letter written to family 29 May 2016
22 degrees at 5:15 on a Memorial Weekend morning — are you kidding me?? We stick close to home this time and decide to photograph one of the two Moulton barns that we can see out behind the cabin. Already the space for taking the iconic photo of the barn is colonized by a flock of photographers. Okay, so we find more creative places to wait for the sun to rise. Dave had to move to the far side of a field to give his telephoto room to take in the barn — and I love the way the foreshortening effect tucks the peak of the Grand Teton up close to the peak of the barn — an effect I cannot duplicate. So I stand outside the barbwire fence and wait.
Where at Schwabacher any first hint of light on the peaks is reason enough to click the shutter, here the scene really comes to life once the first sun warms the barn. Within two minutes of that happening, the swarm of photogs hopped in their cars and sped off. There were a few of us left, roaming here and there to play — and try to stay out of each other’s shots which was not easy!!
By 7am we are the last to leave. The day feels over already. I came home with 110 shots of various lighting, settings, and compositions. I am down to 13 keepers and some of them are borderline. 🙂 I am trying to learn to be more ruthless and not see something good in every shot…because so far for this trip I have 4.5GB (1,054 images) on my hard drive and the trip is not over!
Dave has decided his hike for the day will be the more modest Jenny Lake Loop. Ten miles (+20 stories) hiked when he finishes. No moose this time, but he did see more marmots and an adult Osprey. I, like a lizard, decide to sit at the picnic table and soak up the sun. I do a little sewing, a little reading, and a little staring at the clouds and mountains. Heaven.
Mid afternoon I decide I want to get a photo of the flowers in the field next to the cabin. There are some tiny blue larkspur and bright yellow alumroot flowers in bloom, but the predominance of color comes from a carpet of dandelions. It is our quickly formed habit to scan the fields with binoculars several times a day — nearly every time we walk past the window — looking at who and what might be visiting back there. It has been two days since we have seen anything — bison, elk, pronghorn, or fox out there. So I walk to the edge of the flowers with a camera. Head on a swivel and making noise – just in case. Turns out Dave’s telephoto is almost too powerful for what I want — I think my iPhone panoramic does the best job of the three cameras.
The kitchen faucet has dripped since we arrived. Being in town for the holiday, the owner brought his brother over to try and repair it but broke it. That required a drive into town — which required extra time as downtown was mobbed and mobs take a long time to walk across intersections. And he stopped in to visit Tom Mangelsen (a favorite photographer of ours) and visit for an hour. He’s been back from a trip to the Galapagos and has spent the week getting up early and looking for bears 399 and 610 with their cubs — with no luck! It is nice to know even someone with his resources (local knowledge, network) can have some tough days. Eventually Lance installed a new faucet and we are good to go.
Near sunset Dave went up to the Snake River overlook in hopes of getting some sunset pictures. I stayed here — I’d gotten near the exciting conclusion of my book and I am not as enamored of the view as Dave is. After comparing photos, Dave thought maybe I had gotten better sky color here — but you never know what you might get! With another sky he would have had some great images.
How long is a bison nap?
I vaguely remember Dave getting out of bed this morning and then snuggling up again. My mind processed that as ‘oh, good, must be cloudy and I can stay asleep.’ What seemed like a blink later I crack one eye open and see sun on the mountains and Dave gone. It is late — 7:30. I poke my head around the corner and see Dave standing at the kitchen window, camera in hand taking pictures out the window! All I can see are the tree swallows at the nest — and I am faaar more interested in them than he is! So what … is … he ….
Bison! Two bison have parked themselves roughly a hundred yards from the east side of the cabin at the edge of the sage brush! We can see the clear outline of an adult laying down, from shaggy forehead to boney hips. And lower in the grass is what we take to be the outline of the spine of a calf — it appears to be a fraction of the size of the adult. Holy Smokes Batman!
Dave takes a few photos from out in the driveway — they aren’t moving. But the slight elevation of being in the cabin means we can see them better and see the field of dandelions behind them much better. A more interesting backdrop. I creep out and set up the time lapse camera on the firewood chopping block, aim it roughly in their direction and hope. It is pretty low, but we have no idea where they might wander. Binoculars don’t show any other friends in the area. So we make coffee, set up the camera on a tripod in the window, wait, and watch. All plans for the day evaporated.
