Musings with Camera in Hand

Belinda Greb – The Photographic Journey


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This is Our Home, Resist and Protect

This has been a pretty bleak winter on all fronts with a lot of cold, rain and anxiety. But on the days where the weather has permitted I have tried to get out to take advantage of the beauty the winter season can bring to our natural areas and to get away from the news.

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Icicles Triptych w

I have recently been reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring – and this book should be a must read for anyone who would like to visualize the world without the regulations that so many have fought for over the last 60 years and that are now being threatened. These regulations not only protect our environment and wildlife but us as well (higher-ups on the food chain but still subject to it).

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Winter Lamb

Call your congressmen and tell them you do not approve of repealing regulations that have protected our wildlife, environment and you and your family in exchange for corporate profits. Our future, your child’s future should not be for sale. This site (back online 3/6/17) will help you track environment subjects –Click Here

All of these landscapes or nature images in the slideshow below (except the last composite image) are from areas that are our public lands – either federal or state. We start off from a heron landing in the marsh at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (state); Willamette National Forest in Oregon (federal) including Carmen Reservoir and Fish Lake, then to the Neptune Scenic Area and Cook’s Chasm along the Oregon Coast above Florence (state). The last image is a composite of some woods and deer photographs I had and is entitled “This is Our Home” and meant to be a reminder that we share the planet with wildlife and flora, and I would hope we can learn to respect that.

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My next post will show some images from the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area up near Portland, Oregon.

Also, I have put together a sampler of some of my photography over the last few years.

I do rely on sales to further my photography journey. My photography is for sale at: Belinda Greb Photography (via Fine Art America); Radiance Photos (Etsy); Belinda Greb Photography at Amazon HandmadeBelinda Greb Photography at Society6 or in the UK at Belinda Greb Photography at Photo4Me. Some of these sites offer various products in addition to frames, matting, canvas, metal or acrylic prints. I fulfill the Etsy and Amazon Handmade site prints and offer prints up to 16×24 (signed on the back). Thanks for your views and patronage.


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Remember Who You Are

This piece was inspired by my recent fretting about our public lands and the wildlife that inhabit them at threat from “short-sighted” men who would seek to sacrifice land and species for immediate gain. First, I feel a defiant and courageous spirit is needed by those willing to fight on behalf of our environment and to protect the other sacred life forms we share Earth with, and secondly, there is my belief that there must be some eternal aspect of what is wild and free and God-formed that will not be bound by the small petty materialistic greed of those who would seek to dominate nature. I call upon that spirit to help us preserve what can be owned by none and should be shared by all, including the future generations that follow.

Do you believe you are a spirit who has a purpose more meaningful than amassing material goods and living in gold plated houses? Or are you here to think only about yourself? Do you respect life in all its forms? If so, join the resistance.


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The Need for Public Lands

God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and
a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools. – John Muir

Two American White Pelicans

Two American White Pelicans at Malheur NWR (©Belinda Greb)

Lately my heart and mind have been in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a wild gem of Oregon taken over in early January by armed militia. This takeover was in response to the arrest of Hammonds, two ranchers who intentionally set two fires that spread to public lands endangering lives, (in 2001 of the young relative who was instructed to set the fire and  in 2006 of firefighters who were in the area). Bundy and his followers purported to take over the refuge for the purpose of returning the land to the people – a ridiculous proposition since the land already belongs to the people, as in “We, the People”. They didn’t want the government to manage the land and instead unilaterally decided that they would be the ones to do so. Malheur NWR is one of numerous  public lands that have been set aside by our forefathers who wisely saw the need to preserve natural habitat and wildlife for future generations. I suspect most of us consider this a blessing, but sadly there are those that consider it an overreach of the government.

Falling Light on the Marsh

Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Falling Light on the Marsh ©Belinda Greb)

Public Lands

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln ceded land around Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove Area to California for use as a state park in response to Galen Clark and Senator John Conness who argued that with the increased tourism since since the mid 1850s, unregulated commercial interests were becoming a threat to the area. This would set a precedent for establishing Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park, Meanwhile after 11 years of trying, Ferdinand Hayden, was finally able to put together a geological survey in to the Yellowstone Area. This resulted in an influential report, that included pictures by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran, and in 1872, Ulysses Grant signed the Act of Dedication which made Yellowstone a national park. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_National_Park)

Waiting for Wolves in Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park (Waiting for Wolves ©Belinda Greb)

There was opposition at that time to the establishment of the park. Local settlers in Montana worried that the economy would suffer from federal prohibitions and so numerous bills were put forth to reduce land-use restrictions. There were those that wanted the land for logging, mining, and hunting. Sound familiar?

The entities in charge of public lands need to balance the needs of interested parties while protecting the land. While hunting is not allowed in National Parks and many Wildlife Refuges, on other public lands, hunting is allowed. There are guidelines for the logging that takes place on public lands, and there will always be controversy about whether these guidelines are too strict or not strict enough. Ranchers were allowed to continue grazing their cattle on public lands and charged a nominal fee. Grazing fees per AUM (animal unit per month) was raised in 2015 to $1.69. Of course fees for grazing on private or state lands is much higher. In Oregon, the state fee is $5.60 in 2016. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grazing_fee) How many of you can feed your pet dog or cat for that $1.69 for even a couple of days?

