The Moment It Clicks: Photographic Stories #1: Trumpeter Swans

We live in a world of motion. John Muir knew it: “Everything is flowing—going somewhere… pulsed on and on forever like blood… in Nature’s warm heart.” Like flowing blood, motion means survival to most creatures. Call it the dance of life, the swirl of species.

There are many variations on the dance. Birds, animals, fish, and insects are moving around us all the time.

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On Assignment Moment #6: The Hermit with a Horn

“Wrangell- St. Elias National Park is a kingdom of peaks. Here four major mountain ranges converge. Nine of the thirteen highest peaks in the United States are found here, and more summits topping 14,500 feet than anywhere else on the continent. It is also a very strange place to hear a horn.”

That is how my book TREASURES OF ALASKA begins to tell the story of one of the most unique characters I’ve ever met on assignment: Cliff Wright,

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On Assignment – The Raw Feed

Not all assignment moments are filled with northern lights, deep desert canyons, or wild grizzlies. Some are even more important. I was on assignment writing the National Geographic book TREASURES OF ALASKA with photographer Michael Melford, a project which meant a long time in the field and away from my family. We don’t often think of how much time away from family is required to be a travel writer but it can take a toll.

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CRACK! I am bolt upright in my sleeping back even before the noise stops, yanked awake by a sound like the crust of the earth giving way. Alone, camped just off the northern shore of Basswood Island, twenty below zero, it is February, and the ice is cracking. Immense sheets still several feet thick and safe to camp on, Lake Superior will boom and groan all night restless in this deep cold, meaning little chance for sleep.

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Touched By A Grizzly

Can anyone really know what lurks in the heart of a grizzly? In the wilds of Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula, Charlie Russell believes he is beginning to find out. 

We’re walking into a trap. That much is clear as we pick our way through a dense maze of pine brush near Kambalnoye Lake. Coiled, tangled branches slap at our faces and claw at our eyes; roots snare our boot tops.

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I have lived through fifty-seven northern winters. Each year when the sun dips lower and lower along the horizon, and the light slants just so in the birch trees, I feel a longing for color, something to ballast me against the deep days of gray and white and black of winter. I walk the woods looking for the flicker of red feathers when the cardinals are near. I wander the lakeshores at sunset hoping for that pearl-pink just before sunset or a deep blue,

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Is photography art? In this day and age of instant photography it is a question we hear a lot.

To me, “Art” is an overarching concept that transcends medium. We talk of the art of sculpting, of dance, of music, of writing. We often talk about it as a noun: “that is art” or “that is NOT art,” but I think it is easier to understand when it is used as an adverb: “artfully.”

For something to be done “artfully” it must display an unmistakable level of mastery.

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The nameless lake sits at 11,400 feet in Wyoming’s Fitzpatrick Wilderness, tight up against a ridge known as the Brown Cliffs. This high in the Wind River Range there is no gentle fringe of trees, no sprigs of wildflowers, to soften the sharp angles of the rocks, nothing but a few wind-blasted banks of snow. The blue eye of water stares straight up from a cracked bowl of boulders into a remote, seldom visited land of wind and rock and sky.

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It was dawn. She knew it even before she opened her eyes; a softening of the light, a feeling more than anything. Being careful not to disturb me, she laid back the single sleeping bag we had tossed over ourselves against the night’s chill, and rose to walk beside the river.

Against a boulder, she saw how pathetic and mud-caked our boots looked from the hike in through a slot canyon that seemed to be leading us to the center of the earth through a maze slickrock walls and pools of jade-green water.

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Shin deep: the cold is like a jolt of electricity as we step into the water. Thigh deep: skulls-sized rocks roll beneath our feet. “A person wouldn’t last a minute in this,” Carol Kasza yells over the roar to Beth Wald and I who have hooked arms with her in our third attempt to cross the storm-swollen North Fork of the Koyukuk River in Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park. Waist deep: the river shoves at us like a living thing. If one of us slips now, all three of us will be swept away. Even in the clutches of the current, I catch myself almost smiling at the thought of explaining this to anyone — waist deep in an ice cold river in the middle of a trackless wilderness all in a search for a place called ‘Perfect Beauty’.”

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