Eventually the ‘calf’ stands — it is another adult! It stands, stretches, preforms its morning ablutions, and has a lie back down. The other has a good roll in the dirt — for a second all we can see are its hooves poking above the screen of sagebrush! Now they are both laying down — and if we did not know there were two, we would miss the second bison entirely. And to think — I walked through that very spot yesterday. How cool!! It is now 10 am, and they still have not moved. How long can a bison nap??
Turns out, about 3.5+ hours. Wake-up, stretch, have dust bath, pee, poop, and start eating as you walk. They headed to the house next door, walking through the yard of snow machines, canoes, and spare lumber to come out by their front porch. Then they turned west and walked to the houses across the street and down over the bluff out of sight, darn it! You know we were hoping they would visit our yard and picnic table! Ah well, it still made for an exciting morning.
It has turned cloudy and the rain is spitting a bit — so too cold to sit outside without the sun. Dave has gone to hike the butte we are nestled up against. There is a Peregrine Falcon nest up there — but he saw a red tailed hawk on the walk back. 7 miles there and back and 70 flights of stairs (about 1000ft elevation). Bob (owner Lance’s BIL and neighbor) chatted with Dave over the fence as he returned home and brought him up to speed on all the goings on in the neighborhood since Saturday. 😉
I puttered for awhile, unable to settle anywhere for long. The bird nesting box near the kitchen window was at the center of a swarm of swallow activity this morning — but by 11am it was deserted and the field dead quiet. I’d seen the bluebird (of happiness) with binoculars out in the brush and asked him if he would come closer. Well, what do you know?! He came and perched on the nest box preening. Luckily, Dave’s camera was still on the tripod pointed at the window. Whoopee!!!
Dave has a consulting call Tuesday morning so we are now (3pm) at the Visitor Center do some digital research. Driving away from the cabin who should we see but the bison from this morning! Over by Bob’s house. I’m guessing they walked between the main road and houses — I had been looking out the windows pretty often — hoping to see the fox or magpies or …
Postscript to the day
Silly me … I thought the day was pretty much over except for dinner and reading a book before retiring! As we pulled onto the private road to the cabin (returning from e-mailing the travel log from the visitor center), our two favorite bison (Fred & Rickie) were laying down by the end of the drive. We could see them about a half mile away as we sat down for dinner. Dave started working and I went out to sit on the stoop with binoculars to watch them. Plenty of cars slowed down to admire them through the windows.
After awhile they got up, nibbled a bit, and then started walking towards me! It was the coolest, spookiest thing — to watch the two fuzzy, teddy-bear adorable bulls amble head-on across the grass through binoculars. It made me think of Hollywood cowboy gunslingers marching down a wild west main street ready to draw on the first sheriff or deputy they spot. Thank goodness they set a leisurely pace … I slowly turned and went in to get the camera and put the telephoto on it.
When they got to Bob’s tool shed they kind of stopped and milled around a bit. One decided I looked safe enough and started back on the original path that lined up with the front door. He was almost at the road when I softly tapped on the window to get Dave’s attention. That turned the bison right around. *sigh*
They reminded me of divers holding their breath, head down cropping grass for long minutes and finally lifting their heads up to chew and look around. The sun was going in and out behind clouds, the two bison were meandering around (usually butt to camera) with their heads down hidden behind sage bushes. I tried to save my trigger finger for the times they picked their head up.
Eventually they crossed the road into ‘our yard.’ One was either not fond of me or the camera because he kept up a good pace and walked straight across to the area we’d seen them in this morning on the far side of the neighbor’s. But one stayed quite close, about 30 feet from me sitting on the deck. The fast bull stopped, waited, and then came part of the way back for his buddy. They wound up at the porch of Charlie next door — I thought they might eat their just planted flowers in hanging baskets and porch containers, but no, they preferred to mow the grass. Between us, Dave and I took almost 400 images and kept maybe 40 total. The clouds took over, the drizzle started, and the bison went round the house out of view.
Inside we were happily reviewing our booty and clucking over the photos that would have been great if the camera had focused on the bison instead of the weed they were eating! But really, how amazing to observe these awesome animals from the relative comfort of your porch?!?!
While we were staring at our computer screens the clouds broke up a bit into spotty showers and then decided to create some terrific crepuscular rays embedded in its sunset. Naturally we grabbed all cameras and ran out to the picnic table to take pictures. Dave got some good ones with tripod and remote. I had more luck with my iPhone.
To celebrate such an amazing day, we are having hot chocolate. 🙂