When you show up at Yellowstone without plans, you run the risk of waking up in the morning, wandering aimlessly out of your bus, and having breakfast with the friendly Mormons cooking bacon and french toast on the next site over. These genial Latter Day Saints struck up conversation first with Justin, as he headed down to the lake shortly after daybreak, and then with me as I groggily appeared from the bus hours later in the previous days pajamas. It was their last day in the park, so they insisted that there was food that needed to be eaten, and we obliged them. The bacon and french toast was a vast improvement over the oatmeal we were going to have, and also meant that I got to have bacon. As they were headed back home they pawned off some of their unused supplies in trade for a small pile of cookies baked by Justin’s mom. (It’s probably for the best that we bartered those cookies, considering I’ve had more than one all-cookie meal in the last few days.)
Shortly after breakfast, we wandered down to the marina where I’m writing from. We should probably be deep in the woods enjoying the scenery and seeking the wildlife. Instead we’re sitting at a picnic table next to a dumpster and an aging soda machine, because that’s where we found an outlet. Oddly enough, hanging out by the dumpster is where we’ve run into the most incredible character of the journey to date. Standing near the dumpster, in full camouflage, with a massive 600mm lens, waiting for the perfect shot, was Kevin. We noticed Kevin shuffling his telescope-sized rig to multiple locations near the bear-proof trash bin, squinting into the trees, hoping to catch a look at god-knows-what.
After a number of fruitless minutes of this he wandered over to our table, and asked if we could ‘watch this for a minute’, referring of course to his photographic artillery, worth well over ten thousand dollars. Justin said “Sure! What is it, a 600?” Which led to a good 15 minutes of talking before we realized what he really needed was a bathroom break, and we relieved him to relieve himself before we continued the conversation. Apparently Kevin is a photographer (no, really), who has been in the backwoods of Yellowstone for the last 39 days capturing wildlife up close. We heard some fascinating stories about him spending days at a time traveling with (not behind, mind you) a group of goats, only to be trusted by the matriarch to watch the younglings while she and the other adults went off for food. He’s been shooting wildlife for decades, and had stories like this for dozens of different species. At the moment he was waiting (quite bashfully) for a somewhat elusive bird that likes to hang out by the dumpster. He seemed a little embarrassed to even be near the dumpster looking for a shot, but given the story he told us about hanging out with a den of wrestling wolf pups, I won’t hold it against him.
He was a very humble, yet clearly talented and passionate guy. Multiple times he offered to let us use his images if we happened to be doing something non-profit for the environment, or to educate children, or adults for that matter (he’s been giving these images to magazines like the Audubon Society for years.)
Meeting Kevin reinforced a notion that Justin and I were discussing during the long drive yesterday. We were talking about the difference between “work”, and “a job”. Kevin’s full-time position is as a science teacher, and a helluva teacher at that. He teaches middle-school, and said 14% of his students that graduate college have environmentally focused degrees, and 25% have science related degrees. That’s an incredible accomplishment. On top of that he spends his summer embedded in the wilderness for months at a time, co-existing with “critters”, and capturing world-class images.
He works his ass off 365 days a year, far beyond what a normal person would consider overtime, and he wouldn’t change a thing. He’s given himself to his craft, and lives a rich fulfilling life. As Justin and I embark on careers in freelance work, we find ourselves often working more than twelve hours a day, and on occasion through the night. Meeting people like Kevin helps keep it all in context. Our work is our hobby, and we love doing it. We’re pursuing a craft, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
(And yes, this experience is how I’m justifying not going into the woods today. Deal with it.)