William Finley Refuge

William L Finley NWR (William Finley Refuge ©Belinda Greb)

In addition, as opposed to owning the land, the ranchers are not responsible for the financial cost of purchasing the land, maintaining or paying taxes on it like other property owners would be. But apparently some of these occupiers, like Cliven Bundy, feel that they should not have to pay any fees at all, and for years he has gotten away from this, refusing to pay the fees or remove his cattle from federal lands. After a court order allowed officials to remove his livestock from federal lands in 2014, armed supporters advanced on collectors resulting in a standoff. The cattle were not removed by BLM due to their concern that employees might be harmed or shot. So now Cliven Bundy owes the people over $1 million dollars and continues to graze his cattle on public lands. If our society continues to give in to this type of behavior, we will have anarchy.

Flight of the Great Blue Heron No. 2

Seen at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Flight of the Great Blue Heron ©Belinda Greb)

There’s certainly a right to question how the land is being managed, but trying to bully your opinion across via intimidation and guns is not it. The government entities that regulate these lands are not above reproach, but they are trying to balance the rights of the community along with the special interests of ranchers along with the wildlife advocates and environmentalists. How can this be an easy task? And of course the administrators are also going to be have their own personal opinions and beliefs. But dissenters should take any issue with that management to our legal system or the media.

Pete French Long Barn No. 2

Malheur NWR (Pete French Long Barn No. 2 ©Belinda Greb)

Malheur NWR

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908.  The land was initially occupied by the Paiute Indians. Settlers then came in and took over much of it, relegating the natives to a reservation. How ironic is the world view that rages against the government but really isn’t talking about returning the land to the original inhabitants.

One settler amassed with his employer, Dr Hugh Glen, over 140,000 acres.  He also restricted access to water to other fellow settlers and in fact was murdered in 1883 by one settler whose access to water he denied. Not a pretty story.  Some of the land was sold to pay of company debts, and after being resold, nearly 65,000 acres was incorporated into the refuge in 1935. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P_Ranch)

Great-Egret

Great White Egret seen at Malheur NWR (Great Egret ©Belinda Greb)

In the late 1880’s bird populations were being decimated by plume hunters who used their feathers for hats or  vanity wear, as I like to say in regards to fur coats. In 1908, photographers, William L Finley and Herman Bohlman noticed both the diversity of birds and the horrible effects of plume hunting. Finley successfully personally lobbied President Theodore Roosevelt for federal protection for the area. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malheur_National_Wildlife_Refuge) The William L Finley National Wildlife Refuge, also in Oregon, was named after him in 1964.

I find myself getting so upset and angry by the Malheur occupation. First I’m angry at the nerve of other people coming from out-of-state with their guns, taking over the buildings, government vehicles, blocking roads, and causing so much damage, not least of which is the emotional damage done to the community around Burns. This is an invasion. There were threats to people and their families who worked for BLM or USFWS, and there has been a huge financial cost to the county.  I am also angered at this threat to a beautiful refuge and the wildlife that is there.

Private vs Public

If these protections were not in place, we would not have our system of: 58 national parks; 560 National Wildlife Refuges and 38 wetland management districts; 155 national forests and 20 grassland areas; and other state managed wildlife areas. These are open to people to enjoy, but more importantly to conserve natural resources and habitat for wildlife. How would these lands have fared had they not been under federal protection? Look around – how well have mining, privately owned logging companies, corporate farms served the land or the interests of the general population? In addition, there’s a wealth of information and recent discussion about how cattle grazing impacts environment and climate. Google it.

Cows

Cattle on Public Lands in Harney County (©Belinda Greb)

“Why should we protect this lands? How will it benefits humans, or really me?” some may ask.

  • Deforestation results in global warming. Trees absorb greenhouse gases and return moisture to the air. Once they are cut, the land will dries out quickly.  Clear cutting results in loss of habitat for many species – 70% of animals and plants live in forests. (http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation-overview/0).
  • Loss of habitat results in loss of species. Just think what would happen if there were no birds and how that would affect the insect population. How would that affect crops or the spread of insect transmittable diseases…and so on? What about the disappearance of a predator that helped keep the rat population in control? It’s all about balance. The loss of one species can result in the overpopulation of another. There is a fine balance between prey and predator. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver is a novel that clearly explains this issue.
  • If there were no regulations, there would be no limitations on the type of chemicals that are used or other safety regulations that exist for a reason. Even with regulations, there are not enough controls and we’ve seen the impact of the chemicals on bees which are so important pollination and agriculture.
Surveil

Red Shouldered Hawk seen at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (Surveil ©Belinda Greb)

If resources are not managed, there is no sustainability. This affects us directly in regards to food and shelter. Would you really trust Ammon Bundy who represents his own interests or the interest of like-minded individuals over a government department that while cumbersome is still subject to the interests of many, including: legislators, citizens, and businesses?

Those are the self-interested reasons for preservation and conservation.

Acorn Woodpecker

William L. Finley NWR (Acorn Woodpecker ©Belinda Greb)

Being a photographer, and spending a lot of time observing animals, I am on the side of the wildlife. We do not occupy this land alone. We share it with animals and flora. We have already created an environmental imbalance that threatens not only our future, but the future of all living beings. We have used our lands and water as a huge trash can that we think we can keep pouring our waste into without consequences. Those consequences are catching up, and it is the poor and the animals who will suffer first.

These public lands are also important in that for many that is the only place that many will see life in a near natural state. The beauty and understanding that come from being in nature to those that are open to it can give one a profound respect for life, its vulnerability and its resilience. Nature can make us better human beings by connecting us to the the larger natural world that contains a multitude of life outside the “me.” It can teaches us that life is not ego-centric but all-encompassing.

Love your public lands and protect them.

