Going through my scenic and wildlife photos from the past ten years and reliving all the amazing moments.
Previously, I had written about my very first bear encounter in the woods, which you can read here. While it was initially startling, I was able to easily back away and observe from a safe distance. The following year, I would have an encounter that was a bit different. Okay, it was a lot different and scared the crap out of me.
It was a warm, sunny, summer afternoon. I had staked out a spot at my swamp and was just sitting there, minding my own business and munching on a pretzel, when I heard somebody or something walking somewhere in the woods behind me. I turned to look but couldn’t see anything, because of the dense growth.
The noise stopped, so I decided it was probably one of those evil, fuzzy-tailed rats trying to make itself seem big and bad.
It wasn’t likely to be a person, because the only trails in the area are critter trails, and hunters weren’t likely to be stalking around during that time of year.
Nonetheless, I was now on alert. It was a while before I, again, heard the noises, but this time it was to my left and really close. I turned to look and saw a small, brown flash of something dart away from the swamp and into the woods. Before I even had time to wonder about what I had just seen, there it was–a big, black mama bear head looking at me.
“Shit!” I muttered as I scrambled to my feet.
The bear retreated a bit but stopped and turned to size me up again. I was more than a bit nervous and wondered what I should do. Then I realized I was holding a camera and decided that what I should do is take the bear’s picture, so I did. But then I thought, “Hey, wait a second. What was that little brown flash I saw before I saw the big mama bear head?”
I started to scan the forest to my left and there it was, about 25 yards away–I know because I went back the next weekend with a tape measure–was the cutest little bear cub. It had two feet on the ground with its two front paws on a tree, ready to scurry up at a moment’s notice.
That moment’s notice came a few camera clicks later in the sound of a rumbling mama bear as she charged towards the cub, chasing it up the tree. Honestly, at the time I didn’t even realize that’s what had happened, because I was too busy scurrying behind the tree I was standing next to. I didn’t know what happened until I looked at the images on my computer.
At that point, I was thinking, “Holy shit, now what do I do.” So naturally, I picked up the camera and started shooting the cub up in the tree. Then I remembered, “Oh yeah, there’s a big angry mama bear in the woods,” and I turned to look for her. She had returned to her original spot and was staring at me and doing weird things with her mouth, so I took her picture.
She then bluff charged me, sending me scurrying back behind the tree. At this point, I realized I should probably get the hell out of there. The problem was there was no, apparent, escape route. The swamp was to my right. There was a mass of downed trees with tangled limbs behind me. The only way out was to either go towards mama or head into the woods to my left, which would have forced me to move towards the tree in which the cub was hiding and which would have left me out in the open. Neither seemed like a good option.
Not to worry; I watched Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” and other helpful wildlife shows, when I was a kid. I knew what to do. I stepped out from behind the tree and made myself really big. Yeah, I stood on my toes, which makes me, what, about 5’6″? That’ll scare her. I started waving my arms wildly and yelling in my best bear voice, “Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! WTF, I said Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!”
Mama bear just stood there staring at me like I was an idiot, which made me feel very, very small.
She then bluff charged again, and I retreated behind the tree. My heart was racing and my eyes were probably as big as saucers as they darted around desperately searching for an escape route.
I peeked out at mama bear again and she bluff charged once more then started tearing up the ground in front of her. I was pretty sure she wasn’t inviting me to tea and knew I had to figure this out. I found a short, thick piece of branch and hurled it at her.
Mama ran a short distance then slowly started to wander into the woods. I was sure this was my opportunity until I realized that what mama was doing was circling around me. She made a wide arc and started walking towards me. I’m pretty sure I was thinking, “Oh shit!” again–or maybe something with an “F”.
I searched for something else to throw at her and picked up another branch. When I felt she had gotten close enough and without considering the consequences, if what I was about to do failed, I started running towards mama bear, yelling, “Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!” and threw the branch at her.
She took off running, and I knew this was it. I went back, packed up my gear and headed out behind her. I made my way into the woods and she made her way back to the cub.
I stopped to take some more pics, but she bluff charged again, so I found my way to a tree a safe distance away and just watched. After a few minutes the bear cub came down out of the tree and mama and baby wandered into the woods.
From the safety of my tree I yelled out, “That’ll teach you to mess with me, you big hairy bitch! Try it again and I’ll smack you upside your fat head!” as my heart beat out of my chest.
You would think that after 40 + years of searching (Actually, I wasn’t really searching; this is more for dramatic effect) and finally finding the perfect swamp—the swamp of my dreams, if you will—that I would be satisfied. After all, it’s been very good to me. It’s given me so much and never ever let me down. What need did I have of other swamps?
But, as human nature would have it, I began to yearn for something more, something different. I had become content with my swamp, but I longed for that excitement I felt, when I first laid eyes on it.
Hahaha. Not really. The truth of the matter is, I was out at my swamp, when a trio of great blue herons flew over. I surmised that they must be nesting somewhere in the area, and I set out to find them. I went so far as to order a couple of topo maps of the area from the U.S. Geological Survey. That is how I came to find “the big swamp”.
The problem with the big swamp is that in order to SEE the big swamp, you have to be IN the big swamp, due to the thick growth that surrounds it, much of it being of the thorny kind. Undaunted, I went home and ordered a pair of chest waders from Amazon. That was back in the days when I had Prime, so I had the waders in plenty of time for my next weekend excursion.
At my earliest convenience, I was sporting my brandy new chest waders and heading for the big swamp. In those first days, I stayed close to shore. Stalking along the edges, I would measure every step, painstakingly, lest I trip over some hidden rock or tree or get sucked into the murky depths, never to be heard from again.
Sometimes an obstacle would force me to wander out beyond my comfort zone with the water occasionally coming up to just under my armpits. To be honest, I was never that concerned about myself. As long as my feet were on the ground, I was fine. I was more concerned about my camera gear. There is nothing more depressing than being out on a shoot and having your camera stop working, because it decided to go for a little swim. I know this feeling all to well, and it sucks.
Btw, no herons were nesting at the big swamp at this time, but there were plenty of other sights to keep me interested. The interesting thing is that the birds seemed to be more tolerant of my presence, when I was in the swamp than when I was on shore.
The big swamp is also the sight of my first close encounter with bears. I wrote about it on another blog last year, so I’m not going to regurgitate it here. However, if you really want to read about it, you can go here.
Anyway, this is what it looked like from my perspective: