From June 2011

Spontaneity in the Wild: Interaction of the Ages

During my thirty year tenure as a photographer I have spent countless months observing and documenting natural history behavior that defines the various species I have encountered. Some of these incidents were encountered by sheer luck while others were the result of knowing it could happen and concentrating my efforts to be on site when the likelihood of interaction might occur. I can recount incidences where the shot of a life time was missed because I was a few moments too late or perhaps it was the result of my own short comings in the quick use of a camera. However, I try not to dwell on the missed opportunities but instead celebrate those that I was so lucky to have witnessed and captured for viewers to enjoy. Included here are a few of those special moments that come along but once in a “blue moon”. Hope you will enjoy and appreciate them in part by the work involved to secure them as well as the uniqueness in this “moment that stands still”, a millisecond in the life of those wild ones that defines the natural history of the species therein.

On a snowy morning in February I was persuing on foot a flock of wild turkey with the hope of getting images of a big boss gobbler in flight. In peering over a hilltop I observed these two big Rio Grande gobblers in battle, pushing and shoving one another in an attempt to perhaps establish dominance in the peck order for the upcoming mating season. I kneeled down immediately and started shooting images with my Canon F1N and Canon 500mm F4.5L lens and after exposing some five rolls of Kodachrome the two big birds broke off the engagement and flew away. I trudged back to my pickup elated with the results of the morning shoot!
One day in late winter my youngest son, Pate, and I were pulling rattlesnakes from a den for relocation to a safer and less hostile environment. Peering into the boulders strewn about along a creek I spotted these two western diamondback rattlesnakes in the act of copulation. Having seen it only one other time in my life I grabbed the camera and shot images of a moment in the natural history of rattlesnakes that occures every year but is rarely ever seen by people, even those who have lived in snake country for a lifetime. Canon 5D and Canon 24-105mm F4L lens. ISO 100 hand held.
In a lifetime of living in snake country here in the Texas rolling plains I have observed the behavior of literally hundreds if not thousands of reptiles. Few behavioral encounters can equal the day my two sons, Hunter and Pate, came running in to tell me that they had found a "snake eating a snake" down the road! I grabbed my camera and followed them some 200 yards distance and was amazed to find this King snake devouring a young western diamondback rattler. Canon F1N with Canon 80-200mm F4 lens. Velvia 50 ISO film hand held.
During the 14 years spent observing and photographing the Texas roadrunner I had the opportunity and honor of spending time at close range with three or four pairs of these birds as they mated, incubated and raised their young birds to adulthood. Often times they would allow me to accompany them on hunts around the nesting territory as they sought out insects and reptiles to feed the nestlings. In this case an adult roadrunner grabs a small garter snake and kills it before scurrying off to the nest to satiate the hunger of four young birds waiting impatiently at home. Canon F1N and Canon 300mm F2.8L lens with Velvia 50 ISO hand held.
During the years spent shooting images for my book, "Roadrunner", Texas Tech University Press, I was intent on documenting essentially every aspect of this birds behavior that I possibly could. The act of mating is a most difficult behavior to photograph due to the birds basic elusive traits but on one morning I was most fortunate to document the moment of copulation as the male finally coaxed the female into submission with his offering of a brush mouse in return for the favor! LOL!! Canon F1N and Canon 300mm F2.8L lens. Velvia 50 ISO film and handheld.
While photographing for my book, "Coyote", Texas Tech University Press, I spent weeks crouched in makeshift blinds made from mesquite stumps in an attempt to document the behavior of coyotes interacting with one another. Here two male animals duke it out around a dead horse where being an Alpha critter is essential in maintaining a full belly during the cold winter months on the Texas plains. Canon F1N with Canon 500mm F4.5L lens. Velvia 50 ISO film and shot from a tripod.
Observing skirmishes between whitetail bucks is common in areas of high deer density, especially at feeding plots that force deer into close proximity to one another. But to find two big bucks in a life and death struggle on the open plains is another matter. One cold evening right after sundown my friend and rancher, Mike Gibson, and I were driving over open rangeland when we saw these two bucks squaring off for battle. I jumped from the pickup and dashed to a vantage point just as the deer collided. With light waning fast I pushed my ISO 50 film to 100 and began shooting as the fight continued. Shooting at the iffy shutter speed of 1/90th of a second I was still able to secure this dramatic image of dueling whitetail bucks on the open plains of Texas. Canon F1N and Canon 500mm F4.5L hand held.