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Wild Horse seen in Harney County (Resilience ©Belinda Greb)

Photographs taken at: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Harney County, William Finley National Wildlife Refuge, Yellowstone National Park,  and Fern Ridge Wildlife Area (run by Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife). belindagrebphotography.com

 

 

 

 

 


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Glacier National Park

A trip to Glacier National Park was on my wish list for 2015, but I had given up on the idea, as my calendar filled up and budget was depleted by some other great trips: Utah to see friends and travel to Arches and Canyonlands in Utah, and then Grand Tetons, and later to New York, Washington DC and Chincoteague Island in Virgina where I also got to see family and friends.

Yet in late summer, two other trips presented themselves, and despite worries about my expenses, something was  pushing me to say Yes, and so I did.  First in planning an October trip to Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon this October to meet up and travel with my dear longtime college friend and her family, and then an unexpected and last-minute trip to Glacier National Park with a photographer friend I had never met in person, Jemmy Archer, but whose work I love.  Her photography can be seen here: http://jemmyarcher.com/.

I am so thankful I followed my gut! I am also incredibly grateful that Jemmy asked me along as it was a wonderful experience to see Glacier National Park and to hike and photograph with another photographer.

Smoke on the Water

Smoke on the Water – Lake McDonald, late afternoon, day of arrival

Smoky from Fires

On arrival the air was thick with smoke and I was wondering if I had made a mistake. The woman at the car rental place said it was smoke from Oregon, Idaho and Washington, and I thought that was weird to blame it those states as there were three fires right in or near the park.  However it had been raining (finally) when I left Oregon, and there was no rain in Montana at that point, and the next morning, the skies were much clearer, so the smoke had blown in from neighboring states.

Highline Trail

Glacier National Park is famed for its beauty. When I had gone to Yellowstone with friends a few years before, a park ranger had said that Glacier and Yellowstone were his two favorite national parks. I do think Glacier is visually the most beautiful.  There are these high steep cliffs and passes that the Going-To-The-Sun-Road runs through and everywhere you look the vistas are otherworldly beautiful. I don’t have the same feeling of expansiveness or freedom as I do in Yellowstone or Grand Tetons, and I think for me, that has to do with all the surfaces seeming to be uphill, downhill or valleys.

The first full day, we hiked Highline. I like to walk more than hike, but there are over 700 miles of trails in Glacier National Park, and reading about them made me want to do even the trails that were listed as difficult.  Jemmy is a much better hiker than I, and I worried about slowing her down, but as we are both photographers who pause to stop and take pictures, it wasn’t too much of a problem.

I’m not too afraid of heights, or narrow paths, so I did okay on Highline, where there is a hand cable to hold on to on a fairly narrow ledge, but going uphill is no friend of mine! And the whole week was chock full of uphill trails.  Luckily, on every trail, I can say the effort was worth it.

Rain was in the forecast, so even though we were hoping to make it to Haystack, we did stop and turn back just before that point as the skies were threatening.  Sure enough, they did open up just before we got back to the car but not enough to soak us.

Many Glacier and Swiftcurrent Pass Trail

We headed over to the Many Glacier area the next day, leaving while it was still dark in order to get an early start.  It takes about 3 hours to drive over there from where we were staying in Columbia Falls, and driving the Going-to-the-Sun-Road was no easy task. I didn’t have to drive as I had only gotten an hour’s sleep the night before – tell me I have to get up early and watch me not be able to fall asleep.

The sunrise on the way over was beautiful, but the winds were crazy.  I nearly got swept away when I stepped out to fill the car with gas.  The woman at the Many Glacier Hotel information kiosk was not very friendly and very gloom and doom about that day’s and the week’s forecast.  If we had listened to her, we would have driven back to the timeshare and crawled back to our respective beds for the duration of the stay – Single digit forecasts, storm, etc.

Luckily the guy at gift shop was much more helpful. He suggested that Swiftcurrent (No. 1 on my list of hikes I wanted to do) would be a good hike as the first part of the trail is sheltered by trees. The winds died down very quickly, the drizzle stopped and it turned out to be a beautiful day full of beauty and wildlife.

Fischercap Lake has frequent sightings for moose, but we didn’t find any that morning, but a a mile or so past the lake, we nearly walked by a mother and her calf who were grain in the foliage.

Redrock Falls was also a highlight as was watching for mountain goats high on the mountain sides.  Then we heard that there were many Big Horn Sheep up at the head of Bullhead Lake, and that proved to be the case. The first herd was nearly camouflaged against the rock face of Swiftcurrent Mountain, but the second herd was very close as they were coming right down the trail.

The only misgiving about this hike was there was not enough time to make it up high on the pass.  I wanted to catch some of the view of Swiftcurrent Valley, so despite needing to head back, we did go up 2 or 3 of the switchbacks.  On the way back we were happy to see the mother moose and her calf again.

We did have a long drive ahead of us, but another moment of excitement came when we stopped as cars were stopped and a grizzly passed right in front of the car! It an amazing day that started at 4am and we didn’t get back to the timeshare until after 9pm, so very tiring as well.

Hidden Lake Trail

The next day was equally superb. We though Hidden Lake Trail would be a much easier and shorter hike, as it was less than 6 miles RT. The trail starts behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center, and perhaps it was due to the previous long day, or the third day of hiking, but we seemed awfully slow getting up to the Overlook.  I noticed that with the wind and the altitude, I was having a harder time catching my breath on the way up. The views at the Overlook are amazing.  The whole area is surrounded by mountains, but at the overlook you see Hidden Lake and Bearhat Mountain.

