Thursday, September 8, 2011

Elk are Beautiful...From a Distance

Greg Gaskin
Greg and his brother, Jack are two of the most "stand up" people, I've ever come to know. Actually I know them only through online interactions among fellow photographers, but suffice it to say that both are the sort of men you'd like to have in your inner circle.

So it's wonderful to read a story that veritably bubbles with the warmth of brotherly love and respect.

This is a humorous but nevertheless harrowing story of a dangerous sort of Relentless Pursuit in Yellowstone National Park.  Happily Greg and Jack both lived to tell about it, and will be on their way back to the Park in the next few days to gather some more memories. I cannot wait to hear their tales and see their photos.

Thanks for stopping here to see the latest post. I'd love to know what you think of the "Relentless Pursuit" series. Please leave  a comment below or email me with your suggestions on what you'd like to see on this blog.

Also, I'd very much appreciate a click on  the green SU icon at the bottom of this post to recommend the blog to Stumble Upon members. It will dramatically increase the "exposure" of our authors' work.

If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me. And be sure to take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you! Also, consider forwarding the link to "Relentless" to your friends and family. Thanks again!
  Michelle Alton


Yellowstone Magic

Elk are Beautiful...From a Distance!
(Click on photos to see them enlarged.)

"A brother shares childhood memories and grown-up dreams." ~Author Unknown

"Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk." ~Susan Scarf Merrell

"A brother is a friend given by Nature." ~Jean Baptiste Legouve

I have two siblings, my brother Jack and sister Joy. Growing up, I was close to both of them but as adults we all wound up in different states and like so many other families have not had enough contact over the years. For a couple of years Jack and I had kicked around the idea of doing some photo trips together. Finally we settled on a Yellowstone road trip and scheduled it for September 2007.

Yellowstone National Park Map
Jack flew into Detroit and the next morning we were on our way across the very heartland of America. By the way, traveling across the great heartland isn't what it is cracked up to be. After looking at millions of acres of cornfields on a road (I 80) with no turns and few bends, one tends to get a little mental. We drove a lot of hours that first day and ended up somewhere in South Dakota. The next day we visited Mount Rushmore and Devil’s tower and then headed off to stay the night in Cody, Wyoming before the final push to our journey’s purpose: Yellowstone.

In the interest of conciseness I will not go into 99.99% of what we experienced in the park, though I could go on ad infinitum speaking of the wonders of Yellowstone. Just thirty minutes after getting inside the park I turned to Jack and said, "If I don't see another thing worth photographing, this trip would still have been worth it." The days in Yellowstone were full of the wonders of nature. Of all the places I have ever visited Yellowstone is clearly the finest. To put that in its proper perspective, I have visited 33 of the 50 States, British Columbia, Ontario, Jamaica, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Guam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Australia. Oh, and I also lived in Hawaii for three years.

One of the other unexpected experiences we encountered in Yellowstone was the amazingly large number of "brain damaged" people in the park. Oh, I am not just being rude-- let me cite some examples: We saw numerous people go past the sign that said "Don't go past this point, danger of falling." The ranger said every year somebody falls to their death there. We witnessed someone try to hand-feed an Elk and another person actually tried to pet one. A side note here, Jack yelled "Stop the car!" and then jumped out. He wanted to get a picture in case the Elk killed that person with the petting fixation. Fortunately for her, but unfortunately for Jack, when the Elk started to buck up she figured out it was a bad idea.

The queen of all the crazy people was encountered when we stopped to ask what everybody was looking at up the hill. Her Majesty told us there was a black bear with cubs and the crowd was running to catch up with her. These types of people will come into play later in this tale. a FOX!

As luck would have it, one morning we set off along the Madison River traveling east from the Town of West Yellowstone, Montana, and THERE he was, the biggest, most beautiful Elk you could ever ask to see. This was our second big Elk in two days; clearly luck was on our side. Since it was the beginning of the rut season, he was keeping his females all close together for the inevitable prize that awaited him in just a few short weeks.  Of course this also means that he was a little on the testy side.

Okay let's be honest, he was close to being insane. Because he was so wound up he moved around a whole lot which made photography much better. At first there was only one other person taking pictures and he had some long glass (i.e, a long telephoto lens) so everything was working out just perfect but as time went on more and more people stopped with point-and-shoot or cell phone cameras, trying to get close enough for a clear shot.

After trying to warn them a couple of times to back off, I turned to Jack and said, "I'm done here, these idiots are going to get killed." He agreed and said he was going to walk to the east to get a couple of shots of something else. I then watched the crowd push the Elk further and further down the road by continuing to crowd him. While waiting for Jack to finish I kept an eye on what was transpiring between the Elk and the crazy people. They were about a quarter of a mile down the road when the Elk turned towards them (everybody froze) and then turned again and charged down to 30 feet from where I was standing. There were some small trees between the Elk and myself but I knew I was too close so I took a couple quick shots.

I started up to the road to get behind a car. As I reached the car he (Mr. Elk) moveed toward the small trees and then began walking straight for me.

Lurking among the Trees

I motioned to the driver to stay put and urged, "Please don't pull away!" After placing the tripod down I took a picture of the Elk walking right towards the car, and as you can tell by the photo below he looked a little deranged.

Just as I hit the shutter the car pulled away! I couldn't believe it. Do I not speak clearly? Maybe the driver didn't speak English; perhaps he always wanted to see somebody get gored to death and could not pass on this golden opportunity. Whatever the reason I knew I was in trouble.

