Elk families and photo pros, and getting Greta
by Rob Tiller
I got to spend some time last week with the elk at Cataloochee, NC. There were at least four different family groups, each with a bull who ruled over several cows and calves. Late in the day, the bulls called to their families to gather them together, and their trumpeting was powerful, with harmonic overtones. The elk seemed to understand each other from sounds and gestures as they slowly got organized to go from the pasture into the woods.
At one point a younger bull came close to an older, larger one, probably to test the hierarchy. After a stare down, the elder turned away, and the two put off the fight till another day.
One day, we waited until after sunset to leave, which turned out to be a mistake. The drive up the mountain out of Cataloochee was on a winding narrow gravel road through the woods. It quickly got very dark. At a few hairpin turns, it was impossible to see any road to be turned into, and missing the edge of the road could mean falling a long way. It was difficult.
I stayed in Black Mountain, NC, and went to the Smoky Mountain Foto Fest, a four-day workshop at Montreat. The hilly wooded campus at Montreat was pretty. There were several accomplished pro photographers who gave presentations at the workshop, and I got some helpful tips and concepts.
I especially appreciated the talks by Bill Lea on wildlife and landscape photography. Lea showed some gorgeous shots of black bear mothers and cubs. He’d found that each bear had its own personality, with some mothers being strict but loving, and others easygoing and neglectful. He said it was a good idea to talk calmly to the bears if they seemed unhappy with you. On the last day, I won a door prize: a calendar with his nature photography, including some of those bears.
I also got some new ideas from Marc Adamus, whose speciality seemed to be exotic landscape photography. Adamus showed some fairly extreme processing techniques using Adobe Photoshop and other tools. His approach took nature to places she likely would never otherwise visit. I found some of his images overly dramatized, but I liked his adventurous and experimental spirit.
There was an animal rescue specialist there with three tethered raptors. These birds had been injured and were unable to fly and survive in the wild. I got shots of the turkey vulture, the red tailed hawk, and the barred owl.
Before heading home, my friend Barry Wheeler and I went up to the Blue Ridge for sunrise. There were wispy low clouds in the valley. Once the sun was well up, we packed up the photo gear and stopped at the Pisgah Inn for breakfast. The mountain views and vegetarian sausage were excellent!
Back in Raleigh after the workshop, Sally and I had our customary end-of-week round up viewing of the late night comics’ highlights. We especially like Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah. Ordinarily there’s plenty to laugh at regarding Trump’s most recent buffoonery and head-shaking craziness, and this week was no exception.
But Trevor Noah’s interview with Greta Thunberg struck a note that was more serious and moving. Thunberg is a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, and she just crossed the Atlantic under sail to bring attention to climate issues. She explained in simple but ringing terms that people her age are facing dire consequences of global warming, and pressed for political change. She reminded me of King and Gandhi — a moral prodigy.