Despite the beauty of the surroundings, the pristine waters of the lake, the highlight of the trip was encountering first one goat with a tracking collar, whom we hung out with for nearly an hour and a half along with some other hikers. Then as that goat decided to head uphill and  we followed, we were soon met by 7 other goats, including two very young ones, and one that was quite old. The marmots were much less shy and there were three or four sunning themselves on rocks as they looked out towards the lake.

Two of the hikers were a couple from France who had been over here two years ago and been so amazed they came back to spend a month and a half, living out of their car, in order to see our national parks.  I felt so proud as an American that others in years past had the foresight to work to have these lands set aside and protected so that they could be appreciated worldwide. While sitting and watching that first goat, there was a shared period of awe felt by the six hikers that were there that was palpable. I felt and still feel so grateful for that day and being able to observe the goats in such close quarters surrounded by so much beauty.

McDonald Lake and Avalanche Lake – A Light Day

Rain was forecast for later in this day so we planned a fairly light day to give ourselves a chance to recover between hikes and before we headed back to the Many Glacier are the next day.

We did rise early to catch the sunrise at Lake McDonald, and where we saw a couple of beavers (I first thought they were nutria or coypu until one slapped its tail) getting in their last bites before heading off to bed.

We then headed over to hike Avalanche Lake trail. I had read that Avalanche Lake is regarded to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the park, and it did not disappoint.  One passes through a beautiful fir forest, which felt just like home to me (Oregon), except that Avalanche Creek as deep carved channels and an array of red, blue and gray rocks.

Once we got to the lake, I found it very cool to think that on the other side of Bearhat Mountain, was Hidden Lake, where we had been the day before.

Before we headed back, we were also entranced by mountain goats, a mother and kid, high on the mountainside above us, scampering up and down the rocks.

Grinnell Glacier

Reflection of Mountains - Glacier NP

Reflection of Mountains – The view from Many Glacier Hotel

The next morning we headed back to Grinnell Glacier.  It was lightly raining, and we stopped at the Many Glacier Hotel to see if more information could be found about the forecast.

This time the rain seemed to get worse rather than better, and  I was apprehensive about going on the Grinnell Glacier Hike when the day was so soggy.  Thanks to Jemmy for talking me into it and loaning me a rain poncho.

While I loved the views, this was my hardest hike.  Our plan was to try and catch a boat on the way back as the articles had said the first part of the trail was fairly easy.  It might have been my tiredness, but it didn’t feel that flat or easy to me, unlike Swiftcurrent’s first four miles.  And once we hit the switchbacks, they seemed endless. I felt like Sisyphus, who for eternity was damned by Zeus to roll a huge stone up a mountain only to watch it roll back down once he reached the top. My camera bag substituted for the stone and my pauses to catch my breath were not even as long as the time it must have taken the Greek King to walk back down the mountain. At one point I felt like crying – when hikers returning from the glacier told us we still had another hour. I resented the young and old who seemed so easily to sprint by me. It’s true, I will admit it, I was feeling in a bit of a sulk, but trying not to whine too much. So again, thanks to Jemmy for urging me on. In hindsight, the pain of the effort is forgotten while the beautiful views and feeling of grace to be able to experience that sight is not.

Grinnell and Salamander glaciers are truly awesome. Sadly Grinnell Glacier is shrinking at an alarming rate.  At a worse case scenario of carbon emissions, the park will have no glaciers by 2030.

We did miss the boat though, literally, on the way back, but going downhill, for me is easier, although it still seemed d%(& long!

I can tell you that last week, I went to see Everest, and that yearning to climb a peak is a yearning that I lack.  I can understand it a bit in the abstract, but being cold, carrying heavy stuff and going uphill – no way.

Many Glacier and Two Medicine

We had made arrangements to spend the night at Many Glacier Hotel, which was an expense well worth it to save us the drive back again. The Hotel was opened in 1915 and has a charming sense of the past about it. The location is just ethereal, and I also enjoyed the food at the restaurant.

The next day was also rainy, so we just concentrated on seeing more wildlife.  We returned to Swiftcurrent and did catch the moose this time at Fischercap Lake.  There also were some guys who set up scopes and were letting people look at a grizzly on the side of the mountain.  Through the scope, I could see the bear very clearly, while with my bare  eyes, the grizzly was just a speck.  After breakfast at Swiftcurrent Lodge, where we had another great meal earlier in the week, we headed back along the road.  We had seen a black bear a couple of times high up on the mountain before, and this time, there was not only a cinnamon black bear, but apparently the grizzly that we had seen in the scope was making his way eastward at an astonishing fast clip (although he was just walking).

After a while, he disappeared, but we expected him to make his way to the other side of the mountain, so like others, we drove to the other side and waited.  Sure enough, after a half an hour, he appeared on top of the ridge in and a matter of 15 minutes, had made his way from top to bottom. I was amazed at his nimbleness on the steep rock face of the cliff.

Getting a photograph of a grizzly had been on my bucket list, and while I still would love to get closer photographs, this was a thrill to see one in action. The ranger was concerned that animals are losing a natural fear of humans. The bear did seem very blasé about the roughly eight photographers nearest it, pausing to look at us while still on the lower part of the mountain then veering to the right away from us before it crossed the road to make its way to the creek.

We took a south route back so we could see the Two Medicine area and did take a short hike in that area as well. Using the app on my phone, we did an average of about 10 miles a day (my phone said 9.44 but I had forgotten to take it one hike, so the average was above 10 miles), and it was great to be able to hike in this natural setting.

