4:30 a.m. and the iPhone alarm is doing its best to annoy me. No matter though... I was already awake. As comfortable as the bed is, it isn’t mine and I never sleep well away from the family. I’m in Wyoming at “Dad’s” house and looking for more Bighorn photo’s. I truly enjoy the time in the hills with these guys. I grab my gear, some water and trail-mix. Out the door I go, as quietly as I can. I didn’t step on any K-9’s this time. I did manage to catch Jabber’s (Dad and Cindy’s cat) tail in a screen door though - he was less than impressed with my gracefulness and manners, however, he remained composed and quiet about it. The diesel rumbles to life and startles me a bit as the pre dawn blackness is deafeningly quiet.
I’m headed out the south fork to locate a nice group of large rams that have been seen in a pretty rough area… just what I like… but it’s an iffy thing as the foot of snow had partially melted and now has refrozen. That’s never quiet or an easy walk. Into first gear and here we go. I make it to the end of the south fork, however, not without a few clenched butt cheeks as I slid on ice for about 100 yards down hill on a frozen part of the road. The big dually just isn’t into figure skating I guess. “That ought-a be fun trying to get up later," I say out-loud.
I’m at the right place to start, but I hesitate before I head in country. I can see broken clouds and the glow from the east is intriguing. I’m glad I waited as the sunrise was magnificent. So much so that I shot few and just gazed a lot. Well, off I go…
Man oh man, slip, crunch, crunch… kathump, kathump… not an easy go through the wash outs and rock all covered in a candy like coating of icy snow. Finally, an hour or so later, I begin to see the type of country I am looking for and begin glassing for the boys. Long story short. I spent most of the morning traipsing through the slippery slopes in what I thought was sure to be a sheep haven, but never did find them. The drive back up the ice chute was more than interesting though. I’m headed back towards Dad's now, then out the North Fork.
The drive is uneventful until I hit Wapiti, WY. Having lived here for over 10 years, emotions and memories confuse me, as they are some of the best and worst times of my life. Have never really figured out how to process all this yet. I don’t know if I ever will. No worries though as my daze is interrupted by the site of Elk in a large meadow. There 40 or 50 in the herd, but I notice only 5 calves. Some things will never make sense to me.
My mind turns to the task at hand, Big Horn Sheep. I love photographing Bighorns. You can see the young groups near the road and there are the typical drives by-s doing their thing. I pull over and stop. I like “talking shop” and love to find enthusiastic shutterbugs and strike a conversation. So I do. Time passes and new acquaintances made… as they depart, I begin my method to my madness with no one around.
Game on, I prepare to explore the grassy meadow below. Time passes, and I settle in. But the plan works, for whatever reason two young Ram’s decide they need to hash things out near me. Not long and the resonating “shots” are heard… my shutters are blazing… and my adrenalin surges. I hear myself saying, keep focused and think through the series. The young guns continue to posture and lick, they taunt and juke. A slow stroll by followed by a quick turn and every ounce of them raise and lunge forward, the boom echoes from the canyon walls and I can’t help but grin. Snot, blood and chips of horns spray upon impact and I say out loud, "You boys are tougher than tough”. One glances my way seemingly unimpressed and I swear he smirked at me as if to say, "You are merely human.” For the next hour or so the battle rages on. My front row seat, ringside if you will, couldn’t have been better. Then as quickly as it started, it ends and one young ram walks away blood dripping from his nose. If that's the worst of it, then I’m stunned, yet impressed at the beating they take and only a bloody nose to show. Truly impressive beyond words, my respect is endless.
I grab the bino’s and scan the canyon slopes. I’m bored with the flatness of the meadow… There you are, I murmur… about a third of the way from the top I see a ram grazing along with a ewe and another younger ram. I gather my stuff and I’m off. I know full well very few, if any leave the easiness of the the lower elevations for the photos. Me, I’m not that way. I like my alone time and I love the high places with the "Monarchs and Kings" of such. About 50 minutes pass and I know I’m close to the right altitude. I’m pretty sure I’m close to his domain. I slip over a small rise or two. Freeze! I see the ewe working her way to me. She sees me and stops. I sit. Moments pass and she decides she needs to relax and she lays down. As I stand up, I see him and he is working my way. I decide to work his way too, as long as we both agree. This works well and within minutes, we are merely yards apart. I decide not to push my luck and I sit down. Before I get settled, he also decides to relax and plops himself down. Perched above all, the ram emulates himself as being seated upon a throne. I can’t blame him; I bet he’s earned it. I snap a few… the younger ram soon follows and settles in right below. This is why, for me personally, I love this. Here I am high above the world. Completely alone, except for those who deserve to call this their home. It's quiet, peaceful and real, very real.
Then, just as I mentioned before, there’s THAT moment. I’ve watched this fine ram now for about 40-50 minutes. We’ve exchanged looks and even had a conversation. (I literally speak out-loud to them often, I figure why not?) Not only does this ram seem relaxed, but easily, and slowly he stretches out his head an neatly places it upon the hillside. I’m speechless, but remain about my wits and press the shutter release. The ram is unfazed by the sound of the camera. A few moments pass and then it happens… he closes his eyes and begins to sleep. I’m not sure if I’m excited or confused, empathetic or sympathetic. Perhaps all those emotions at once. I can only imagine the battles won to call this ewe his for a spell… Exhausted I’m sure. Nearly 15 minutes pass and I haven’t moved, I’ve just stared in his direction and I have only taken a handful of pictures. More for proof, than for profit I suppose. This feels like one of those moments that do not really need to be shared, but one of those for the camera within my mind.
Still… I look at where I am, pan the high country and make eye contact with the ewe and the younger ram... I gaze upon the sleeping Monarch as he lay there gently, comfortable and unthreatened…
and I press the shutter release...
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