I’d never seen so few animals in The Park.
Three ducks, nine buffalo, and a single fox. The first time I’d driven through Yellowstone two-decades ago, I’d seen almost every major animal one could hope for, on the sunniest of days. From grizzly to moose, eagle to elk, they all popped out for a wave and a wink under a brilliant blue sky. Not so, this mid-May. Almost 22-years to the day later, and Yellowstone Lake looked as cold as the apocolyptic sky. A lifeless landscape of steel-grey hues. My camera was useless. Just another undulating item in my truck, next to the sleeping set of golf clubs.
Bleak vistas before me at every switch-back. Were they filming a sequel to I AM LEGEND? Was the rapture about animals, not people? Had I fallen asleep in a hammock and nothing was real?
How could I capture the greatest photograph in the world if nature and its creation wasn’t getting involved? The photo I was after was impossible to obtain at this rate.
So I created the greatest photo in The Park, in the world, in that moment, in my mind.
When I noticed the tiny island just a stone’s toss from shore, maybe 30-yards from the driftwood scattered sand of Yellowstone Lake, I saw it all come into focus.
What if a bear swam out to that bit of land, that flooded patio of dirt and sand, with the one tree, one rock and now himself, the old grizzly, sitting upon it, sunning his soaked coat, waving at the Winnebagos as they loped passed along the highway just above?
Yes. This would surely be amongst the greatest pictures ever made. Maybe the best, I surmised. Unless of course, an eagle lofted onto a limb of the tree, next to that rock with the bear upon it, on that bit of land poking up just off the beach, facing me, my lens and the world that happened past it all. This would surely be the greatest photo of all time.
But what if some hog of a fish joined the scene, leaping from the water, at the precise moment both the eagle and the bear were fully in focus, composed and awaiting my shutter button depression? Even better.
Then the light upstairs flicked on and I realized my condition at this moment–I was suffering from just that–Shutter Button Depression. The symptoms it seemed, were lucid hallucinations of what the greatest photo in the world might look like, due to absence of obvious spectacles happening before me.
So I went with it. I milked my fever. I let the SBD’s take me over and infect my mind from stem to spine and before I awoke (still driving) near the Park’s Eastgate, the eagle had leapt onto the fish, the bear had lunged onto the eagle and eaten him and the fish, and a Sexy Park Ranger (pick your gender) had joined the picture, fly-fishing nude in the foreground.
I decided it was a pretty vivid day after all. Maybe, if we don’t see the photo first in our minds, it may never come to pass, so I think I’ll keep dreaming until it does.
I say, see all you can, even if you can’t.