Last month, Tracy and I took a road trip to the Ozark Mountains. On our way to 12 Stones Guest Farm in Forsyth, Missouri we decided to take a scenic detour to the tiny town of Ponca, Arkansas. Just outside of Ponca is the unincorporated community of Boxley. There were elk in Boxley Valley. Elk. The very reason I started down this wildlife and nature photography road, and the one missed photo op that still haunts me in my sleep. To completely understand the reason for my anxiety you will need to read the “Home/About” page. Please, take the time to read this short post. It may help explain my obsession.
We woke early morning in Jasper, Arkansas and started on the hour drive through the mountains to the Boxley Valley. My mission…to erase my disappointing attempt to capture the beauty of Elk from 9 years ago. Just like before, it was cold, rainy and of course, it had to be foggy. The drive was beautiful, what we could see through the dense fog. It was like driving through a dream. We’ve been down this road before during our honeymoon in Tennessee. The results were anything but favorable. Elk, fog and rain do not make for a winning combination.
As we approached Boxley Valley, my excitement was growing. The visibility was low and as we rounded a curve in the road, there they stood. Elk! A small herd was grazing about 75 yards from the road. Tracy saw them first. She grabbed her binoculars and I pulled off the road and turned on the hazard lights. I vaguely remember her saying “there’s a bull”. I grabbed my Canon with the Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens. As I was getting out of the car, I felt it. Déjà Vu. This is Tennessee all over again. I guess Tracy could tell I was a little intimidated by the situation. I heard her say, “take a deep breathe and take your time”. So I did. Unlike the Tennessee disaster, I actually had a bit of knowledge on my side. I checked my settings, laid my camera on top of the car, checked my settings again, focused on the young bull, and “click”! I believe my exact words when I looked at the view finder were “HELL YES”. With my confidence growing, I put my camera on high speed burst and took about a hundred images of these magnificent creatures. What rain and fog?! I got back in the car and told Tracy that I already have a name for my first image. Redemption.
I’ve taken a lot of images that I’m proud of and even more that I tossed in the recycle bin. But as of today I believe that “Redemption” is the one image that gives me the most pride. I look at that image and I see progress. I see an image that was nine years in the making. That bull elk standing in a field in the snow and fog in Tennessee no longer haunts my dreams.
I want to encourage all the photographers out there that are just beginning their adventure. Don’t give up. Learn as much as you can and keep pushing yourself to be better. You will get there, and one day I hope you have the opportunity to find your redemption.
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Until next time,
A young bull elk (Cervus canadensis) grazes in the early spring rain in Boxley Valley in Arkansas. Between 1981 and 1985, elk were re-introduced to the Buffalo River area, and have become one of Arkansas’ most successful re-establishment programs.
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