I’m watching a mountain meadow in the gray light of predawn, hoping for glimpse and possible photograph of a large bear I’d seen the evening before. It’s cold as hell and I begin to shiver. Suddenly, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. My heart begins to race. The ghostly shape plods silently along about 15 feet to my left. It’s a grizzly. A big grizzly and it’s too damn close.
Mama always says, “Leave those bears alone. I’m tellin’ you, Jim, one of these days you’re going to get bit.” I hate it when she talks like that.
Though I’ve never been bitten, I’ve had several close brushes with nature. I’ve been charged at by bears on three occasions and up the same tree with a nervous mountain lion. The fact is, photographing wildlife at close range is similar to professional snake handling. No matter how careful you are, sooner or later, you’re bound to get bit.
Like most projects, this one started in one direction, took a life of its own, and veered off to another direction altogether. Initially, I didn’t set out to produce a wildlife book. I was simply going to shoot some landscapes of a few of my favorite places. The best time to photograph landscapes is early morning and late evening. This is also the time when the animals are most active. Typically, I’d set out to capture an image of a waterfall, a lake, or a mountain. Then I’d bump into something brown and fuzzy. I’d rationalize that the mountain would be there tomorrow, and this varmint would be gone in an instant.
It was on my second road trip, that I ran into a grizzly bear. The bear was a couple of hundred yards away and the pictures weren’t worth saving, but I was hooked. I became obsessed with getting a good picture of the great bear. After that, I became obsessed with getting a picture of a bull elk bugling directly into my lens. After that came the sheep, the wolves, the deer, and the rest.
And so, this project changed from a series of landscapes with a few wildlife images thrown into a series of wildlife images with a few landscapes thrown in. I hope this collection of images is fresh and unexpected, something that captures both the drama of nature and the heart of the photographer.
While the photographs in this journal were compiled in a 12-month period in America’s western mountains, my experience with these mountains and their inhabitants is lifelong. I was born in these mountains and I’ll never leave. No other place on earth has the diversity of landscape and wildlife. This beautiful and timeless land is truly America’s greatest treasure.