When Wolves help kids (right here in LA)

I wrote this to support the program as it was looking forward to a chance at a grant from Mazda/NBC, but I evidently tried to submit it for review shortly after they closed the submissions. Rather than just slide it into a folder, I thought I would add it here and possibly deliver a message to a possible set of eyes that may feel the compulsion to help out as well, in any capacity.

As a photographer and artist by trade, I have long come to realize I will never be “wealthy.” That is defined by the fact that here will be no homes on the ocean with sweeping views that I have dreamed of nor will I fall asleep to the rhythmic lullaby of waves gentle lapping the shoreline.

 

But defining the term “wealthy” and the currency used to gain it, has taken on a completely different meaning lately in my life. The experiences I get to live out on a weekly basis whether it be to traveling to a distant shore, getting inside looks into the lives of celebrities, sport stars and all the common families that help build this country is something I was hoping to do when I retired from my 9-5, suit and tie gig.

 

The currency I was going to save in order to do all of this was based on years of saving and sacrificing what’s left of my youth. For the record I am in my 50’s and consider myself as youthful, if not more so than most 25 year olds. But I know my clock is moving so much faster.

 

The past ten years has blessed me with the chances and recourses to do something I knew I was here to ultimately do; give back. There are a few causes I like to donate my time and services to. One of which is the Wolf Connection (WC), in Acton California.

 

Here, the combination of love and thoughtful direction towards the misunderstood diverge in a perfect symphony of altruism. Abandoned, mistreated and often abused wolves are joined here with their human counterparts and where true healing and hope begin to take root.

 

I have been on hikes through the hot, dusty and steep hills with the leaders of this unique pack, accompanied by select wolves and the at risk kids, who at first often maintain a cool and at arms length disposition. As a photographer watching everything, including the attitudes and body language through my lens, it becomes apparent to me very quickly who is taking this serious and those who choose to keep their protective walls up. However, that will eventually change and that’s where the wolves themselves make their mark along with the stories told by the WC pack members themselves.

 

While the wolves can’t talk directly to them, the level of communication is undeniable. Concepts such as trust, humility, confidence and family will be introduced in simple terms to each child that’s willing to listen.

 

At times I walk with the kids to hear the conversations and a gain sense of their understanding of these new concepts. Last hike I heard terms “I can’t” or I’ll never” referring to their idea they can ever break away form the bad neighborhoods they live in or the broken family they come from.

 

The Wolf Connection offers a place they can learn to understand how to build the foundation for these foreign concepts and hope; strength and a plan to climb out the dark hole they currently find themselves in. The wolves themselves keep a healthy distance to those who aren’t ready to humble themselves by breaking down the rough exterior and walls. It’s when the kids earn their trust when the magic happens. A kinship in the purest and most primal form has planted its first seed and the foundation for a new understanding of how they value themselves as worthy recipients that will translate to the outside world they return to at the end of the day.

 

The idea is the new value they have in themselves keeps them away from the constant street fights, drugs and misleading fraternities within a gang. The very idea of hope is taught here. The direction it takes to be involved so the chance to climb up the ladder and out of their situation, school family and those in the community who are true leaders will appeal to them.

 

Like with wolves in the wild, it’s all about surviving and being associated with the right pack. And like these wolves here, abused and left behind, the hopes for second chances are realized. To move forward, forgiveness, humility and a solid plan path their new road from Acton to Watts.

 

By the end of the hikes, I have often witnessed the “I Cant’ attitude change to many questions of how they can, and this step to these kids is invaluable as the seed has now been planted. The program last several weeks to properly water and feed these them so the roots can spread in an otherwise barren pot. The impact to each kid cannot be measured, as its impact on the community they live in eventually will.

 

If kids who leaned towards the idea of the easy dollar or sense of community through crime and civil disobedience can be show the road to a more fulfilling life, the community itself is exponentially healed. These kids cannot only be the students, but more importantly the teachers. How does one put a value on that that is not understated?

