Randy’s Journey – Motivation to Get Out of Bed

Being an academic that has never followed a blog, I have a problem: I keep thinking I should have something “academic” to say, or teach, in every blog. For those of you who read/write blogs, I’m sorry to come across as such a stuffed shirt. Feel free to guide me in a more informal direction with a comment or two … please.

So here is my non-academic blog post that we can both learn from (or should that be “from which we can both learn”?) The homework from my last blog asked you to explore what motivates you to improve your photography. Since that blog post was about practice and the homework was about motivation, let me share my journey the last week and how it was impacted by practice and motivation.

Those of you who live near the Grand Teton National Park remember that early last week we had four days of pretty much all-day rain.   Since we had clear skies for a couple weeks, most of my landscape photos were fairly bland blue-bird-skies. I was looking for something more dramatic so the first day we were supposed to get clouds and afternoon rain, I set my alarm for 4:30 am and drove the 90 minutes to the park for some exciting sky. Nope, it wasn’t dramatic at all. I didn’t get any photos that were even slightly interesting. Killer for motivation !

Luckily my wife, dog, and I had reservations in Stanley Idaho for later that week – right as the rain was supposed to stop. I was excited to have a beautiful new environment in which to shoot (not that the Tetons aren’t beautiful) and when we arrived in Stanley the clouds were lifting, although it was pretty humid. I bumped into a fellow Teton Photography Group colleague (Aaron) and he told me there had been a lot of fog over Redfish Lake that morning. No worry, it will all be gone tomorrow morning and I’ll get great shots of a new environment. I set the alarm for 5:00 am since I was only a few minutes from Redfish Lake.

I got up the next morning, put on my clothes, and hurried out to the car. Whoa, I couldn’t see a thing! The fog was so thick I had
Fog at Redfish (1 of 1)to drive at 20 mph on the highway and when I got to the Redfish Lake I couldn’t even see the shoreline. I setup my tripod and camera (and didn’t fall in) and figured I could wait-it-out. I took a few photos but I couldn’t see the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains at all. After an hour I left.

As I was driving back to the motel I saw a group of cars parked at Little Redfish Lake so I stopped to see what they were doing. It turned ouLifting Fog at Redfish (1 of 1)t to be a photo workshop that had driven from Oregon the day before (a 12 hour trip) only to be socked-in with serious fog. I waited with them for more than an hour, but it was a bit easier to wait since I now had people to talk with about the lake, the fog, and photography in general. But by 9:15 they got hungry and left for breakfast. I was by myself and left a few minutes later. I had taken some photos but they fell far short of my goal; two very early rises with nothing to show for it. Bummer.

At dinner I bumped into a photographer from the area who asked me about my photography. I told him I was disappointed with all the fog at Little Redfish Lake that morning and he asked me what time I was there. I said I finally left at 9:15 after wandering at the lake for over two hours. “Too bad you left so early. I got there at 9:30 and the fog was lifting. I got some great shots of the mist over the lake with the mountains catching the light just perfectly.” Bummer! That’s what you get for leaving early.

How many times have you been discouraged when you got up really early, or drove really far, or made some other sacrifice only to get nothing in return? Not getting a “reward” after making a sacrifice can really undermine your motivation. So what should we do after such motivational discouragement?

Sunset at Stanley Lake (1 of 1)

That night I drove a few miles and set-up for the sunset over Stanley Lake. I was hoping for some clouds and they showed-up. I was hoping for some sun on the mountains and a nice sunset and it worked … and I felt better and maybe even a little more motivated.

And the next morning I had a little more bounce in my step when I got up at 5:00 am to go back to Little Redfish Lake for sunrise. There was a little fog/mist on the lake and watching the Sawtooth Mountain Range come alive as the sunlight came down the Sawtooths was rewarding enough even if I didn’t get any good shots – but I got some.

Sunrise at Little Redfish (1 of 1)

So what did I learn? It was something I already knew but getting the lessons once again boosted my motivation. Are you experiencing these lessons?

  1. Don’t Pack Up to Leave Quite Yet – This is a very tough lesson to learn since you can never be sure when things will change. I always try to stay “a little longer” and find something else to see or think about in the fog or smoke or rain or …
  2. Don’t Ask Yourself if You Should Get Up – Make up your mind the day before. Put your gear near the door or in the car. NEVER ask yourself if you should go out on a shoot when you are in a nice warm bed; the answer will always be “Sleep a few more minutes” and you won’t get out of bed.
  3. Have a Shoot-Partner to Meet – It is easy to go back to sleep but not if someone is counting on you to meet them. Photo workshops can be very helpful for many reasons and one of them is that others are counting on you.
  4. Reflect on Your Own Motivation – One of the key “strategies” to improve your motivation is to think about your own motivation. What gets you out of bed in the morning? What brings you back for another shoot after an uneventful day? How have your photos improved over the last month or year? What have you learned that has improved your photos?

