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A few years ago, Tracy and I took a road trip to the Ozark Mountains for a much-needed break. On our way to Forsyth, Missouri we decided to take a scenic detour to the tiny town of Ponca, Arkansas. Just outside of Ponca is an unincorporated community in a beautiful valley named Boxley. We had read that there were elk in Boxley Valley. Elk! Fantastic! The very reason I started down this 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 my “About” page. It will explain my obsession and nervousness.
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 at capturing the beauty of Elk. Wouldn’t you know it, 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 on top of a cloud. 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. As we slowly rounded a curve in the road, you could just make out their silhouettes in the dense fog. There they stood. Elk! A small herd was grazing about 50 yards away. Tracy grabbed her binoculars as I pulled off the road. I was fumbling for my camera when I heard her say, “there’s a bull”. 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, “just take a deep breath and take your time”. Inhale…exhale. It didn’t help. But unlike the Tennessee disaster, this time I had years of practice and knowledge on my side.
I checked my settings, laid my camera on top of the car, took another deep breath, checked my settings again, focused on the young bull, and “click”! I believe my exact words when I looked at the viewfinder were “HELL YES”. I tweaked my camera settings and started snapping more pictures. I could feel my confidence growing with every click of the shutter. Rain and fog? What rain and fog? I don’t see any rain or fog! Eventually, the small herd disappeared into the gloom and we got back in the car. I flipped through the images on my viewfinder looking for the best one. I showed it to Tracy and told her that this one was going to be titled 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. Even though the bull wasn’t very big, I look at that image and I see progress. I see an image that was many 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 everyone out there that is just beginning a new 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, keep the sun behind you and the birds in view
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