 

In life every thing boils down to currency. In my case, my currency is the gift of trust I ultimately get from many of these kids. To have a child who has literally been left behind by their community, friends and even family ask advise from me or want to bounce an idea of me makes me a very wealthy man. I am honored to contribute to such a program.

 

As for the currency and what it means to (WC), the motor that drives the operation is not cheap. Housing, feeding, caring and medicine for the wolves is expensive. The manpower it takes to maintain the acreage and support the programs for the kids and is paid in US dollars. A donation from Mazda/NBC of this amount is a game changer would help level the playing field for so many more who can’t see that they can also be “wealthy” too.

 

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Tail tucked firmly between my legs

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Filled with fear? Possibly just ignorance.

Don’t know how else to explain it.

Usually once a week, on Wednesdays I take my pooch, Henry to a dog park in El Segundo as it is much larger than his usual spot in Manhattan Beach and it gives him a chance to play with other buddies he otherwise does not see. It’s a real pain with all the morning traffic and takes a while but he loves it so I just do it begrudgingly.

Each time I go I have noticed that there is always a car parked along side the park with a man sitting in it with his dog. Pretty sure he is listening to music and the dog just stares longingly at the dogs playing in the park. I find myself glancing over form time to time and he’s constantly there. In fact he’s never not been there. The site of that little face staring with the fog spot on the window where she breaths on deflates me each time and my heart always goes out to her.

Many times when I leave the park, I walk right by them with Henry and the dog just sadly stares at us. It leaves me with such a crummy and empty feeling each time. My ride home is ultimately consumed with the plight of this poor dog and how his owner could be so cruel.

After several more time to the dog park, I noticed my resentment for this man growing. As this anger inside me continued to snowball, I decided I simply could not take it anymore and decided to go over.

To say what? Do what? Had no idea. If nothing else maybe just ask the guy if it would be okay if I watched over the dog in the park while he sat in his car listening to his music. There was no real plan. But I had to do or say something.

While I was headed there one of Henry’s best friends came in and distracted the situation. It did so long enough for me to ask the other dogs owner, who lives close by what the story was with this guy. Pretty sure I asked in a snarky tone as well.

She proceeded to tell me the man lives in the tree section of Manhattan Beach. His dog has a rare bone condition that does not allow it to play with others. So he sits there with her for as long as it takes until all the dogs are gone so he can take her into the park and allow her to run around and sniff stuff to her heart delight.

The woman basically saved me form myself. I was speechless and confused how I never considered that possibility. I pride myself in placing myself in another shoes and trying to see a situation form their perspective. Not only did I not do this, but felt like such an indignant jerk.

Suddenly my complaining about the traffic one day a week to make my dog happy was insignificant. I was embarrassed for myself. This man does it every day, and waits for as long as it takes to give his pooch one shot each day to be a dog in a safe place.

I needed to do something or tell someone as I know I could not be the only one who had the same line of thinking. I am sure this initial reaction was to undo a wrong I had done as fast as possible. Even if that wrong was never manifested itself outside my own confused brain.

Talk about serendipity; a woman of another dog I know and whom I just photographed for her store, came to me and asked what the deal was with the man in the car with the dog.

And talk about a chance to confess to someone what a buffoon I was!

It was as if she was directly sent to me to shed some light; a very warm and heart touching light on such a heartbreaking situation (or heartwarming, depending on your view.) The weight was lifted.

The impact however will never be. Lesson learned, again.

Zion

Two carefully chosen words Merriam-Webster Dictionary uses to define Zion are “Heaven and Utopia.” Although, these references represent more of a symbolic idealism based from Judaism, after hiking for the second time through the grand cathedrals of colored sandstone walls, I think it is safe to say, this reference can easily be shared amongst many faiths.