We were always alert on these trails for a possible encounter with bears, and we were relieved not to have had that experience (especially after seeing how fast they can move). We had been lent a can of bear spray from the car rental place and we would shout out, “Hey Bear” when we rounded bends or when visibility was poor.  The fact that there were fewer berries than usual was probably the reason we did not encounter any bears on the trails, especially on Grinnell Glacier or Swiftcurrent trails, as around this time they are trying to eat as much as they can before hibernation.  We did meet a couple of hikers who had seen a couple of grizzlies on their hike to Cracker Lake, also in Many Glacier.

I just read something that was very upsetting as I was trying to remember the word hyperphagia to write about how much bears eat at this time (during September they eat 4x normal summer amounts). This year in Yosemite, 33 bears were hit by cars.  In one year. I guess this is one advantage of Glacier Going-to-the-Sun-Road, that drivers cannot drive too fast.  I saw many people speeding in Yellowstone and it makes me sick that people would want to go to an area to see wildlife and then not respect it. SLOW DOWN MORONS!  It’s bad enough seeing roadkill near where I live. It breaks my heart knowing that most of those wild lives could have been saved if people were even just going the speed limit. In a national park it’s that much more painful to think about.

Okay. Breathe Belinda. But to me, being in our national parks is akin to being in a spiritual setting. And it makes my heart hurt that in these places, set aside so that we can preserve wildlife, there are such careless people who enter it with such an absence of conscience.

This has been one long post. But Glacier National Park is a treasure to experience.  I still have more photographs to process and I already want to go back, even to hike some more, not for the sake of hiking uphill (believe you me) but to have the experience and privilege of being able to see and photograph the amazing life and beauty that is here.

Thanks to Jemmy for inviting me, her kindness and the great experience of getting to know a wonderful person and photographer in person.  Please visit see her photography website: http://jemmyarcher.com/ and for more of my Glacier NP photographs, visit here: Belinda Greb National Parks Gallery.  Peace.


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Traveling

Wherever you go, go with all your heart – Confucius

In late March and early April, I went on my planned trip, and it was really wonderful.  The first part of the trip I traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah to see my dear friend and her family. I’ve know my friend since undergraduate school and along with her husband and daughter we would be traveling to Moab, Utah.

I had been to Bryce Canyon and Zion, but never to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks or Dead Horse State Park. I was prepared for spectacular landscapes, but this trip brought home again the message that there are some places on this earth that are otherworldly and awesome. First, there were the red rock landscapes that seemed to my friend’s daughter as if we were traveling on the moon or in a episode of Star Trek! The view coming into Moab was the red rock land formations of Arches backed by the snow capped La Sal mountain range. The contrast was beautiful.

The canyons of Canyonlands were breathtaking, but the park also boasted one of the best arches we saw, Mesa Arch, which frames a dramatic canyon view. However, I have to say, Arches National Park was my favorite of the three parks.  It’s as if a great sculptor let his imagination run loose on the landscape, but really the geological spires and arches are the result of changing sea levels, various layers of different types of rocks, erosion and millions of years.  A better explanation than I can provide can be seen in this short video. The individual arches (there are over 2000 arches) are amazing, but I also love the strange vistas you come upon and other rock formations such as Balanced Rock or the Three Gossips.  While time is measured in millions of years, the last arch to fall was the Wall Arch in 2008, so you never know!

It is also so heartening to be around old friends. Since we were traveling on the cheap, we all shared a hotel room, which we’ve done before.  So there were the now familiar teasing squabbles about who kept whom awake with their snoring. We are already in the early planning stages of the next trip, although I think this time I may have to splurge for another room.  I think on this whole trip, I got an average of 4 hours sleep per night. It’s one thing to wake up at home, but I can usually read until I’m tired again. I have more problems falling asleep when other people are present, and I ended up lying there for what seemed like hours not wanting to disturb anyone else with light or noise. Yet, sleep aside, the trip was a great opportunity to reconnect in a way that’s deeper and more relaxing than phone calls or emails interspersed with busy lives and schedules.

Since I was flying to Utah to see my friends, I decided to combine it with a meet up with my cousin who lives in Idaho. I haven’t seen her since our high school reunion which took place about eight years ago. She had moved to my school district in high school so we became close friends.  After high school, we’ve always lived in different states, and have kept in touch sporadically, yet it is also a friendship that feels comfortable even after long periods of non-communication.

What was perfect was that the Grand Tetons was about the same distance from her as it was from Salt Lake City. I really couldn’t wait to get back there since my trip last fall.  The combination of the animals and environment just seem to touch me in a very deep way.

It was also wonderful to see it in a different season. I really hadn’t expected so much snow or to see the frozen lakes still.  I don’t know why. I guess I just was thinking that with what seemed like an early Spring in Oregon, it would be the same in Wyoming. I love being there, and seem to love it more and more each time I visit.

There were some road closures, like Moose-Spring Road, or parts of the Teton Park road between Jenny Lake and Signal Mountain Lodge but the upside is there are also practically no tourists and the hotels rooms are available and reasonable. I definitely would plan a trip in Spring again, maybe a couple of weeks later to see the wildlife babies.

The very first full day we were there, my cousin and I decided to take a walk in the Gros Ventre area. I was fiddling with my camera gear and my cousin was ahead of me.  I looked up to see her walking right towards a moose she hadn’t spotted yet.  He/She was looking at her like, what are you doing?  We backed off and went in another direction.  I don’t know if this was a cow or a calf. Somehow, I was feeling it was a young calf from last year, but I am unsure.

The second day was supposed to be the clearest day, so I was definitely out to get as many shots of the Tetons as I could since in the fall, the low cloud coverage had blocked them.  My cousin went skiing in the Targhee mountains area which she found was cheaper than the Teton area, and as the Tetons are so steep, she heard that the runs aren’t as  well groomed.  We both had good days.

