You would think that even in these days of meteorological uncertainty, snow above the Arctic Circle could be relied upon in February. Alas no. The normally snow-laden Lofoten Islands in northern Norway were bare this year; naked; bereft of their white mantle; lacking in the wow factor that I’ve become accustomed to. Still, there’s no point in griping (although I’ve always found it helps), one has to do one’s best. Continue reading “Languid Lofoten”
Now don’t get me wrong, most Americans I’ve met are generally very nice people. The trouble with America is that it’s full of Americanisms. That’s ‘isms’. Yes I know the bit about ‘when in Rome’ but some things just drive me nuts. Billboards! How much information can you actually absorb at 50mph? Cars that consider you incapable of making even the most basic decisions (like closing the boot without intervention from a too-clever-for-its-own-good automated system); carbohydrate-laden meals that could feed a country for a week; a gratuity system that defies all logic and that’s before we get stuck into the right to bear arms, and as was demonstrated recently, the propensity to discharge them. I could go on (and on) but my soapbox is giving way (primarily as a result of afore-mentioned carbohydrate overload). Suffice it to say that despite a common language, America and some of its ‘isms’ are hard for me to fathom (to be fair it could be as much to do with middle age as anything – mine not America’s).
Despite all of the ‘isms’ there is no doubt that America is a land of superlatives. It’s unique, as are its inhabitants – human and non-human alike. Moreover, despite the usual cultural and political divides that preside over any public asset, the US National Park system is one of America’s better ideas and none more so than Yellowstone. The thing with Yellowstone is its story. It’s one of historical foresight, pioneering thinking, a few ill-informed predator management decisions along the way and more recently, ecological restoration; that’s not to mention the geological processes that continue to drive and change the Yellowstone narrative. This place has it all. Outside of winter it also has lots of visitors and so it was we set off in January.
‘We’ in this case was two groups of hardy (and not so hardy – you know who you are!) tour guests. As ever the Northshots formula of serious photography and not-so serious downtime prevailed and seemingly, a good time was had by all (no doubt our feedback forms will reveal if I’ve read this incorrectly).
The northern part of Yellowstone is driveable in winter and is usually a safe bet for wolf sightings. Alas, this year it was not to be and both groups returned home wolfless. Photographic opportunities of this top predator are rare indeed but just a glimpse is enough to set the pulse racing. Wolves aside, we were treated to some wonderful photo opportunities. Bison, red fox, elk and moose all paid dividends, as did the surreal landscape cloaked in a mantel of white.
Lugging one’s carbohydrate-laden body around this mountain landscape is hard work – the air at 7,000ft. deprives you of oxygen – so its fortunate that most photo-opportunities are close to the road making Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks almost perfect photographic locations.
The story of Yellowstone in many ways mirrors the story of America itself and its many ‘isms’ are as apparent here as they are in the heart of New York. Much of what is great about America manifests in the northern Rockies, as do many of the country’s challenges. Differing ecological, cultural and economic perspectives drive debate over land use priorities in this area as they do elsewhere – in this respect Yellowstone is no different to the Scottish Highlands. The uniqueness of Yellowstone however, is that in recent decades, it has become a living laboratory. Ecologists and scientists from all over the world peer in on what many describe as the last remaining fully intact temperate ecosystem in the northern hemisphere. To that end what happens in Yellowstone is important to all of us interested in nature elsewhere. Already, ecological thinking about predator-prey relationships, founded in the Rockies, is emerging in Europe. We’re all part of a story in the making and it was a privilege for me, after an absence of several years, to spend some time with the story’s author despite the ‘isms’.
My thanks as ever to co-guide, top photographer (although I’d never say this to his face) and best buddie Mark Hamblin and to our 20 intrepid guests, most of who will now be on a diet (or at least should be!)
Regular blog readers might remember two postings from Svalbard guest John Cumberland. Well John is blogging again so keep an eye out for his Yellowstone musings in the next week or so.
Our tour for 2014 is already full but if you’d like to be infected by Yellowstoneism in 2015, do drop us a line to register your interest.
It’s barely light but already I can feel the heartache creeping through my veins. The landscape whistles past in a streaky blur but the tendrils of freezing mist stroking the white ground – attractive on their own – are made doubly so by the vivid pink of the dawn sky. It’s painfully beautiful and it’s painful not to be out there with my camera.
I’m on a train. I’m on a train to London. For a meeting. 9 hours there, 9 hours back and I’m feeling as far from being a nature photographer as I have since I first picked up a camera two decades ago. The last 5 years have seen me working on ambitious communication projects trying (and some might suggest for the most part, failing) to be a marketeer, an accountant, a business analyst, even a politician. In so many ways the results of these endeavours have been rewarding and certainly educational, but it’s not what I do; it’s not what I want to do.
The very kind waitress with a broad Northumbrian accent and a crisp ‘East Coast Trains’ uniform brings me sausage and mash, a perk of an expenses-paid first class seat. The sun is now up and the snow-laden Berwickshire coastline zips by glistening under an azure sky. My meeting is important, don’t get me wrong, but God I wish I was out with my camera, away from the inane chatter of slightly pretentious businessmen on their phones, away from first-class sausage and mash.
2013 is going to be another busy year but it will be my last busy year in terms of big photo projects with the attendant sitting on planes and trains. I want to go back to sitting in a cold hide, waiting for a creature, or shaft of light that might never appear; smelling the pine, tasting the peat. I want to craft new images, stretch my creative boundaries and tell new stories. I want to drink cold coffee from a cold flask not be served sausage and mash. And I want to laugh again.
As the train moves ever southwards towards the English capital, my heart drifts ever northwards to the Highlands and it’s my heart that I intend to follow in the coming years.
Has another year really passed by? A full 12 months? Are we really staring down the barrel of another bellyfull of ritualistic over-consumption? It would seem so.
I’ve had a tricky few days – snowed out from home (rather than snowed in); freezing diesel and ailing parents on my mind. Against this backdrop I set off today to use my camera – it sometimes seems like a real novelty! Gingerly picking my way down ice-laden Glenfeshie, I met a neighbour who stopped to pass the time of day. “Have you done it all?” she enquired. “Done it all?” I asked. “Christmas!” she beamed. I politely avoided a response but later, whilst standing behind my tripod trying to make the most of this wonderful scene, I reflected on what my neighbour meant by ‘it all’.
I’m 48 next month and if I live until 100, I’ll never understand modern Christmas. By ‘it all’ I hoped she meant giving thought to relaxation; reflecting on a prosperous and varied life and looking forward to spending time with those I don’t normally spend time with. But I don’t think she did mean that, and the queue outside Tesco’s car park tonight would suggest not either.