Morning greeted us with shades of blue in the sky we simply don’t get in Los Angeles. With the absence of clouds, thoughts of flash floods quickly evaporate in the 110 degree heat as did the residual stiffness left from the seven or so hour long drive from Los Angeles.zion

Another colorful greeting came to us riding the warm current of air above the river on the wings of Monarch Butterfly’s as they fluttered about through out the hike. They lead us down into the winding torrent of small rapids, springs, waterfalls and golden reflected pools of surrounded by hanging gardens of shooting stars, evening primrose, larkspurs, monkey flowers even orchids to name a few which sprung from seeping water from the confluence of the canyon walls. The contrast is stunning for an otherwise hot and arid desert terrain and is highlighted with colorful oasis blooms throughout the canyon.

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Entering the shade provided by the Narrows combined by soaking in the cool Virgin River away from the dry, skin cracking heat of the surrounding Valley, was very much Heaven. In fact, it was the word that popped into my mind first as the temperature dropped immediately. The word utopia was not far behind it either. In an instant, sore legs and toes began to tingle with life once again. Suddenly I’m prepared to continue through the next leg of the 16 mile journey as the chilled water swirls around my calves in a soft massage easing the burden of the pack pulling from my shoulders as well.

The river leads us into the cool cover of shadows cast by breathtaking walls as high as 2000 feet and with widths of only 20 feet in some parts. It becomes increasingly hard to move swiftly into the winding corridor as the footings is anything but sure with moss covered rocks underwater and the views that are mostly above.

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It is truly a feast for the senses and the eyes are continually seduced away from the next footprint I will leave as they are constantly scanning the expansive rock formations etched by flash floods, runoff and snowmelt.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 12.40.52 PMSpring fed waterfalls, outlined with local flowers

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It’s easy to look around and see how millions of years shaped this place into what it is, but the canyon is still being sculpted as I walk through it even today. The river carries sediment and large rocks as well as small grains of sand which make their way down the river, grinding and carving new formations all the time. Add wind, ice and rain to the mixture and the result is a living, evolving creation which goes straight through your eyes into the depths of your soul.

Below, ghost like formations serve as a reminder of what the elements and father time does to us all. In this case though, turns solid rock into an art form.

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No matter what journey brings you to Zion or how you feel before you enter the Narrows, one thing for sure; you will feel closer to whatever your particular notion of Heaven or Utopia is long before you leave it.

To me Zion is a slice of Heaven

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Thanks to my Three Amigos for enhancing this experience as it is always better to share paradise amongst the special ones in our lives.

Insignificant; or NOT

From a scribbling I put together a few yrs back with a few small changes. But the spirit of thankfulness, perspective and inspiration remains. I thank God every day for the gifts I have to use at my disposal and why perspective, inspiration and gratitude will always be a theme that dominates my writing.

Like most of my longer training rides on the bike, the goals are simple. Ride until eventually my body learns to the art of minimizing my muscles demands for oxygen to metabolize an increase in blood lactate and increase overall aerobic thresholds. Usually my journey begins with pain in the legs but usually ends up taxing everything from between one ear to the next and back. Tonight’s ride should be no exception.

As turmoil has been a steady companion of late I guess I should have known better. After 2 hours plus of burning the quads with several climbs, I suddenly noticed one of my favorite things in life. The sky was turning all shades of red and blue and the South Bay was preparing for a spectacular show as the sun fell behind the sea. I glided to the end of Hermosa Beach pier and just sat there in a now cold sweat, watching the sky and the water try to outdo each other as if it were a duel of master painters. It was chilly and I was wearing nothing more than swim-bike shots, lycra form fitting vest and arm warmers. But the cold never affected me as I stared at the show like a kid at a first circus waiting for the next thing to happen.

Then the inevitable began to happen….I began to think…Shit; too late now as this ball had already started to roll. For those who can’t sleep at night due to a restless mind know what I am talking about. I stared deep into and beyond the swirls of color mixing the waters currents and then upwards beyond the colors of the sky until the colors were all but gone. Suddenly I could see a star shining over the horizon and it did not appear to be a planet. My astrology is lacking so I can’t tell which star it was, but it caused me to do what most of us have done one time or another; feel really, really small..

I began to think about time and space and my place in it. And in the end how do my problems even matter? How could they? But to me they freeze me in my tracks; every time.