My day was spent working my way all the way up to the Flagg Ranch right before the road closed going towards the South Entrance to Yellowstone. There had been reports of grizzlies at Colter Bay and wolves at Flagg Ranch, but I saw neither. I had been telling my cousin how my experiences with other nature photographers were normally very friendly and generous with information, perhaps because of a mutual love of animals, but unfortunately, I didn’t really feel that on this trip with the photographers I encountered – a momentary disappointment. I was glad that I was familiar with the area as I got to see more moose, antelope, bison, a ruffed grouse, trumpet swans, geese, ducks, hawks, an eagle, deer, and a beautiful red fox. I got some great shots of the beautiful Grand Tetons. At the end of the day I ended up near the Taggart Lake trailhead hoping to get some sunset shots as well as hoping to see the beautiful red fox I had photographed the day before.

As it turned out, it wasn’t a great sunset, but as I was turning to go to meet my cousin for dinner, I was a bit delayed by the full moon rising above the trees.

On our third day in the Tetons, we set out separately but met in the afternoon and decided to take a walk through the snow to Taggart Lake.  My cousin lent me some crampons and although she initially was going to cross country ski, she decided to walk as well. She is in much better shape than I, so after 1 mile and a half in when we discovered we had suddenly ended up on the trail to Bradley Lake, she plunged ahead (and uphill) to see if she could get a view of both lakes from the crest. I, was carrying my telephoto and tripod and was already tired, so I decided to work my way back to Taggart Lake using my phone as a navigational device.  It should have been just through the trees, but after postholing and sinking my right leg up to nearly my hip, I decided to work back to the point we had gotten off trail.  Soon, my cousin who had been up to the crest and came back, caught up with me and we found the trail together.

Taggart Lake was frozen over, except around the edges, which I managed to step through. I would love to do the hike again to see the lake in summer or fall as the setting is just beautiful.  That evening we also drove over the mountains to have dinner with her daughter who happened to be taking a weekend course in Driggs.  I haven’t seen her daughter probably since she was pre-teen and now she is a lovely young woman.

I am already thinking of when I can get back to the Grand Tetons, and combine it with a return trip to Pryor Mountain and Yellowstone.  I just can’t seem to get enough, and I still haven’t seen a grizzly there!

I am also thinking of when I can see more of my old friends.  Too much time goes by too quickly and it felt so good and comfortable to to laugh, talk and hang out with both my cousin and my friends of many years. I am eager to see more friends and family on a trip that I’m taking in May. It is too easy to let geographic distances create temporal distances between ourselves and people who are important to us. We create excuses why we can’t do things now – time or affordability. One might think, from the way we put things off, that we had millions of years.


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Living Free

My trip to Pryor Mountain to see the wild horses back in September is one that has affected me deeply and the effects are still being felt.  It was a great privilege to see the beauty of these horses with both their strength and fragility, their freedom and their lives subject to the elements in a natural habitat, living free, but it’s also been an ongoing lesson and blessing to think about what I saw, to review my photographs and think about the social world of these herds, the family lines and their history (history being a world we mostly tend to associate with humans).

My trip last year to see some of the wild horses in the Oregon herds, was one in which I primarily felt the beauty of these creatures living as they were meant to live, but this trip was different in that I was exposed more to the relationship of the horses to one another and the social structure of herds and bands. I was intrigued enough by some of the stories to watch the documentary, Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies (available from Netflix), about a harem stallion from Pryor Mountain mustang herd first encountered by Ginger Kathrens as a newborn foal and to read some of the blogs of the people who feel connected to these wild creatures, like Sandra Elmore’s blog – http://wildinthepryors.com/.

I can feel how easily it would be to become obsessed by these horses. Already, in processing some of my photographs, I feel my heart being pulled in every which way by the tenderness that is displayed between certain of the horses, or by the individual personalities of the various foals or horses and how they seem just as complex as the personalities of humans. When I read the blogs, I see how some of the people who watch over this herd develop a special connection to a certain horse, and then worry about its survival through the winter, sometimes to have their hearts broken when something does happen. I am touched and moved.

It is documented that the wild horses have been living in the Pryor Mountains of Wyoming and Montana  or what Ginger Kathrens referred to as the Arrowhead Mountains by the early 1700s and perhaps even before. DNA testing has proven that they are descended from the Colonial Spanish mustangs. The herd is genetically diverse and has low inbreeding, two traits that make the herd very important. The horses tend to be on the smaller side, 13 to 15 hands and between 700-800 pounds.

What amazed me, upon first seeing these horses was the wide range of colors, from Cloud’s nearly white, to black, with grullos, duns, bays, chestnut and roans inbetween.  The duns are especially interesting with primitive markings on their withers and stripes like zebra markings) on their legs. See the photograph of Odakota and look carefully at his hind leg.

Two of the foals that seemed very personable were Ohanzee (above) and Odakota (to the right) in very different ways.  Odakota was curious but shy. He approached timidly, 1 step forward, 1 step back. Ohanzee is more confident and is the son of Cloud and Feldspar. When we first encountered him, he was grazing, then went to cuddle with his mother.  After we had moved to another ridge, where the watering hole was and where there were many small bands of horses, I noticed later when reviewing my photographs that Cloud’s band had come over and Ohanzee was approaching Nimbus, his sister.

Nimbus was another horse I was fascinated with as she is a young filly, born in 2013,  and has already departed from Cloud’s band and is in a band with Knight, a young stallion and two other bachelor stallions – a somewhat dangerous grouping for her. She is extremely beautiful, and her band definitely has the lively raw energy of the young, evident from the moment they first came into sight.