 

Thirty Years on the Road with a Camera: Part II

I vividly recall one of my very first self imposed photo shoots that occurred here in Knox County in about 1978. While training for my pilots license I had flown over a large stock tank and noticed a rookery of Great Blue Herons in some old dead mesquite trees. In order to situate myself within good camera range I constructed a blind made from peg board and floated it out into the water near the nests. Over a period of several days I spent over 36 hours standing waist deep in muddy water with a Canon F1 and a Canon 500mm F5.6 Flourite lens, the combo suspended from a rope to insure that I did not drop them in the red waters of this badlands water hole. Although the images secured from that primitive blind were nothing of great importance, the significance was that this shoot was a prelude to many other adventures that I would experience in the three decades of this fascinating career.
Come travel with me once again to the neat places that my camera has made possible.

A tropical depression moved into the Del Carmen mountains of northern Coahuila, Mexico during this trip and all travel into the high mountain recesses was limited. Here I have my camera gear loaded on a Honda 400 CC ATV and am making my way up a road that leads into the high mountain country and some fall foliage color. Canon 1D Mark II and Canon 70-200mm F2.8 lens at 100 ISO. Photo by Sylinda Meinzer.
600 head of cattle were being driven several miles to another ranch in Knox County when I shot this image of the men and cattle about to cross the Wichita River. Canon F1N and Canon 80-200 F4 lens. Kodachrome 64 film hand held.

 

A cold morning photographing an elk hunt in the Valle Vidal region of New Mexico for Field & Stream magazine. Canon F1N and Canon 20-35mm F3.5L lens. Velvia 50 ISO hand held.
A big silver tip grizzly forages for food on the Alaska tundra when I shot this during a photo session for Field & Stream magazine. Canon F1N and Canon 300mm F2.8L lens. Kodachrome 64 film hand held.
Last camp in the Yukon: Nine Days on Top. Canon F1N and Canon 80-200mm F4 lens. Kodachrome 64 film
A bull moose towers above the Alaskan bush. I was engaged in a shoot for Field & Stream Magazine when this image was taken. Canon F1N and Canon 300mm F2.8L and Kodachrome 64 film hand held.

 

A special moment in the life of a young son in rural Texas. My brother, Rick, looks over my two sons, Hunter and Pate (L-R) on this cold winter morning along the Brazos River. A camp fire in the backdrop is glowing to warm the hands of these youngsters as they savor Hunter's first whitetail buck taken at 205 yards with a 250 Ackley Improved.

Thirty Years on the Road with a Camera: Part I

Over the past 30 years I have had the opportunity to visit some great places in the process of shooting images for my files or for book and magazine assignments. The land and people I have experienced have been memorable and have made an unforgettable impression on my life story.
I would like to take some time and offer up some images here with some captions taken right out of my travel journals that I have maintained for the past 26 years. Enjoy this visual journey through time as we head north to the Yukon, Territory and south to Mazatlan, Mexico and to the big state of Alaska and places in between. Fun times and fun memories….Hope you enjoy…

"A bush cabin should always be open, offering shelter to whomever needs it. Thats why you did not find a lock on the door. I hope you will respect this attitude and not misuse my trust". A note in this trapping cabin in the Yukon, Territory 29 July 1987. We spent the night and left him some money for the can goods that we used. The next day we headed up the mountain with 50 lb packs and a grueling climb for a nine day stone sheep hunt that I would shoot for Sports Afield Magazine titled, "Yukon Adventure"..
Slapping on a 300mm F2.8 in the big lake country of Ontario, Canada for an evening shoot.
"I guess its when you live to climb these mountains year after year, that you finally learn the Yukon code and come fit for what she yields. Oh that Rose the mighty Rose but we finally made it to the top, Bisquit Heads and guides alike we sat on the highest rock. The view was great as the river swept 4,000 feet below; I'm glad I came to face the test of the high and rugged Rose". A poem I wrote while in camp after the 16 hours of climbing this rugged Yukon mountain.
116 degrees in the shade near Yuma, Arizona in July, 1986. A total of ten days of some of the most grueling and hellishly hot conditions I have ever known. Photographing desert bighorns with my friend Larry Heathington for Outdoor Photographer magazine story, "In Search of the Desert Bighorn."
Swinging in for a landing at camp in Fresno Canyon, BBSNA. Photo shoot for the book, "Desert Sancturies: Chinatis of the Big Bend." My friend and fellow adventurer Knut Mjolhus is the pilot.
Bugling elk for photos in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta in about 1988.
On a photo shoot for Texas Highways, Yellowhouse Canyon near Lubbock.
Hamming it up in Mazatlan, Mexico after our fishing shoot for Field & Stream Magazine.
Wildlife artist great, Ken Carlson, as we hiked up after Dall sheep photos in Alaska, September 1985.
A pair of bull caribou duke it out on the Alaskan tundra in Denali, September 1985.

