Penny for my Thoughts

Next week I head off for an extended solo photography trip in the wilderness of Alaska.  As is often the case I try to accomplish way too much at home before actually packing and preparing for these trips.  Now the time has come to get real and get ready!

In addition to all the projects at home I am trying to finish, we now have been blessed with a new 8 month vizsla rescue.  Penny is a beautiful, sweet vizsla currently learning all about her new home.  Squirt (18 year old vizsla rescue) and Berton (12 year vizsla rescue) are pleased to have a new sister.  Penny is a handful though!

Vizslas need lots of exercise and to be “working” on something themselves.  Instinctually that  is pointing, flushing, and retrieving.  They are incredibly versatile hunting dogs.  Although I am not a hunter my daily hikes photographing wildlife help the vizslas practice their innate skills.

Penny, the 8 month Vizsla pointing at mayflies on the river.

The pups get two hikes a day.  In the summer one of their favorite places is a local river where they can enjoy the shade and cool water.  When Penny gets to the river she transforms into the bird dog that she is.  Pointing at birds, butterflies, and even mayflies (aquatic river insects that trout love).   The older pups, Berton and Squirt, are more subdued now, and enjoy a slower pace at the river.

A Mayfly hovers above the water waiting to lay eggs in the river and continue the life cycle.

Vizslas are incredible athletes.  They can climb trees, catch flying insects and birds, and they run like the wind.  They are one of the fastest dog breeds.

As Penny intensely focuses on flying insects I love to capture her incredible athleticism in photographs.

Sequence of Penny leaping to catch a mayfly high above the river.

Surprisingly, photographing the Vizslas playing in the river is much like the brown bear photography I will be doing in Alaska.  The light varies dramatically on the rivers.  Ideally, warm light from the sun rays that make it into the dark river canyon bathe a bear in golden light.  The same was true last night with Penny on the river.  This special light is fleeting — lasting about 5 minutes.

Penny and mayfly in the golden light.

Photographing the bears on rivers requires lots of patience.  I find it very useful to let the bears know you are present, no surprises, and that you are not a threat or competition.  It is important to also keep the bears wild.  Not let them be too comfortable of a human — since many humans are actually threats to bears (hunters or simply jerks that harass them).  This means keeping far away and using a long lens (800 mm in most cases).


Brown Bear in that golden light on the river. Brooks River, Katmai National Park, Alaska.


Just out of hibernation and hungry for salmon. Margot Creek, Alaska

This Alaska trip I plan on concentrating more on landscapes in the remote areas of Katmai where people rarely visit.  Sea kayak will be my main mode of transportation.  Snow levels seem high this year up there. Hopefully this does not impact my plans for summiting some peaks.

Last year my trip was suddenly cut short when I received a satellite text that Vizzy, our prized 9 year old Vizsla and leader of our pack, was very sick.  I had to grab a float plane out and fly directly home only to say a final goodbye to my best friend.  It was one of the hardest periods of my life.  Events like this worry me way more than what can go wrong while out in the wilderness.

Off into the great blue yonder. Naknek Lake, Katmai National Park.

Soon the transformation will start for me.  It will take a few days for the vibration in my pocket to stop — the phantom cell phone feeling.  It takes another few days to get over not always “doing” something.  Instead the nervous fidgety energy turns towards one of listening, smelling, and feeling nature.  Letting things happen instead of trying control things.  Adapting and letting the journey transpire.  For me it is a mental and physical reboot.

Letting the mind relax so it can make decisions not based on fear and anxiety, but instead common sense.  It is hard to do this alone.  Often it takes a companion to shine some different light on a situation.  For me this will be that “little voice” inside my head.  I look forward to checking its suggestions with the bigger picture.  Is that water safe to travel on now, or can I wait some more?  Does that drainage provide visibility of me to any wildlife that is present, so I do not surprise anyone?  Is it really smart to eat all the trail bars today?

Without a “smart” phone, internet, and other distractions the mind does behave differently.  Focusing instead on slight variations in the kayak paddle stroke, subtle changes in the wind direction, and how the light is changing.

There’s a guy in this coffee shop sitting at a table, not on his phone, not on a laptop, just drinking coffee, like a psychopath.”    — Jason Gay

Please be good pups while I am away…

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5 replies
  1. Ed Whitt
    Ed Whitt says:

    I am absolutely green after reading this post. My time in Alaska was the best period of my life, and my family would probably agree. Getting away from cell phone access (there was no such thing when we lived there) will go from anxiousness (not knowing) to relaxation once the reality sets in. I’ve spent many hours over and around the Katmai park, usually occupied with the job at hand, but its beauty never escaped me for one second. I’ve spent weeks out and about on Naknek’s western reaches, with the hours of daylight challenging my senses, daring me to go with almost no sleep. Self discipline had to set in and force a routine. I hope you have a very safe and successful trip and come back with many fascinating images and great memories.

    • Ed MacKerrow
      Ed MacKerrow says:

      Thanks Ed. Would love to hear more about your time in Alaska sometime. I also love seeing it from the air, the flight from ANC to King Salmon is wonderful, seeing the coastal mountains with the lush green meadows and snow capped peaks.

  2. Dave Pierce
    Dave Pierce says:

    Feeling a little jealous! I lived in Alaska for a bit over 25 years, until I met my now wife. She loved our visits there to see my late father. Now it seems empty without him, so we don’t go very often…


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