A “first down” in football is ten yards. It takes light to travel that far in about 30 nano-seconds and light can go 300 million yards (or 30 million first downs) in ONE second.

The same little beam of misguided light would take 1 1/4 seconds to get to the moon and to the sun (which is BTW 109 times the size of the Earth) and would take little Mr light beam 8 minutes to arrive.. Hang with me, there is a point.

Jupiter is further out and would take 40 light-minutes to feel the love and Pluto is a whopping 5 ½ hours away for the train to reach its station and far too many first downs for me to figure out.

Now for the amazing part.. That twinkling and insignificant wobble in the sky is no less than 4 ½ years away for that wayward beam of light to arrive. Beyond that, my head just really begins to hurt. It must be from slamming it into that brick wall they built at the very end of the Universe back when the UFO’s also build the Pyramids of Ghiza. It’s enough to imagine our little hub of insignificance in all of this expanse too large to wrap my mind fully around.

But if I were to try…..

The nearest cluster of Galaxy (the Virgo Cluster~only remembered because I am one) is
50 million light years away and to totally blow the top of your head off, the visible edge of the universe is 13,700,000,000 (yes, billion) light years away. Or as Cal Sagan would have said “beillionn.”

So back to our little flickering and dim light in an otherwise endless forest full of Sequoia Christmas trees we have to ask ourselves the same question. Do we count? Do we matter at all in the end?

From events unfolding form warring nations, all the way down to even the little kid crying because Santa’s gift this year wasn’t what was wished for and everything else in between, it’s just a pimple on a pimples ass in the end of a flea no less. That is if fleas actually could get a pimple of course. One day it will be dead silent here and really dark and cold. Somewhere zillions of first downs away and even more zillions of years something will be crawling out of the mud to choke on it’s first breath. Or two overzealous leaf bearing zealots will hook it up again,…But life will come to be. Somewhere out there..

Whatever happens, will they eventually stand at the end of a pier one year and look out to the sky and begin to feel just as small and even insignificant?

As I turned my bike around to ride several, but not too many first downs back to my home, a father and son ( I presumed he was his son) approached me for a picture. I said sure and suggested we use the faded light of the ocean for the background as I reached for the camera. The father said no, it was his son who wanted the picture with me. I just stood there and didn’t know what to say. I was sure they thought I was someone else. It’s happened plenty of times before. So I kept on saying nothing and smiled for the photo with my arm around the kid.

The smile on the teen aged kid was enough to answer my question with out a word being spoken. I was not about to discourage that amazing smile.

Hell yes, I mattered, I mumbled to myself under my breath.. Or at least the guy they thought I was did…It really didn’t matter. I connected with someone the very second I asked this silent question and it was evident.

If this was not significant in any big pictures and about my place in it, then what does that say about me?

I glided back down the pier with my bike toward home.

He glided back down the pier in his wheelchair..

For New Years ~ Reboot yourself

rebootWe all tend to live with an eye on what’s to come based on what has already happened in our lives. The struggle just to get through any given day often forces us to shift our brains into a gear that is meant for plowing forward and gobbling up as much (chores or work) as possible. Most of that time is spent wondering about where the time will come from and the energy to pursue with focus.

Life becomes a never ending stream of checklist, littered with post it notes, leading us faster down a familiar but ultimately unrewarding path. With every passing year, more and more energy on managing the day itself becomes increasingly important.

We are bombarded with notes like, wash the car, clean the yard, pay the bills

pick up groceries, do laundry, fill cars up with gas, pick up kids and drop off form school, get to gym, etc . And thats on our off time like the weekends, except for picking up the kids from school I suppose.

When do we ever to create post it notes like ,take deep breaths, stop and help someone who needs it, slow down or simply think about our dreams. How about ask a friend, neighbor or family member how they are really doing and actually listen until they are done. Take an interest and become something larger than ourselves.

I come from the very definition of a blue collar family, I know first hand how hard it is to turn off the “work mode” and completely relax. Don’t get me wrong, work is really good for the soul. In fact, there are few things that feels as good as a job well done. There has to be a balance though. A long time ago, I turned to Yoga to help me with my triathlon training. I found it also allowed myself the space on ability to take a simple unregulated breath with out any concept other than to feel the air go in and fill my lungs and then leave in a long purging breath out. Sounds simple, but to someone like me, it took months to allow myself to do so with out peeking out squinted eyes to see if every one else was doing the same thing and not all looking at me make a fool of myself. I have been a worker bee my whole life. It’s burned into to who I am as a person. Even in college, I did not go to parties until all my homework and studying was done. Many times I wandered completely sober into a rager well after 1 or 2 am feeling like the only sober person on Earth. But that worker bee attitude also was instrumental getting me caught up there fast enough as well.

Simply saying to get out there and do something and get off the damned couch is lazy and well; simple. It really serves no purpose other than to tell others what their doing wrong. I’d rather offer ideas and underscore the means to connect them to every day reality in an effort maybe reach at least a single person out there who may want a little to a lot more out of life; your life.

So try this project: Take a day and drop off the face of the earth from it all. Turn off the smart phones, computers and TV’s. I know, God forbid! Put some music on and make a home cooked meal with a significant other and the agree to only discuss “trivial pursuits” like philosophy, dreams and wishes…forget anything and everything that reminds us of the day to day task that bury us and our dreams alive.

Stop living in your past and thinking too far into the future and see what its like to feel the here and now .If geographically available climb a mountain, take a long swim in the ocean, go for a bike ride, lay back in the largest field you can find and watch the clouds roll over, etc….

One does not need to be and adrenaline junkie, but if you talk to enough of them there is a very common theme. When climber thinks of a mountain to climb, for instance, there are all kinds of thoughts and ideas into the route, a day, the weather conditions, etc..but when the first step is made at the base of a sheer face, the mind switches to the hear and now. It has to. Each step is calculated, each breath monitored and the brain begins to feel the moment with hi definition with alarming clarity. So much so, that everything that was clouding your thought patterns with bombarding task off the “to do list” is gone. Think of your brain like a computer that has not been turned off for months and has all of those programs running in the background. Its slow, unresponsive and will shut down in an unpredictable way and mostly at the worst time.

Clear out the dead wood in your life or those who continually drag you down. Allow the programs running interference to all be turned off and start of fresh. This does not mean to shun all those that may disagree with you. The ones who challenge you to expand and think deeper should actually be help in high regard. Say good-by to the narcissist in your ives and those who bask in constant negativity. We all know who they are. Sometimes they are even family. If they don’t change, you must. But its crucial you are honest with yourself here as we all tend to protect those who hurt us the most in this regard. This is where the courage must manifest itself. Do you have what it takes?

Rebooting ourselves and clearing the debris to launch the thoughts that we decide to program and not the ones that bombard us though news-bites, headlines, bad apples etc

Fill you heart with life, wonder and love and give it back to those who are in your lives. Pick up someone emotionally and making their day a bit brighter. Then sit back and feel how it affects you. Its the absolute best feeling there is. It feeds you.

So start the new year off with a gift to yourself that is long overdue..just hit  the “reboot” button..Never to beconfused with the “reset” button..We all know that one does not work:)

Machu Picchu magic (if you are open to it)

Machu Picchu 2014

Why does every single person here have ridiculously big smiles here? Same question for the small foothill town of Augas Calientes just below Machu Picchu? Maybe it has more to do with an energy we can’t quite put our fingers on or wrap our brains around. Even the street dogs are all incredibly friendly.

There is no doubt an energy here that I can feel. But what is it? It appears that everyone I see and have seen here now and before can feel it as well. I suppose that the kind of people who would be attracted to such a site can explain some of it. I doubt most who’s idea of adventure travel is going to Las Vegas to see pyramids, towers, palaces while being waited on by overly made up and under-dressed women serving weak drinks at cards tables, pack their hiking boots and cameras while leaving home their hair gel and favorite cologne or perfume are the types to make such a trip. Although it’s much more than a back-packers paradise, it does tend to bring those more intrepid travellers from all four corners to make this journey to see and feel what is here. So maybe they(we) are just more open to it?

