A Walk in the Woods

For me, finding words for wildlife starts here: with a walk in the woods.

Last Friday, I spent the morning looking for a wildlife-watching story at the Lamar Haines Memorial Wildlife Area. Lamar Haines is on the western shoulder of the San Francisco Peaks at just below 9,000 feet elevation. It’s late summer on the peaks, too soon yet for golden aspens. I didn’t see elk or deer, the biggest wildlife you can expect to find there. But I saw birds aplenty, and squirrels and chipmunks. Fluffy clouds overhead played at monsoon without really threatening a storm.

On my first visit to an area, I rarely carry a long lens and tripod. That’s for serious wildlife photography. I will bring big glass, if my time in an area is short. But pressure to take publication-worthy images changes how I experience a place. I’m looking for encounters like those any visitor to the area might have. If I’m trying to make pictures, the story stops being about the place and its wildlife, and starts to be about the challenges of wildlife photography—which is a different story.

Lamar Haines is not far from home. Knowing I would visit again if the area was promising, on this first trip I left the long lens at home. I brought only an 18–55 lens, for scenics. I also carried the more important tool of my trade: a notepad for capturing observations, questions, and thoughts. The notes I take on these wanderings often are barely legible back at the office. But they become the roughest draft of whatever story I eventually produce.

I wandered along, stopping often to look and listen. I try not to put too much pressure on the first visit. If I have a story-worthy experience, I do; if I don’t, I come back. My goal last Friday was to get a sense of the place. Is this a promising area for a wildlife-watching story?

We do these stories in Arizona Wildlife Views, for armchair travelers and those who might want to visit a place where they can look for critters. Encouraging people to experience the wild is important to me. So, I’m happy to say that a number of our watchable wildlife pieces go out under my byline. And although it’s too soon to know for sure, I think next year, one of them may be about Lamar Haines.

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