This was not one of those times.
My mind was anticipating lunch at the Mammoth Springs Hotel as we headed down a well-travelled road in Yellowstone. I have a love of food that has been passed down to me through many generations.
Suddenly we noticed stopped cars and people gathered on one side of the road. Typically that size of crowd was reserved for bears! As we drew near the growing crowd, I rolled down my window and asked someone what was there. The answer got me moving quickly – bear cubs. This would be a first-time treat!
I jumped out of the truck and grabbed my tripod from the backseat. My wife continued driving on the narrow road to find a distant parking spot and joined me later. I can only imagine the jealous sighs of other photographers!
I found myself on a road beside a cliff so steep, the trees I was looking at were rooted far below in a ravine. I quickly learned from helpful bystanders that there were four cubs in the trees and a black bear mom below. Excellent. There was, however, a tiny problem. I couldn’t see bears of any kind. There were just too many branches blocking my view.
When I finally got a partial view of a cub, it would quickly disappear behind another tree branch. And that was before I located it in my lens.
The crowd was dispersed along the road in groups looking for the same thing I was – an unobstructed view. I would often find myself in close proximity to other photographers with big and small lenses as we all tried to peek through the same tiny opening in the trees.
Everyone was really nice and a number of people helped me out with locating cubs in the harsh light that was hitting the trees. But given the small openings we were trying to access, on a few occasions I found the back of someone’s head in my lens.
I would occasionally hear excitement further down the road and rush over there in hopes of a better view, only to find the same challenges. I kept firing off shots, hoping for the best.
While the crowd thickened, the cubs climbed around the trees for no particular reason and seemed to enjoy themselves. They were quite far from the road, oblivious to the excitement they were generating.
The cubs appeared too small to be hanging around that high in the trees. However, the mother contentedly wandered around the ground below and didn’t appear to be fussed in any way. Maybe bears don’t have helicopter moms.
I was struck by the contrast between the peaceful playfulness of the bears and my own searching and scrambling to get a shot. When the bears seemed to have wandered off, I had no idea how many of the cubs I saw or whether I had any good photos in the challenging conditions. But the scene at the side of the road was once again peaceful, just like the forest. The people and the activity had moved on. Hopefully the pictures captured the peacefulness.
In time, lunch tasted better, despite the delay. Great experiences will do that.