Either way, it is worth digging into more.

Not too far away neighboring town of Ollantayambo there is a really interesting story. It’s not folklore or some passed down from one family to the next bed time story either. This sleepy little village is still under excavation and under the watchful eye of archeological societies in Peru and far beyond.
The constant quest for understanding of how the Incan people moved such monolithic rocks to build any number of temples, schools and other buildings as well as agricultural plateaued marvels like Machu Picchu remained a mystery for so long and serves as a possible answer to my initial question.

In 1993, the town decided to try and recreate this feat by strictly abiding by 16th Century drawings rendered by the Spanish monks as described by the Incan people at the time.Rock moving
America sent in a scientific team led by Jean Pierre Protzen, from U-Cal, Berkeley to prove or dispel all the rumors and myths regarding the legitimacy of how these huge stones were moved more than 500yrs ago

As they followed the images to the last detail and used the same rope material as the Incans, the test failed over and over. The ropes that cradled the huge rocks snapped under the strain much to the contrary of all the mathematical calculations indicating otherwise.

Many in the academic community swiftly pushed aside the theory that the monks had laid before them.

Ironically the locals, who were the ones from this small-uncivilized town had their reservations front he get go. The academics were missing one very large component to this inquiry.

The locals explained to the puzzled scientific community that they never permission from the Earth Mother, Pachamama.

Really?

Yup, so with all the effort that went into everything to that point there was no reason not to at least try to get a shaman to ask the Earth Mother for the permission according to Incan tradition. Basically the community members asked the scientific community to proceed and leave science out of it.

A shaman was then asked to and performed this ritual blessing the ceremony of moving the huge stone. As the “putuno” (an Incan ceremonial horn) sounded once again to begin the pulling, the local people fell into some type of hypnotic trance and began to once again pull.

The rock began to move and the ropes held while the rock moved with relative ease 200 yards from the church to a town bridge.

The video footage stands as proof of this and the scientific and stringent care to detail measuring the physics of this are all documented. The ropes that snapped like weak strings were the same for each attempt.
The point I guess here is that other than being a cute story with a hokey ending is that we really are connected to this earth in a sense most dismiss so willingly as it does not fit their dogma and possibly threatens their entire belief system.

We all know what happens when this sacred part of each of our lives becomes threatened. Just look currently at the caliphate in the middle east and beyond killing innocent people in the name of their God. Say what you will about who represents what in any religion, but with historical evidence before us all its easy to see which sectors of society and religion use it for peace building, benevolence, inclusiveness and above all respect for each other and which are not. Religion is like any other part of life and evolves along with each of us. So it’s not fair to base opinions on what happened centuries ago and not look at the good or evil that is conducted under that particular veil today. We need to ask if our faith is based on hate, killing and undermining the basic freedoms every human should enjoy with out repudiation, or not.

It appears though, I am afraid that we never ever seem to learn and history will continue to repeat itself over and over until is beyond the point of no return. As a believer in my God, (as described in the Christian faith) I don’t feel my relationship with him is in any way compromised as I walk on the sacred ground of Pachamama. In fact, I feel more connected and free than before.

The warmth, love and light that is simply undeniable in a place like Machu Picchu is a welcome energy I would never ever turn my back on. No matter where it comes from. God knows, I have felt the darkness as most everyone has in their lives at one time or another. The difference is undeniable.

I certainly would never tell the people of this area that they’re entire way of life is wrong as they have a different inherent belief than I do. Why would I?

I’ve been here before and felt the same warmth and sense of awe. So whatever it is, I thank God for it.

It’s time to take a hard look at contemporary doctrine and see it for what it is as opposed to what it was. If we do this it will be so much easier to get along.

If Jihad and Sharia law is in your heart you are no better than the Spaniards who came here long ago and completely trashed an otherwise peaceful civilization the name of their God.

All I can say is that there are things; forces much bigger than us. But nobody has to believe in anything, as it’s our will. But what a sad ending that would be to eventual end; if that were true.