And tomorrow I have an early morning shoot. I’ll leave home at 4:45 am and pick up an old college friend in Jackson at 5:45 to drive up to Oxbow Bend. It won’t be tough to get up and take a 90 minute travel because: I had some success last weekend; I have a friend to meet; and I’m confident the color of the vegetation in the park will give me a great opportunity to take some great photographs. And even if none of my photographs were great, the beauty of a sunrise at Oxbow Bend with an old friend will make it worthwhile.

A Little Help for Randy to Reach OUR Goal

I received eight comments to my last post, (and quite a few have been added to the first post.) If you are one of those folks who took the time to add a comment, thank you very much. Since I am such a raw rookie on blogs I need your help to achieve our goal of helping amateur photographers. I was looking for comments to include in my posts but that is going slowly. So rather than wait, I am going to try to put up a post every two weeks with a bit more about my journey. I also received some suggestions about including photographs; that is why I have added a few of my photos and I will probably ask for yours sometime in the future.

The next post will be about how to improve your motivation. Please respond with comments to the last post so I can include how YOU improve your motivation. Don’t worry. If you feel like you have no motivation, put that in a comment and I promise I won’t mention your name. 😉

The Consequence of Not Knowing Fear

Grizzly Bear Cub Hiding

I was recently hiking on some unmaintained trails in Grand Teton National Park hoping for some wildlife encounters since there were plenty of ripe berry bushes at this particular location. Given the opportunities, I was specifically hoping for some bear and elk, knowing both were in the area.

I had been hiking for roughly a mile, but hadn’t seen any wildlife yet, and found myself exploring a new trail I hadn’t been down before. There were lots of downed trees in one location and visibility was fairly limited in my immediate surroundings. Of course it’s recommended that people make noise to scare away wildlife, but I didn’t want to scare it away. I wanted to see it. I also feel comfortable enough with my knowledge of wildlife to avoid any unfortunate encounters, and I had my bear spray as a last resort, which is its intended use anyway.

I began to notice that even though I had knowledge of the area and knowledge of the wildlife I was likely to see, there was still fear running through me. I began to dig a little deeper into the feeling. I realized it wasn’t the kind of fear that says, “This is a bad idea and I shouldn’t be here.” It simply seemed to be more along the lines of, “Be alert.”

Many people live their lives in the comforts of their home, eliminating any form of fear that comes their way, something I can hear reflected in the comments of guests I take out on wildlife safaris. When these types of people come to visit an area rich in wildness like Jackson Hole, they can’t tell the difference between the “bad idea” fear, and the “be alert” fear. Both should always be listened to, but both yield completely different results. For those who can’t tell the difference, however, it often leads to uncomfortable situations for others who encounter them along the trail.

This was made annoyingly obvious to me as I was introducing a friend that was relatively new to the area to the Amphitheater Lake Trail a couple of years ago. The trail is a favorite of mine because of its dramatic views over the valley and its grand reward at the end: Amphitheater Lake tucked away in a mountainous, rocky bowl below the Grand Teton. I did not enjoy the hike on this particular day though. We caught up to a group of people who were blaring music from their cell phones audible from nearly half a mile away for the entirety of their hike. Knowing we’d be keeping pace with them, we stopped and let them get ahead, taking an unnecessary break so they could gain a substantial distance. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last time we encountered them.

They were simply experiencing the “Be alert” fear, but had absolutely no idea how to cope with it. Their solution was to drown out any chance of allowing the natural world to penetrate, and thus inspire them. Unbeknownst to them, they completely missed the entire point of their hike and most likely went away experiencing a fraction, at best, of what they could have. In the process, they distracted and annoyed everyone else out on a relatively crowded trail who was hoping to see and hear all nature had to offer and to get away from technology and artificial sounds.

The same fear was the undoing for a beloved grizzly bear in the area. Grizzly Bear #587, one of the first cubs of the famous Grizzly Bear #399, was living peacefully in northern Grand Teton National Park and the Teton Wilderness. On occasion, he was known to pass through the Pacific Creek neighborhood, a secluded and remote development miles away from any civilization, even as the crow flies. Most residents didn’t mind him passing through, as was typical for other bears, wolves, elk, moose, and all sorts of other wildlife. According to a Jackson Hole News & Guide article, “Residents of the neighborhood said 587 was guilty only of being there.” Yet new residents to the neighborhood took one look at him and completely panicked. <sarcasm>How could this wild grizzly bear have gotten into a secluded remote, mountain development?</sarcasm> They took it upon themselves to deal with the situation, immediately calling the authorities to have the native resident removed, rather than taking the time to ask neighbors about the actual danger, or to even educate themselves on how to coexist with natural inhabitants of the land. Later, Grizzly Bear #587 was found preying on cattle, but not by breaking into anyone’s private land. These cattle were the product of welfare ranching: openly grazing on public lands where wild animals freely roam. Not knowing the area, this was the easiest prey he could find in a foreign environment, and was subsequently put to death for following his instincts.

