Story and photographs by Jim Clark ©
On the eve of my first trip to Churchill, Manitoba, to photograph polar bears and other arctic wildlife, I’m reminded of my son’s first encounter with a bruin. Carson was only seven, and his reaction to the experience serves as a lesson for all nature photographers. After all, it’s not the age from whence wisdom comes, but instead, it’s the true value of the wisdom that matters. But I digress.
For several summers, Carson and I would take a week-long trip to explore our favorite places in West Virginia. This became a time for father and son to have fun, discover new things, eat pizza nonstop (Don’t tell his mother!), and spend time as best buddies. Oh yeah, we photographed a bit, too.
One June, we visited the usual locations: Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls state parks, Beartown Natural Area, Falls of Hills Creek, and Cranberry Glades Botanical Area. Carson’s love for nature photography (especially wildlife) had just begun, so he was hoping to find something special to photograph at one of the locations.
While walking on the boardwalk at Cranberry Glades, I showed Carson recent signs of a black bear—scat on the boardwalk, broken alder branches and partially eaten skunk cabbage. Well, that got him excited. So, with camera in hand, he decided we should walk the boardwalk several times that morning to see if we would actually see the bear.
After about an hour on the boardwalk, as we were nearing a bend, we heard a movement in the alder thickets. We spotted a black bear not more than 35 feet from us munching on skunk cabbage.
Carson was mesmerized by the bruin since he had been wishing to see one for a long time. After the initial amazement, Carson began photographing the bear as it ate. What struck me the most was seeing how patient Carson was. For nearly 30 minutes we watched, photographed and talked in hushed tones as the bear went about its business. Then we were silent.
After a few minutes passed, Carson turned to me and whispered, “Dad, if you ever need to get kids to be quiet, just put a bear in front of them.” I couldn’t help but smile. This young fellow was now speaking from experience.
In today’s world, patience is more of an anomaly than a routine occurrence. That day on the boardwalk Carson showed two important attributes all nature photographers should possess: having patience and being in awe of nature. I was proud of how he savored the moment and equally glad to have been there with him to experience it.
Just a month later, Carson saw his first grizzly bear during a trip to Yellowstone. Nine years later and a few days from now, Carson—who is now 16—will be in Churchill with my wife and me. As he was 9 years ago, he no doubt also will be in awe on this trip when he sees his first polar bear. I will too, and I’ll be smiling again.
A past NANPA president and contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer, Jim is also a nature photography instructor for the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia. The author/photographer of six books, Jim is particularly proud of two children’s books he did with his son Carson. Jim was also a major contributor to the book, Coal Country. Visit Jim’s website at www.jimclarkphoto.com, blog at www.jimclarkphoto.wordpress.com or visit him on Facebook.