Coming Home: A Revisit to Simple Times

 

Every once in awhile I become nostalgic and take a day to revisit places that have been instrumental in shaping my ideas and philosophy regarding life and all things therein. This might include visiting our old home place on the ranch where my parents raised Rick, Patty, and I through the magical years of the 50’s and 60’s. Sometimes I will travel to the Benjamin cemetery to pay tribute to the life and times of a dear friend who left us too early but whose memory and voice still speaks within. Whenever I find myself on the Texas Tech campus I sometimes gravitate to a specific classroom where a favorite instructor motivated my intrigue for a subject of study. This “centering” can take place in many forms and each individual will have their own definition of this personal connection to a special phase of ones life.

A few weeks ago much of Texas experienced some of the worst wildfires in the history of the state. In some of my old stomping grounds on the Pitchfork Ranch a fierce fire raged across some 80,000 acres of this historical ranch, at times threatening camps and even the headquarters at one point. I had heard that one maverick fire had started near an old half dugout cow camp that I had lived in some 36 years ago following graduation from Texas Tech University ( see blog December 19, 2008). Over the years I have made pilgrimages back to the old camp for perhaps a few hours at a time to build a fire in the battered fireplace and sit in silence to remember the quiet and solitude from another time. It is important to ones psyche to revisit these places which are defined by good memories. But this time I feared that my little hut may have perished in the hellish blaze of weeks before and I was heart sick at the idea of such a loss. Thus I headed to the ranch to face the prospects of such an event.

Backfiring to check the fires advance on the Pitchfork

Through the miles of big ranch country leading to my old home the land was ravaged and barren, scorched by the wind driven wild fire of recent. During the eleven mile drive I was reminded of the phrase “Sane Men Fear a Range Fire”, words written by Texas buffalo hunter and rancher Frank Collinson in his book “Life in the Saddle”. Driving by three mule deer seeking forage on a scorched piece of ground I thought of how appropriate these words are even today, some 130 years after Collinson witnessed wildfires devouring the grassland in older times. I hoped above hope that my little camp had survived the onslaught of this fiery holocaust.

A trio of muleys searching for forage in the aftermath of the firestorm.

In descending the road to the camp I felt an urgency to get there, only two miles distant but seeming to be more like an eternity. The country seemed lifeless compared to the years of past, as not a bird or a mammal save the three deer had I seen on the trip in.

Thirty years is a long time in the scheme of human life and, like me, the face of the land had changed drastically in these three decades. Rounding the last bend in the canyon road I could barely make out the profile of the hut through a maze of dead and burned brush. Although relieved that the house still stood, the little barn and outdoor privy were but ashes in the fires aftermath. Walking into the overgrown yard I could see that the fire tried its best to devour the cabin in its insatiable quest to destroy but efforts by the valiant firefighters had saved it at the last moment. Next to the wooden walls juniper trees that I had trimmed months before were scorched and brown but had not ignited. For that I was thankful. The trimming had saved the day but at the time I thought nothing of fire, only to keep them from rubbing against the building.

The old wolfers camp as seen in the winter of 1974

 

Wolfers camp 2011 from same vantage point

Unlocking the door I walked in to find the old place replete with cobwebs and dust but, luckily, all intact. Quickly going to work with broom and mop I soon had the little house in good order and feeling like home once again. After finishing the domestic chores I retreated to the shaded porch, lit a good cigar and relaxed in the quiet of this hot spring afternoon. Just like three decades before the wind played softly in the mesquite trees down where the windmill used to stand and I was soon lost in the memories of older days. After an hour or two I reluctantly loaded my gear and ascended out of the canyon and headed eastward, reenergized and pleased by this last moment decision to come back home. Just as I had thought it might, a connection with the land and a much simpler life returned to my consciousness. Coming home again was a good thing…

Enjoy the photos here of those simple times we should never forget and do our best to try and revisit when the need is at hand.

Inside the little hunt in the winter of 1975
Inside the cabin May 2011
Writing field notes by the light of a kerosine lamp. 1974

 

Cleaning steel in camp 1974.

 

A lighter moment on the trapline. This one tagged and released for research purposes.

 

A view from the cabin door. Sunset 1974.

 

The old windmill that is now gone. Evening light in 1974. A pivotal time in my recognizing the importance of great light.

 

Experimenting with firelight photography inside the cabin on a cold winter night. 1974

 

A moment in the past when times were more simple. When a rifle and cold steel bought the groceries. 1974.