After watching the documentary and reading the blogs, I realized to a greater extent the obstacles these horses face, especially when they are young.  One year, as our guide, Steve Cerroni, mentioned, many foals were killed by mountain lions.  Eventually they had to relocate some of the mountain lions.

Also, some foals are just born weak. The documentary showed one disturbing incident where two bands were in the same area.  The mother of the weak foal that had collapsed moved away when the more dominant stallion, Looking Glass and his band came near.  The mares of Looking Glass’s band sniffed the foal and seemed to be concerned about it, but Looking Glass came up and killed the foal in a very horrible and aggressive manner despite the mares attempt to intervene, a reminder that cruelty does exist in the animal world as well.  Perhaps the stallion sensed the foal’s imminent death or perhaps he was killing a rival’s offspring – we won’t ever know, but life in the wild is just not all Pretty Ponies.

Another danger is that during the round-up that do occur every few years, there is the danger of the young horses being run to death or getting crushed. Flint, also known as Blue Moon, did become lame one year and it was feared that he would not make it during that winter, but he is now a harem stallion. Lightening is also a problem, sometimes killing a whole band of horses at once.

There are also small bands of bachelor stallions.  These are colts that get kicked out of the band at a certain age. They hang around with other males until they reach a time where they try to form their own band by stealing another mare from a harem stallion.  What’s also sad, but natural, is that eventually the older stallions get their bands stolen and end up as a bachelor stallion again.

One thing that I’ve been thinking about is the history and continuity of these animals.  Normally in an ideal domestic setting animals are neutered for the purpose of maintaining populations and not bringing unwanted animals into a situation where they will be neglected or abused.  But in the wild, on my day’s tour, I see and photograph these horses, then later as I look back at a blog, I am able to see that horse as a colt, or see references to the horse’s parents or grandparents. I read about Cabaret’s band that is killed in the deep snows of 2011 and find that that will be the end of the line as all the offspring are dead. I think not of just one life, in the way I think of one of my animal companions, but of a line and legacy.  Cloud, not 19 years old and made famous by three wonderful documentaries, has a mother who is 23 years old and still alive.  Hopefully in 23 years, his offspring, Nimbus and Ohanzee will still be out there on the mountain.

In watching the documentary and reading the blogs, one phrase stays with me – living free, and also dying free. Ginger Kathrens remarked that she had been raised with horses, but when it came time to make the documentary found she knew very little about wild horses. What do we know about living free, I wonder? We think we are free, especially if we are Americans, but are we? The Merriam-Webster gives a number of definitions, but the one I most associate with the idea of “freedom” or the state of being “free” is: “not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being: choosing or capable of choosing for itself.”

Now a wild mare is not always “free” in that sense as the stallions tend to control their bands. Although perhaps she is according to her own nature.  I’m reminded by one of the stories of a Pryor Mustang mare, named Blue Sioux whom Cloud stole from his brother, Red Raven.  Allowed to go off by herself to foal, she made her way instead back to Red Raven. However now, she belongs to a younger stallion, Irial.

Nimbus 1-bw

Nimbus, No. 1

One difference, is that in the wild, horses are not generally pulled away from their families, and most of the time they are not “serving” anyone else. They are living according to their own nature, not saddled, not bridled, free to run (within the limits of  36000 acres now fenced in some places) and also to deal with the harsh realities of survival.

As humans, if we look carefully at our own lives we’ll find that we’ve given up some of our freedom. We might compromise our values in order to make a living. We might accept treatment that demeans us, so that we have a certain level of security. For some, that may be easier than for others.  For myself, I think it’s always been a bit harder to conform or take orders or agree or to follow the prescribed agenda that is supposed to make me “better!”

Maybe I’m too sensitive, maybe it’s being from a mixed race that made me more unnerved and irritated by the ideal of having been told as a child that I wasn’t good enough but lately I’m finding it harder and harder to do things that I don’t find myself believing in and I’m growing more resistant to the suggestion that I need to accept certain things because I’m getting older, because the economy is shaky, because, because because of any number of reasons.

I think it’s because I’m getting older that it’s become more important to me to think that with this life I’ve done some of the things I wanted to do, and that I’ve attempted to live my life consciously and freely.

Now I’m not immune to fear.  I worry about how long my savings will last, or what will happen if I get sick. Like the wild horses, I’ve followed the Judas horse more than once to that narrow corral. There’s a meal, the comfort of a crowd, the knowledge that you can give up risk and put yourself into the hands of others.

You know what? –  I’m old enough to be really tired of the threat of a lash of the whip, albeit a symbolic one. I’m more worried about living a life that has no meaning or worse yet supporting something I find repellant. Each moment is more precious when you start to realize, really realize, they’re limited. Too precious to spend on things that make you feel rotten or dead or confined to a box.

When Ginger Kathrens or the Pryor Mustang bloggers refer to a horse as living free and dying free on the mountain, it speaks to a certain richness of life that boggles the civilized mind. Certainly not a romanticized, easy life, but defnitely an authentic one. Now I may not be able to join those wild and free mustangs on that mountain, but I certainly can appreciate them and instill a bit of that spirit in myself.


