The Wolf Moon

Last night was brighter outside than I have seen since I left the city. One of the great things about moving to Montana has been the darkness of the nights. They are deep and velvet and the stars… in the city, I almost forgot how beautiful they are. Last night as I walked out of my last assignment I looked up and noticed an incredible moon. It seemed brighter, even larger. I dismissed this as wishful thinking and went on. But as I got home, I was struck again by how bright it was outside. Turns out that last night was the brightest full moon of 2010.

Out here, the full moon that occurs when the moon is closest to Earth on its elliptical orbit is called a Wolf Moon. That name became especially significant around 1 a.m. last night.

There are wolves in Montana. One of the things I have enjoyed most about living here is heading out onto the porch to listen to them howl and hunt around the house. Hearing them reminds me of one of my last photo shoots from my time in Maryland. In September I heard about a Wolf Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. Just a few hours north of me. I went up and spent three hours photographing wolves, it was my first time getting that close to them.

Of course, I got there early. I wanted to good light of sunrise. Such is the life of a photographer, so that meant getting up around 2 or 3 and driving along deserted highways to the town of Lititz, Pa. Once there I paid the $75 dollar fee for professional photographers to get closer to the fences and was allowed to make my way along the path and to put my lens right up against the chain link fence that separated me from them. This photo above, this is one of my favorites because of the work I had to do to get it. It was early morning remember, the grass is overgrown and soon my pant legs are soaking wet with dew. I climbed the hill to the furthest place I was allowed to go and there I found this wolf. Out here I have run into several people who dislike wolves (some of them take that dislike all the way to outright hatred). I don’t blame them for this, they have their stories and their reasons. But I am still new here, and to my mind, the wolves have a dangerous elegance I have seldom seen.

My favorite part of the day came when the wolves gathered and all began to howl. I wish desperately that I had brought an audio recorder with me. The sound of it was haunting. That cry that they make, one lone wolf baying at the moon is enough to set me on edge, the sound of all of them calling out their morning greetings, I can’t put it into words, but it’s something I shall never forget. Fortunately for me, it was late enough in the year that in the early morning you could see their breath as they howled. The photo just doesn’t do it justice.

Of the wolves I got to see at the sanctuary this guy became my favorite. His name is Tioga. This is not my friendliest photo of him. But I keep this image as one of my favorites because he looks (to me) most like what he is – a predator. See the way he stalks forward, his head low to the ground, taking in what he can learn from what he smells. In this photo, he’s coming at me. And yes, even safely on my side of the fence I have to admit, my heart was pounding. Tioga in this photo is the closest image I have to capturing what happened last night.

Sometime shortly after 1, I was startled awake by Nova barking and Valerie calling down to me from her room. A wolf outside. A dark shape moving against the snow on the driveway. Absolutely amazing. And Valerie tells me wait, where there’s one, there is usually another. Seconds later I saw him, making his way through the trees and the snow following his fellow hunter. The size of these animals is hard to explain. They’re big, but big in the way that a Great White shark is big compared to a clown fish. They move with grace, power and stealth that lets a person know instantly these are not pets. Every time I see a dog, there is a part of me that becomes a kid again and says “puppy.” Not so with wild wolves. There is nothing cute of fuzzy about these guys. Beautiful, but not cute. Two wolves went walking under my bedroom window last night under the Wolf Moon. And I don’t have a photograph of it. There was no time to do anything other than stand at the window and watch in amazement. What I do have is one more memory to add to my Montana collection. And it’s a memory I shall treasure.

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I am never allowed to complain about the cold again…

It’s 26 degrees outside right now. We are expected to remain in the low 30’s during the daylight hours for the next week or so. Before moving to Montana I would have described this as cold. But, now that I have been here a while this is starting to feel like normal to me. I am tempted to continue referring to my new home as a snow infested icebox (which it sort of is) but I am reminded of a recent photo assignment and the conviction that I will never complain about Montana being cold again.