My first thought was "Why couldn't this happen to Jack" and before you say something like "Why would you want your brother gored?" let me explain that thought. When they created the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and the National Geographic Channel, Jack was their target audience. He is obsessed with wildlife and has a great deal of knowledge about animal behavior and would have known what to do in this situation. I, on the other hand, didn't have the slightest clue what to do. Okay I admit there were several times as kids I would have liked to see him gored but those days are well in the past now.

My first thought was the natural instinct to run for some cover. I quickly calculated that the odds of my success with this plan were about one hundred billion-to-one. Thought number two was the same as thought number one, but took into account that the sight of my fat butt trying to run away carrying my tripod and camera would be so funny the Elk would laugh himself to death.

I figured this plan’s chances for success might be as high as 50-50. Having no real clue as to what to do I stood straight up and said aloud "Oh sh#t, this is going to hurt!" With that the Elk turned to his left and just walked off.

Just Walking Off to the Left
I was in the midst of thanking the very God I pray to for sparing my worthless life, when Jack walked up laughing and exclaimed, "You might as well have been standing there naked. I was sure I was going to inherit your photo gear!"

The lessons learned from this are three fold:
    • First:  You must be prepared for the unexpected as something like a herd of stupid people can cause an unanticipated problem.
    • Second:   Carry bear spray with you at all times. Would it work on an Elk if needed? Beats me, but it would have been something in the line of a defense.
    • The third and perhaps most important lesson is: I need to remove Jack from my will to eliminate any excuses in case I need him to save me on one of our future trips.
Brother, Jack
  All photographs by Greg Gaskin


Greg's Biographical Sketch:

I was born (1957) in Brooklyn New York and lived there until the age of eight when the family moved to the Hamlet of Islip on Long Island's south shore.
For the past 29 years I have lived in southeast Michigan and have spent the past twenty years residing in Wyandotte, Michigan with my wife Rita.

Photography is my drug of choice (although coffee is a close second). I will photograph anything that I find interesting and I am attempting to photograph every lighthouse (116) in the State of Michigan over the next five years.

I retire in March of 2012 and I am presently in the process of opening a photography business with my niece Marybeth who is a graduate of the College for Creative Studies.

You can view more of Greg's work on his website.


Please Note:

*** This Blog Needs Your Story! *** { I'm Serious!} If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me, please! We have only a single story on tap at this writing.
Give your imagination a stretch--your story can be about any sort of Relentless Pursuit, fact, fiction, poignant, humorous, or even harrowing!  I'd love to hear from you and work with you on your story! We need to keep this theme going! We've had some truly fabulous posts over the last several months.  Why not yours?

Thanks for stopping by.
Michelle Alton


[Click on the green SU icon below to recommend this blog to Stumble Upon Members]



Anonymous said...

You had me laughing. Amazing photo's of a place I would love to one day visit! And I am glad you and the Elk made nice :)

LauraEm said...

This was SUCH a well written story! Exciting, funny, spooky, and with good lessons for us all. I live near the Great Canadian Rockies and I know first hand how foolish tourists can be. In fact just a few days ago I was told a story of parents who saw a bear and actually put HONEY on their childs hand in hopes the nice bear would lick it off. Well, their child got his HAND BIT OFF. How many of us are not surprised?

This story left me wanting to hear MORE "Adventures of Greg and Jack"...!

Please tell them!

-Laura Swan

Monnie Ryan said...

Lord willin' and the creek don't rise, we're meeting Jack for breakfast this coming Tuesday. I'll be happy to see him, but just between you and me, I'm glad there aren't any really wild animals that forage near the restaurant! Cool tale, Greg!

Sandy Powers said...

That was a great story, and stunning photography! My hubby and I are yearly visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park around the rut season, and I've been charged twice! It is TERRIFYING! And I wasn't doing anything I wasn't supposed to do! Once I was in the middle of town sitting on a park bench and a mommy elk came from the other side of the park within just about an arm's length of me! I couldn't run either so I just pointed at her and as loud as I could said, "NO!!" like I did my dog, and sure 'nuff, she looked startled & walked away (whew). The other time, we just came around the bend on a hike before sunrise and just flat out ran into her. I don't know how we escaped that one because it was too early & I was too tired, but I think I ran & My hubby held her off with my tripod :) (Whew again). Thanks for sharing!!!

Joe DiGilio said...

That was an exciting story Greg and your images of the park and the elk are outstanding. It's amazing how ignorant some people are where wildlife is concerned.

Carolyn Fletcher said...

Nothing like stupid people to get a good story started....and this was a good, no...Great story! Fun!!

Anonymous said...

Great story and very well written, Greg! You see lots of citidiots in some of the National Parks who think that the animals are at the zoo.


Bob Cammarata said...

Great story Greg!
Yellowstone is a truly special place!

Anonymous said...

So enjoyed reading this, very funny and scary too...well written...what a great holiday that must have been.
We certainly have people here that ignore signs, we have lots of signs around the blow holes here on the seashore warning people not to go near the edge because of the treacherous waves, but some people ignore them and get washed into the sea each year...


Anonymous said...

Great story and photos, Greg!! Hope you get some great shots on the trip and more stories like this (of course, hoping that no one gets injured.)

Robert B