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Exploring What’s Not Too Far From Home – William L Finley Wildlife Refuge

A couple of weeks ago, tired of photographing my local stomping grounds, forest and rivers, I opted to take a day’s outing to the William L. Finley Wildlife Refuge south of Corvallis and about an hour and a half from me.  It’s funny that living so near rivers and woods, that while hiking I rarely see a lot of wildlife except for the occasional deer. And the ducks, geese, and other birds, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, are not tame and prefer wider boundaries when it comes to encounters with humans than at other places where they are more used to us funny two-legged creatures.  Often when I’m on a trail, it is utterly quiet with no signs of visible life, except for my dog and I, of course.  You might get to a spot where suddenly there are the sounds of birds or running water, but passing through, it becomes quiet again.

The coast is a good two hours away and that’s if there’s no work being done on the highway, and I was looking for something closer. So I Googled it and found there are three wildlife refuges between Eugene and Portland. William L. Finley was in easy driving distance, providing a day’s outing without the additional cost of having to spend a night away from home.

I had never heard of the refuge before, and speaking to others in my area, later, they hadn’t either. It is named after a wildlife photographer and conservationist, born in 1876 in Southern California and dying in 1953 in Portland, Oregon. He served on the National Association of Audubon Societies for the Protection of Wild Birds and Animals, (later National Audubon Society) in 1905 and became the second president of the Oregon Audubon Society in 1906.

The Refuge appears to been established in 1964 and contains over 5,000 acres of diverse habitats which was one of the things I found fascinating.

I drove up Hwy 99 , through farmland, and then turned down a gravel road which bordered a neighboring farm.  After several hundred feet, I came upon a large field in which there were at least 15 Great Blue Herons spaced out.  On the other side of the road were marsh ponds with many ducks and some geese.

Many of the trails are closed during the winter as the primary purpose of the refuge is to provide a safe wintering spot for the birds, notably the dusky Canada Geese.  There are also some historical buildings within the refuge, and one that is spotted early on is the Cheadle Barn built in 1900.

The road comes out of the refuge, first going south and you then turn right and head north on Bellfountain Road, where you re-enter the Refuge.

There is a gift store and a Refuge Office and the chipping sparrow, seen to the right, was near those buildings and taking advantage of the sun and the nearby bird feeder.

One of the  trails starts from this point – the Mill Hill Loop (3 mi. loop), a very woodsy trail. I had taken this trail last, so I ended up only going in a mile or so.  At the beginning of the trail were numerous Stellar Jays flitting about from tree to tree. This is also a trail where bobcat, beaver and even a cougar might be spotted. Two months earlier, a cougar kill of a deer was found near the trail.

The auto route road continues meandering through the refuge to the Woodpecker Loop trail which is the first trail I walked. This is a lovely trail.  It winds through a wooded area where the trees are alive with the rustling of birds, the sound of woodpeckers, and songs of other birds.  I’m not a birder, and there were many birds flitting about, most hard to see due to the density and shade of the area, and even when seen, too fast for me to photograph in the low light.

However, the trail works up a hill, and I felt as if I had been transported to California.  There were oak trees and golden meadows.  There were jays flitting from tree to tree and the oaks were huge and lovely. There were also extraordinary views of Mt Hood and the Cascade Range.

You then continue back into a wooded area, although at one point you have a view of another section of the refuge..  I found this remnant of a fence, and I loved the way it looked,  despite the fact that it no longer served any purpose.

The spotted towhee is also one of the birds I spied among the beautiful branches of the surrounding trees. He’s so dark and I don’t think I would have spotted him, except for the glint of his eye as he turned his head.

Past the Woodpecker trail, the auto route continues on past Cabell Marsh.  There is an overlook area for Cabell Marsh, less than a quarter of a mile from the parking and down a trail, but the other trail from this point that goes all the way down to the marsh is closed until Spring.

Past this, I spotted a car pulled to the side, and thus was able to see some bull elk in the shadows across a pond. Then another mile down the road, there was another overlook area.  There were many raptors about. One bald eagle in a tree, many young ones in another tree, and off in the misty distance a large herd of elk. Later, around that area, I also passed a field, where I spotted a large bird in the field feeding on something.  When I took the photographs, I thought it was a hawk, but after reviewing them on my computer screen, I see that it was an owl, exciting for me since I’ve never seen one in the wild before, although the images can’t be used as the owl is just too far away.

The refuge is definitely a place I will return to, not only in the winter but at different times of the year.  Two birders I met, indicated winter is the best time in their opinion. They lived in the area and therefore are lucky enough to be able to visit it often. I am such a novice when it comes to birdwatching, and it was interesting to note how they could often tell what type of bird it was from a long distance from the flight or call. They said in November there are murmurations of thousands of starlings – another thing I would love to see. However, I will also be going in Spring as I really enjoy getting out of the car and walking – I’d love to explore the other trails.

I drove out of the refuge and headed back south on Hwy 99, but couldn’t resist turning in again at Bruce Road and looking at the marsh and geese once more. I spotted this little fellow, a killdeer hunting for worms.  I also have a shot of his success, but haven’t processed it yet.  The first photograph in the post also resulted from pulling in again to the refuge. I could barely stand to leave, but I knew my poor dog, banished from the refuge, was waiting at home for me.

As I was leaving, something stirred the geese up.  Up hundreds of them flew in the sky. It’s a beauty to watch them fly and turn almost as one mind.  However, I noted when reviewing the photographs – most of them show that pattern of synchronized flight – that there was one image where there is a moment of chaos. Some are turned left, some right, and others seem to be flying towards my camera. It’s such a cool thing to be able to rediscover something about a moment that has passed – like seeing it was an owl in that field, or seeing that there was a second of chaos in perfection – it just one of the many things I love about photography.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this and will get out to see what a little bit beyond your normal stomping grounds. And I hope you will be pleasantly surprised. See you in a few weeks after my return from my week’s vacation in Kauai!