In mid-December I began working on my first major photo project for the Daily Inter Lake. A woman named Katie Davis was in the midst of training and preparing to run Yukon Quest from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Canada. The Quest is roughly 1000 miles, depending on the exact course a musher takes. Katie and 14 dogs are going to be running these thousand miles starting here in about a week and a half. I spent a few weeks following Katie and documenting the commitment required to take on a challenge like this one. To see the full slideshow and hear the interview visit: http://www.dailyinterlake.com/app/videography/ and scroll down until you see “Katie Davis and Yukon Quest.”

Katie Davis and her team training for the Quest.

I had a great deal of fun doing this assignment. What Katie has set out to do is nothing less than extraordinary and it has been inspiring for me just to be around her. I’ve been thinking a lot about her this week because the Yukon Quest will begin on February 6th. At that point she will head out into the wilds, just her and her dogs. If you want to follow Katie’s progress visit http://eveningstarkennel.blogspot.com ย Katie’s friends who are going with her are going to be posting updates on her blog as she runs.

A few pictures from the essay

The reason I can never complain about the cold again is that Katie and her team are going to be facing not only the miles, but also temperatures as low as negative 60 degrees. It’s been chili here, but after hearing about the Quest I know absolutely I have never experienced real cold.

Documenting my own life

My New Home

As a professional photographer my days are filled with documenting life. Other people’s lives. In terms of my own life, I document where I go, but little else of my own story.

Shouldn’t there be more? I have a cousin who diligently photographs each place that she lives in. I don’t mean cityscapes either. Kimberly gets moved around frequently, just part of being in the Army, and with each move, she picks her place, decorates and then documents where she lives. She keeps this record of places she has lived and some day, when she is at finished with this chapter in her life she will be able to look back because she has a photo-documentation of all the places her life took her to.

Christmas Eve Sunset

I wish I had done that. I have lived all over the US. And I have traveled extensively. Not as much as I would like, but I’m still working on it. For most of those travels I have been a trained shooter. Why did I not document my own personal surroundings?

I’m trying to change that with this new job – with my new home here in Montana. And life in Whitefish gave me the perfect place to start. I am renting a room in a log cabin. I live in this lovely little home nestled at base of the Whitefish Mountain Range. Why not photograph it? I can’t think of a compelling reason not to, so I have been photographing my own home. I don’t have a specific use in mind for these pictures, this is just where I live. And it’s been nice to email these to friends and family who want to know just where I am.

Heavy Snow Fall

So, these pictures – this is home. For now. ๐Ÿ™‚ At twilight my first week here. At sunset on Christmas Eve with the mountains glowing in the background and horses munching in the front yard. And most recently as the snow came down so thick and wet that we ended up with more than a foot of snow. This place is my home.

I’m really enjoying life in Montana.

A Room with a View

Yesterday I after writing an email to a friend of mine I happened to look up and out my window. Off in the distance some small bit of movement caught my attention. Three deer were hiding up in those trees, nibbling on the pine needles and maneuvering through the deep snows. I was so spellbound by their antics that I didn’t notice the larger deer right under my window until she boldly stepped out into the backyard.

This began an hour of back and forth as they inched closer and I stood at the windows waiting and watching for their return. These White-tailed deer are certainly plentiful around here. I seem to have moved right into several hunters favorite turf. When I got here in mid-November it seemed for the first few weeks I couldn’t drive down the road to my house without running into either passing deer or the hunters looking for them.

As a newspaper photographer I must say, it’s particularly pleasant when feature art just walks right up to your house like that. My work is done, all I had to do is snap on my largest lens and stay nice and warm for the show. While photographing my visitors I couldn’t help but think of an incident in Maryland a few years back. One of my fellow photographers at the Gazette took a picture of two horses out in the snow. It ran as cover art for the Christmas special. Nice photo. He got quite a few compliments as I recall. He also got one rather unique “request.” Seeing the photo a woman called up to the paper to say how much she enjoyed the image, but… next time, what she would really prefer is a photo of deer. She wanted him to go out and look for two deer in the snow. Now in Montana the deer walk right up to your house, in suburban Maryland, not so much. We sat there in the office listening to the message play over the speaker phone literally dumbfounded. And my poor friend, well, you can imagine he ended up having to endure quite a bit of good-natured ribbing over that message.

