“What Are We Looking At?”

As you travel through Yellowstone National Park, there are often groups of people and cars off to the side of the road. It’s a safe bet, some sort of wildlife has been spotted and people are observing or taking photos. Sometimes the wildlife is obvious, like this handsome guy.

Other times it’s not so obvious. As we came upon a new crowd, we stopped to see what we could see. I gazed in the general direction of everyone else. I saw nothing.

I asked The Question: “What are we looking at?”

The person near me with a spotting scope exclaimed, “A bear!”

Since I had come to Yellowstone with the express wish to see a wolf and a bear, I was excited over this news! But, alas, I saw no bear. Iceman did, though. He can spot a kitten in a field of tall grass at 100 yards, though. We tease him about this, but it’s true. Its one of his super powers.

He stood slightly behind me, his arm extended over my shoulder, pointing. He said, “Jen, you see the two Christmas trees? The perfect one on the left? Follow that straight across the hill and he’s near the rock.”

I saw the Christmas trees (perfectly shaped pines) and the rock, but no bear. Then, I looked through my telephoto lens and after several passes over the area I finally saw what looked like a black teacup sitting by the rock.

That “teacup” was “the bear”.

Alrighty then! Seems my opportunity to see a bear was going to happen by squinting through a telephoto lens, but I was going to make the most of it. Once I got set up, I squinted through the lens again and the “teacup” had moved a little closer. He now looked more like a goat.

I dug around in my pack for Hawkeye. (All my gear is named after superheroes as I am the mother of sons.) Hawkeye is a teleconverter, a device that magnifies the image through the lens. With Hawkeye’s help, the “goat” now looked about the size of my German Shepherd, albeit from far away. Progress!

The bear was quite funny, really. He appeared to be eating something, then he would roll around in the grass, then eat some more. He seemed quite happy and content as he played his way through breakfast, unaware a small army of people were observing him and trying to get his photo.

As I worked to capture the image, which turned out to be very difficult due to extreme distance, more and more folks joined us, all lined up at the edge of the field. Many of them asking “The Question”. I could hear Iceman making his way up and down the line of people, “See the two perfect Christmas trees….” Then the exclamation, “I see it, it’s a bear!”. Then he went on to the next person to help them. He worked the crowd, making jokes, directing them to the bear, sharing high fives and laughter when folks saw it, moving on to the next searching group. Everyone was happy! Iceman was in his extroverted element, having the best time. I can tell after all these years together.

My introverted self was planted in Wyoming dirt right behind my camera, but I was enjoying the exclamations from the crowd. The photographer next to me lamented over his blurry image of the bear. I smiled at him and told him it was ok, to keep trying! He smiled back, then kept trying. We stood side by side, both of us intently trying, smiles on our faces, hearing the laughter of others.

I was so glad to see the Teacup–Goat–German Shepherd–Bear. It was an exhilarating experience because we were interacting with other people after so many months of COVID isolation. COVID seems to have changed us. I’ve noticed people don’t smile or make eye contact or exchange greetings like they used to. Yet, the camaraderie and merriment among everyone searching for the bear, and then celebrating when they found him, was contagious. I didn’t realize how much I missed a sense of community and shared purpose with others. The feel-good moment was so welcome! We all stood there in a line, spaced out in the sun and the fresh air, and celebrated the shared experience of seeing a bear in Yellowstone.

After extensive cropping, my far away shot does indeed show a bear, but just! 😊 He was just too far away. Even so, I absolutely would not trade the experience for a better photo. A group of strangers, united in the sole purpose of seeing and celebrating the bear, were blessed with laughter and real joy, right there on the side of the road. Together.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow; Praise him all creatures here below; Praise Him above ye heav’nly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

–“Doxology”, Thomas Ken (1637-1711)

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