The BB and I ascended from Denver airport past tattered mountain goats whose scars belied their reputation for nimble-footedness, past drifts of snow still hanging on in cool pockets, to the Rockies.
Our accommodation was at the YMCA just out of Granby. I think I expected dirt floors in a log cabin – yes, a couple of hundred years out of date, I know. I found instead spacious, well-serviced (and soundly-floored) lodges, houses and chalets spread around the acres. This is an ideal spot for families.
To seal the American welcome, a resident chipmunk skittered around the concrete pad and up the flywire outside our room. Any movement on my part (to reach for my camera, for instance) sent it darting away. However, with one lucky swift click I managed to secure a photo of a little backlit blob. That’s going in the album.
Of course, moose were the drawcard for me; the prize. I wanted to see their height. I once stood next to a metal cut-out at the Wildnis Park near Zurich (post here) and became keen to convert that 2 ½D (do not try that one in class, kids) to 3D. In fact, the desire to see a moose in all its 3D glory really began in my childhood when I saw a photo in a Sierra Club calendar. It was a close-up of a moose’s head with water dripping from its muzzle. I have been enamoured since that day. So little can set us off. Some chance event can engrain something in our psyche that will be present for us possibly all our lives, awaiting some kind of fulfilment.
Up in Grand Lake, just outside the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park, I was told that moose sometimes walk through the town.
Days before we arrived, a woman and her dog walked close to a moose with calf. The mother protected her young. I’m not sure what happened to the dog but the woman was taken to hospital, unharmed. The moose and her baby were shot. The townspeople were not pleased.
So I knew to keep my distance from moose. I wondered about bears and cougars. What was the protocol with them? Run? Play dead? Feign nonchalance? Wish them good day and keep walking, as I once read in a spiritual text? A fellow guest at The Y said they’d rather face a bear than one of Australia’s red-back spiders. Hell no! You can squash a red-back with your thumb. I’ve never done it but I’ve watched my mother a few times. (Do not try this one at home, kids. You need strong nerves, good aim and big thumbs.) I walked the Rockies with swivelling eyes and light steps.
I spent my first day getting a feel for the park and popping out of the car for photographs. (Tip: a line-up of cars = animals. Except when it doesn’t. The following day, when friends and I stopped to photograph forest devastated by pine bark beetle (post here), people piled out of their cars eager for that coveted close-up shot of some animal endowed with an endoskeleton. Line-up = disappointment.)
I was delighted to see this sticking out of the bushes:
Gradually, he revealed himself.
He emerged looking a little like an old curtain the cats have been at.
A female lounges in the shade.
Elk abounded. If you’re going to the park with your eyes open, you’ll see them.
On the way home in the evening, I saw them grazing in a carpark very close to the road.
And then, I spotted the moose. Not far from the Grand Lake park exit lies a large clearing. Two adolescents were on the far side about 200m away. I felt safe enough to get out of the car and start photographing. Over the next half hour or more (I lost track of time) cars came and went and the moose munched steadily closer. Once or twice, when they were close to the road, they looked up. My heart skipped a beat and I darted a glance to my car about 20m away. I hoped someone would give me shelter if the animals suddenly changed mood.
The following day, I saw a cow and calf plus a racked male. I didn’t get good photos but photography is often simply an outlet for my excitement or appreciation. Whilst I enjoy looking at the shots later, it is the act of creation that is important and fulfilling.
And so it is with seeing these animals, it is the moment of sighting, the sharing of space, the bringing together of longing, anticipation and fulfilment, rather than the ‘having seen’ that trembles with meaning. The photo serves as a way back, an anchor to that.
A National Park ticket costs $20US for seven days.