What do you think? Should I make this next year’s Christmas card photo? My former editor has promised that should they get that call again, he will upload one of my pix to their website as a “special to the Gazette” image. ย ๐Ÿ™‚

White on white

Yesterday afternoon I woke up from my nap (don’t laugh when your 34 years old starting the day at 4 a.m. is not as easy as it used to be) I looked out my window only to find a steady torrent of some of the largest snowflakes tumbling out the sky that I have ever seen. Big. Wet. Mushy. Perfect, especially after the driveway has just been cleared. I don’t have the exact stats on how many inches fell, but it was enough to have me fascinated and joyful. I figured since the day had begun with photos why not end it that way too. Normally I am do not use a flash when photographing scenics. However, as there are exceptions to every rule last night I popped on the flash before heading out to try to capture the snowfall.

Happenstance

Of all the pictures I took that night, this one is my favorite. Photography is my profession. I love it and I have spent years acquiring the skills, training, and technology that go into making images that make me proud. But there is no amount of preparation, no amount of forethought, no amount of planning that can override the blessing of blind luck. I didn’t plan this shot. I really don’t even know how it happened. I was trying to blur the tallest pine tees in the background and focus on the falling crystals closest to my lens. It didn’t work the way I expected it to, but that is not to say it didn’t work. I have these created this ghostly images that I like to look at. Will I ever be able to recreate it? Who knows, but it will be fun to try this again with the next snowfall.

Greeting the New Year

Everyone has their own holidays โ€” not just the official ones, but the personal ones. Birthdays, anniversaries, memorials, a million moments that belong to individuals, the deeply significant small treasures that the world knows nothing about. New Year’s Day is by no means a personal holiday. It is celebrated with fireworks and dancing, countdowns and kisses, and champagne and resolutions. But celebrating the new year has always held a particular importance in my life. Personally, I like to ring in the new year with a photo shoot. This year, in my new home, that meant only one thing โ€” A pre-dawn trek to Glacier National Park.

Lake McDonald

There wasn’t much of a sunrise on this dark day, and I knew that would be the case before I went, but I wanted to be there at dawn because today was day one of the Centennial Year of Glacier. On 11 May 1910 the incredible stone edifices, lakes and mountain passes that make up this region became the 10th national park. I will be exploring the park throughout the year, and throughout all my time here. In my reading I have learned that there are 703 miles of trails to explore; that could fill a whole lifetime.

“You may walk the same trail a dozen times and not tire of the view. I have given up wondering why. I know only these are mountains a man might grow old with, and that mountain-fever never diminishes but only changes its look, as a forest does over many years.” โ€” Greg Beaumont

I have been reading about the park, trying to figure out where I want to go first โ€” that is once, the roads are open… Right now, the roads are closed at about 10 miles in. In these mountains, winter rules. So far my list includes the continental divide, Grimell Point, Swift Current Mountain, Hidden Lake, Heaven’s Peak, Iceburg Lake, and the White Cliffs. And that’s only the beginning.

“The word for these rewards to sight and soul is glory, or majesty, or grandeur. Over the centuries nature, in travail, has delivered them. They make human concerns unimportant.” โ€” A.B. Guthrie, Jr.

These are mountains that I am going to love. I feel incredibly blessed to live here. I could never have imagined the twists and turns that brought about this change to my life, but I am grateful. And as I welcome the new year my prayer is that I will be able to live the blessing each day โ€”that I will be granted both the depth that comes only with time and the grace to see each day with fresh eyes.

Happy New Year.