Playing my part in preventing the extinction of the Vancouver Island Marmot
As part of arranging this trip, I offered to donate all of the hi-res photos to the VI Marmot Recovery Foundation, so that they can promote themselves more effectively and hopefully receive more donations for the cause. They are such stunningly beautiful and interesting animals, I can’t imagine how it would feel if they were gone.
It took me a while to fully comprehend that the small bundle of fur sitting alone, gazing up at me, by herself, represents around 3% of the total wild population of her species. Within a few hundred yards I would see several more of what constitutes 25% of all wild Vancouver Island Marmots.
I’ve just hiked with a researcher into the mountains near Nanaimo, into an ecological reserve inaccessibleto the public. When I consider that I’m (as far as I know) the first photographer allowed access, I feel privaleged and excited.
There’s something very very special about being in a wild place and seeing an animal in it’s natural habitat. Even better when there is no one else around, where every moment is private. Special can’t begin to describe how this feels when you are with one of only about 35 of these animals. I wonder if the marmots know. What would they do if they knew?
It’s strange to be humbled by a creature not much larger than the average mens hiking boot.
Our path was interrupted by a river, born of a storm we’d never met.
Our progress was slowed by “very real” quicksand.
Our opportunity rose with the water level.
That’s actually the middle of the story, so let’s rewind a little, all the way to Monument Valley.
Fully erect tripods are flung over shoulders as grey-bearded men run random routes.
Vertical view, framed-by-trees view, super-wide-angle to crop to letterbox view.
That was the chaos in the parking lot far below me. You can just make it out if you look to the far right of the bending river. That’s where everyone takes “the shot” from.
I looked at the slopes behind me for inspiration.
Wading through waist-high grass, claiming stupid bumpy hills. Checking my angles every five minutes while romanticizing the minutiae. Then the ridge ended. Nature deciding where my tripod should sit. Truth be told, I could envision a superior viewpoint 150ft higher and 60 yards father into an area free of solid mass. Otherwise know as a valley.
Location scouted, I mark my spot on the hill with rocks, sticks, footprints. And leave. I’ll come back tomorrow morning.
You need to be up at 4 to understand what it’s like to experience the magic of morning around here.
The smell is magical.
The danger of having your ass handed to you by a bear is legit.
The light is majestic.
Actually that’s a lie. It’s fucking dark at 4am.
It’s the annual fall rut and tension is reaching its usual sexual high.
Bulls are herding their quarry away from other rampant males as the occasional flurry of dust draws my attention to a scuffle in a distant group. The playground attendant steps in between and calm resumes.
I’m squatting by the side of the road, the car within safe reach ten yards behind me. Like a jealous schoolboy, one male in particular is shepherding a female away from anyone who approaches. This is fairly easy going for him, as most of the nearby bulls are juveniles with weak poker faces. They push, he re-raises, and they quickly fold their tails between their legs and sit out the next round.
Familiar and annoying comes the sound of a lazy motorhome puttering up beside me, window rolled down, with that inquiring look of, “what’re you looking at?” Well, for those at home, let’s survey the scene: plains take your eyes to the horizon about a mile in front of me and a half mile behind, a slow meandering river to the side.
And then amongst all this open monotonous scenery is
A GREAT BIG F**KING HERD OF BISON!!!
What do you think I’m looking at?