Time to start being nice to each other and holding the ones accountable who aren’t.

Sometimes you just need to ask

Sometimes getting the right shot takes a lot of planning, good equipment and a lot patience…Sometimes, though it just takes a nothing more than a little luck. And if luck is often elusive, sometimes you just have to ask for it. A very good friend of mine recently asked me how I got the “Soft Shoulder “shot of the Grizzly bear in my photo section. I told her I simply asked for it.

However there were a string of events and special circumstances that needed to occur before I could ever be put in the right spot for the shot first. Semi blind-luck got me into Denali National Park in the first place with a road lottery pass days before the park officially closes. (The “semi-blind” refers to the point that we have to at the very least put ourselves in a position initially to even be open to luck in the first place. That is, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t at least buy a ticket.) This lottery road-pass allows me and a few other lucky souls to drive anywhere I want in the park alone and pick and choose my spots to stake out while the rest of the park was closed to the general public.

 

Now I was not lucky enough to actually win a lottery ticket for myself the conventional way, despite sending in more than my share of entries. I had a few days left over after I flew out of the Katmai peninsula photographing the coastal bears, a much larger cousin of these inland Grizzlies.

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I had already hit the jackpot there and if I had seen nothing more than a few ground squirrels for the rest of the trip, I would have still been thrilled and able to practically fly home to LA with out the help of the a jet airplane. I was as close to walking on air as possible but I thought it was worth taking my chances and doubling down in Denali even with out a pass into a closed park. After all, now I was playing with house money. I packed up the car and headed north for the 4 hour scenic drive. When I arrived at the Perch, a little place I used to stay to visit a friend in the past, I immediately headed to the restaurant to see if there were any people who may be lounging around to say hello to. After more than a week alone in Katmai and I was ready for some human company and hot blueberry pancakes. There was one older couple drinking coffee and it wasn’t too long before they asked me where I rolled in from. After a little idle chit chat, I told them I planned on going to the Denali gate in the morning to look pathetic as possible and try to hitch a ride into the park They said I didn’t have to do that because they had an extra lottery ticket and had no need for it. I almost choked on my pancakes. I couldn’t believe my luck and wanted to hug the both of these old folks so hard but I was afraid I might hurt them. They were happy to see how much it lit me up and turned me into kid at Christmas and settled for a handshake and a free cup of coffee. I offered them more and would have paid a kings ransom for it, but they were having none of it. It was as if the sun was just following me around every corner. I have eluded to my spirituality and feeling of overall connection to the Earth in past blogs in places like this. I can’t help but think that my senses of awareness are heightened and that someone is really listening to me here. The presence I feel here in Alaska is undeniable and just can’t be felt to this degree in any man made structure I’ve been in yet. It is said that the Aborigines are so in tuned with their environment that they simply ask it for food, water or shelter when they need it and somehow they find their way to it or the other way around. To a lesser degree, I feel the same connection to this land and often ask for something I’d like to see. Somehow, someway I stubble across it or visa-versa. I know the park pretty well and Sable Pass is the place to see Grizzlies. Of course there are no guarantees, but the odds definitely go up there. As I drove slowly through the pass there were no signs anywhere and decided to pull the car over. There happened to be a soft shoulder sign and pulled right up in front of it. I closed up all the windows, locked up the car, packed up the camera gear and set off across the spongy tundra. When I hit a big wild blueberry patch, I thought it would make a good place to sit tight and see what crossed my path out here. Besides even though the berries were a bit on the sour side, it gave me something to nibble on while I waited. A very dark single cloud formed directly over me and it began to pour. As I looked around the valley, it dawned on me that it was only raining on the area where I was. Sun drenched the rest of the valley and mountains. I thought maybe my luck was changing and hunched over my camera to keep it dry. It was amusing though to me that this lone cloud found its way directly above me and just let loose. It wasn’t long until a complete rainbow extended from one side to the other. I began to shoot pictures of it and began to think the shots would need something else to really capture the magic of this park. I asked myself “why not?” I looked directly up in the rain and asked for a bear.

