Bear sign

A couple of months and scores or hundreds of images behind is not where I like to be, but it’s hardly a novel state of affairs. Still, I wish it weren’t the dominant paradigm; I know I’m missing a great deal for lack of time.

I found this bear tree some weeks ago, but never managed to find the bear. It was in a little nook just ten yards from the trail and appears to be a favorite spot, judging from the presence of deep older gashes running up the trunk, as well as the pale new scratches. There was other sign about, both scat and vomit from overindulgence on mountain ash berries.

The bear, however, found me, or at any rate graced me with its presence directly in front of me. It seemed in a hurry and paid me scant attention. A half minute earlier I’d heard a horse in suspect voice that made me think of bear, but I was honestly surprised when one rushed past, following one of the fainter game trails intersecting the main trail I was on, heading toward a known refuge. Next time, perhaps, I’ll be faster to prepare when I hear that whinny. Though bears may be the animal I’m least interested in photographically, despite my constant and mostly unfulfilled desire to see them.

White-tails and stories

Not by accident, I’ve had another meeting with the deer. Paying more attention now, I’ve learned a little about how they operate. For example, the females communicate the presence of a potentially dangerous intruder with a loud snort. They are bolder and investigate more closely; the males hang back until the way is clear. If spooked, they retreat, but may return soon if there’s no further alarm. There seems to be a real curiosity, and they will approach nearer than necessary for route reconnaissance.

Perhaps because these photographs show living creatures, they seem to easily suggest stories, particularly—thanks to the gaze—stories of encounters with the implied photographer. I myself can easily conjure stories from any tree or leaf, but I suspect that’s harder for most people. At any rate, reading Wim Wenders and Paul Graham, and discussing elsewhere on the web, I’m thinking that the impact of a picture can be due as much or more to ability to evoke of story as to aesthetic impression. And the meaning of a place has much to do with the stories that we live or hear of or imagine there.

I don’t know whether an encounter with another species is more or less powerful than one with our own. Both can run deep. Certainly the friend who came on three mountain lions will never forget it (that was not on Sourdough Trail, though sightings have been claimed this month even closer to town). But when the other species is a plant, without a mind we can imagine, it scarcely seems a character to be met with. And yet: it has a presence and a history and a life force, it may be well known even if nameless.

Or is it better to say, such quieter encounters are more encounters with ourselves? Curiously, I find that at those moments I photograph, I might either be more aware of myself, or much less so—much more intent on something else. A rough-barked tree might capture my attention as long as a deer. I contemplate the tree. I consider it in relation to myself. Mostly, I appreciate visually that deep, dark scarring of a smoother surface. There could be many stories here. They seem to have a power without ever being told.