The person to blame was so against experiencing fear of any form, that they took it upon themselves to (and may still) alter anything in their surroundings to make them feel more comfortable, no matter how many lives it takes.

Though many people do their best to eliminate this fear from their lives, it’s actually one of the most valuable feelings to experiencing life in a richer and more fulfilling way. Those not experiencing it are living a tame, almost numb form of life that prevents a true feeling of being alive from manifesting. After all, you couldn’t truly know happiness if you didn’t have sadness and boredom to compare it to. Without knowing fear, you can’t really feel its opposite of being ecstatically alive.

I continued hiking along that unknown trail. A squirrel would scurry through the brush, its sound amplified by the fear. Birds would fly to and from branches, their sounds amplified even more since they were initially out of sight. It was a growing tension and fear that actually felt good to feel, though I began to feel sorry for people that never allow those feelings in. In a short walk, tucked away in a forest with no exceptionally majestic sights to see, I was potentially feeling more alive than someone hiking high up in the Tetons surrounded by a cathedral of granite.

As I hiked along that trail, not knowing what, if anything, was around the next corner and pondering these thoughts, I couldn’t help but smile. I was feeling fear, but it was keeping me alert. A better word would be ‘aware,’ something easily lost in the day-to-day routine that I had been experiencing too often this summer. The more aware you are of your surroundings through your own senses, the more likely you are to have a rewarding experience, both in the short and long-term. It builds up your awareness of your surroundings and of what you’re capable of feeling and experiencing. Feeling and embracing fear is one step to living that more regularly.

Of course not knowing how to cope with fear is a lot better than not even knowing you have fear.

Ultimately, I saw two black bears on that hike once I had wound back to the Snake River. I came upon one a few dozen yards away who was (mutually) surprised by my presence and began to move off. Wanting to know if I had completely scared it off, I moved in a circular pattern from where it last was, ultimately reaching the river to see clearer. About 100 yards away, I saw a black bear walking down toward the water to get a drink. I was very confused at this point because it didn’t look like the bear had moved that quickly. I took a few steps up the river to get a better look, and on the other side of a tree next to me I saw that I was actually next to the first bear I had seen. Up the river I had seen a completely different bear quenching its thirst. Knowing I was pushing my luck at this point, my thumb hovering over the bear spray trigger, I backed away and gave it its space as it studied my movements. Satisfied with the distance I had given it, it walked into the brush and began eating on the berries that were readily available, but out of any good potential angles for shots. With both bears now a safe distance away, I sat by the river to enjoy the scenery for a while, then headed back to my car to go home, satisfied by a fulfilling day, despite not getting any shots of wildlife.

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Grand View Point Trail

Jackson Lake and Teton Mountains

Grand View Point Elevation Profile

Elevation change on the Grand View Point Trail
Elevation profile and route below courtesy of the HAZ Tracks App

Distance: 1 mile (one way)
Difficulty: Moderate
Best time of year: Summer, Fall

Tip: Bring bear spray. Seriously. It’s not just for the safety of you, but also the bear. Even if you’re at fault, the park will put down the bear for attacking. This particular area is dense with bears and bear spray cannot be recommended enough on any hike in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

For those looking for a quick, but rewarding hike as you head north to (or from) Yellowstone, Grand View Point makes an excellent stop. The short trail brings you through a dense forest before topping out at excellent views of Jackson Lake and the Teton Mountains to the southwest, and Two Ocean Lake to the northeast.

At the trailhead, look for the trail just to the right of a service road, and proceed up. It doesn’t take long before the trail starts climbing rather steeply. The trail will continue at a steady ascent up, but some areas are steeper than others. The early stretch of the trail is heavily forested with limited views, but patience does ultimately get rewarded here.

At .2 miles, the trail will fork with a trail coming from the right, connecting hikers with an option to head to Emma Matilda Lake, and/or Jackson Lake Lodge. Those with more time on your hands may want to consider this as an option, or also from starting at Jackson Lake Lodge.

Two Ocean Lake and Forest

The trail continues to ascend through the forest and at about .7 miles, will begin to reveal some views. Initially, you’re treated to a view of Jackson Lake from a meadow before winding around back into the forest. Just through a small stretch of the forest, you come to a small knoll treating you to a view of the other direction, consisting of Two Ocean Lake and the Teton Wilderness. You’ll notice that many people walk right over the knoll, but please use the trail that winds around it to the left to minimize your impact on fragile vegetation.

After another short stretch through a forest, you’ll reach another small knoll with a tremendous view of Jackson Lake and the Teton Mountains. Just a short distance back up the trail is the actual Grand View Point at 7823 feet, high above Two Ocean Lake and Emma Matilda Lake below, with the Teton Wilderness and Absoraka Mountains stretching into the distance.

Enjoy the view, and head out the same way you came in whenever you’re ready. For those with more time on their hands, you can also continue on the trail to be brought down to Two Ocean Lake just 1.3 miles farther. For those with all day to spare, a trail continues around both Two Ocean Lake and Emma Matilda Lake, winding you through a plethora of grand views in a more remote area of Grand Teton National Park.

Getting there: From Jackson, drive north on Highway 89 for 30 miles, before turning left at the Moran Junction to pass through the toll for Grand Teton National Park. Either show your pass or purchase a pass to access this area of the park, and proceed ahead for just under six miles, passing Jackson Lake Lodge on your left, then making the next available right onto an unsigned, unpaved dirt road. The dirt road will fork after a short distance. Continue straight (right) and continue for about .8 miles where the road will dead-end at the trailhead.

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The Insanity of Not Respecting Nature

Black Bear Reaching for Berries

2015 has so far seen a number of increased bison attacks on people in Yellowstone National Park, but despite what many visitors think, rarely, if ever, is it the animal’s fault.

Most people are surprised to hear that bison are responsible for the most injuries in the park. The cause is almost always the same. Someone who thinks of them as big, dumb and slow animals walks up to one to take a picture with it, ignoring the warning signs the animal is showing, and the bison is forced to its last resort: tossing the person up in the air and breaking several bones in the flight, at the very least. After all, they can sprint over 30mph and are anything but docile.

There have also been multiple bear fatalities in recent years just in Yellowstone. Two completely separate incidents were the result of someone hiking into dense bear areas defiantly leaving bear spray behind, claiming they’ve lived here long enough to know how to behave around a bear. Of course if you know what you’re doing around a bear, you don’t need bear spray, but spray isn’t for people that don’t know what they’re doing around a bear. Bear spray is intended for those rare close encounters that you don’t see coming, what’s ultimately suspected of claiming the lives of those two people.

You would think the increased wildlife-human interactions would lead to more education and understanding about our natural world, but sadly, dangerous narcissism (in more than one way) remains high in wild areas. Just recently, a section of the Colorado Trail was closed because too many people were taking selfies with bears. That’s literally telling the world, the animal included, that you have absolutely no respect for the animal or the environment you’re in. Trying to get as close as you can to a wild animal to make sure it’s visible within the picture is for one reason only: to show your friends that you saw something they didn’t. In that moment, you’re completely detached from the magic of the encounter and reverting to completely unnatural behavior in a vain and futile attempt to 1-up your connections online, and everyone they’re connected to hoping they’ll see as well, thereby putting you in the spotlight. The entire point of the encounter is lost entirely. This is not why wild animals are out there. They’re there to keep ecosystems healthy so that we can hopefully continue to have fresh food and water for decades to come.

What’s missed by blatantly disrespecting nature is a chance to understand yourself better which leads to a more rewarding and fulfilling life. Despite our best efforts to deny it, humans are still animals, and humans need a healthy amount of nature. In fact, multiple studies are beginning to show that children need outdoor exposure to properly develop. This is because our mind and bodies still depend on the natural environment for rest and relaxation. Trying to briefly “escape” to nature only carries the burden of trying to escape, so a true immersion into nature isn’t fully possible. Then, when a wild animal is encountered, the competitiveness to outdo friends is still there, leading to unnatural and dangerous behavior in nature. In fact it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that taking a selfie with a bear, or any wild animal, is a form of insanity. The etymology of the word insanity points to two origins that sum up that behavior quite accurately: “unhealthfullness” and “extreme folly.” I don’t think anyone who actually understands what nature is would argue against that at all.

The narcissism of trying outdo other people is completely misplaced in nature. It’s dangerous not just because you’re putting your own life at risk, but should a bear attack you, no matter how idiotic you were behaving, rules dictate that park or forest officials have to kill the bear. To put another life at risk so you can potentially outdo people you know is unquestionably insanity. Of course they probably don’t know that, but to be so disconnected from nature as to have your main goal be to satisfy narcissism at the sight of such a majestic creature would also qualify. Besides the obvious danger of it here, there’s also the danger of getting completely absorbed in the lifeless circle of not getting to understand or truly experience nature, and therefore yourself. This ultimately leads to a bland and unsatisfying life where the absence of nature is artificially and inadequately compensated for through other means, though never achieving the same result.

People often (semi-)joke that there should be a test before admitting people into wild areas. The sad and ironic truth is that most people would fail that test horribly, but raw and wild nature is exactly what they need to be cured of not understanding the natural world, and therefore, themselves.

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