I remember how ridiculous I sounded because I had already been given so much previously on this trip and felt a bit greedy, but as I said before I was playing with house money and had nothing to lose. As if on cued , A dark brown male appeared from behind a knoll about 200 yards away and began to lumber his way out into the open grazing on the berries. I could do nothing more than grin from ear to ear and position myself better to get the entire shot. Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but I needed to have the rainbow drop on the bears back. So I began to walk then run across the open area most likely grabbing every predators eye in an effort to position myself just at the right angle to get a few of the following type shot.

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Of course ole Yogi caught a glimpse of me scurrying across like a really large ground squirrel (their other favorite snack) and began to work his way over in my direction. I appreciate the way he did it though, not ever really overtly paying too much attention to me. He just began working his way towards me while munching away on the berries in front of him. I’m sure he was humming la, la , la to himself the whole time. I all of the sudden felt very exposed in the wide open area and the wind shifted in his direction. It was time to make my way back to the car that was close to a mile a way or I may as well at least start pouring A-1 sauce once so I least tasted ok.

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The mile looked so far away and there was no chance to run for it. Grizzlies can easily reach speeds of 30 mph and compared to the 10 -15 or so mph I could muster even if I dropped all my gear, I did not have to be a math major to figure out it I had no chance if he decided to make a move first. Now this bear of course may have had no intention of doing anything more than just investigating me and that chance would most likely be high; but at this point I would have been pushing my already incredible luck and took no chances. I back-tracked to the car never turning my back on him and realized his pace was slightly faster than mine since I had unsure footing going backwards on an uneven terrain. Half way back he was with in 100 yards and by the time I was in safe running distance to the car, he was only 10 or so yards from me. I picked up the pace a bit and found myself on the drivers side looking over the hood as he sniffed the wheels on the passenger side. This is when our little dance began. He began to move around the car mumbling something to himself in low bear grunts. I just continued to walk the opposite side never taking my eye off of him even once. A few times he disappeared only for me to catch him peeking under the car at my feet. We locked eyes several times. I saw him and started my conversation to him starting with “peek a boo.” I scrambled for my camera but he moved back up and around the car again, this time mumbling to himself a bit louder.

Bear: “Grrrrr Grrrr” Chris: “Hey you, how does it feel to be outwitted by one of the slower ones form my species?”

Bear: “Grrrrrr” (louder)

Chris: “Who’s on top of the food chain now, Yogi?”

Bear: Nothing…. (giving me the silent treatment or finally getting bored playing with me)

Chris: “Hey, Yogi there’s a nice big sign post behind you. You can’t tell me that wouldn’t feel nice against your back” The bear literally and once again as if on cue made his way to the very thing I mentioned out loud and attacked this Soft Shoulder sign with his back. His eyes rolled back while letting out the loudest sounds of bear ecstasy and I snapped a way as he practically dislodged the post from it foundation.

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I was laughing my ass off as I shot off two rolls of 400ASA film as it was all I had. He was at it for well over 10 minutes and when he had his fill, he fell down to all fours with a thud and made his way away from me and the car. I sat there on the hood, watched him slowly stroll back to the endless sea of blueberries and this magical field of dreams. I thanked everyone responsible for making this happen and absorbed exactly what all this meant. There were several other instances equally as powerful that that happened to me that day (one including a lone wolf) that made me realize I was just about as lucky as anyone I have ever known. But I had to ask for it first.

 

Postscript: a few years later a British Newspaper bought the images and story. I have to admit it was more than entertaining to read all the “experts” in wildlife, bear behaviorist and even camera “pros” offer their opinions how this is impossible and how obvious it was that these images have been manipulated in PS. A few insinuated the bear was super imposed onto then pole itself. 

All I can say aid I am not that good in photoshop..Not even close..And oh yeah, still have the negatives to prove it…I guess they never had the courage to ask for a small miracle here and there..:) 

All we can do is ask, and next time hopefully save better quality film for getting that special shot..