“The most alive is the wildest.” ~Henry David Thoreau
This story takes place in 2015 on the three month Fly Without Wings journey in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and it all began a week before this image was captured.
I had witnessed this wild, band stallion, Cloud, taking his newly acquired mare, Ruby, and her yearling six miles back to his home range and waiting harem. During the week after his new acquisition, his normal and fairly peaceful habits were being challenged by his new mare and his existing mares who were having nothing to do with letting her in their ‘click’. Combine that with Ruby, the new mare, wanting nothing to do with being there, and Cloud was constantly on alert trying to keep everyone together.
The end of that week several friends had arrived in TRNP from Minnesota to experience that amazing landscape with their cameras and the day of this image we had been in the park since before sunrise shooting. It was now late in the day and we had made one last stop at Badland’s Overlook to take in the vista. There we met a sweet, young couple from a very faraway place and we immediately bonded. Getting in our respective vehicles to call it all day, they led out. I was driving one car, Peter was driving the other car behind, and we were all anxious to get back to Medora, grab some food and beers and call it a day.
Our three car caravan, wound our way slowly past Ridgeline, then Scoria Point, down through the curves, a long stretch of road, around a big curve. Inside our SUV we were chatting away about our day and our close encounter with a big, hairy ungulate, my constant nemesis—a Bison, when the couple in front of us slammed on their brakes and shortly we saw a finger pointing toward the sky.
At first, we could not see what they did, as our eyes adjusted to the waning light. It took me a moment to realize what the ruckus was. It was Cloud and Ruby running around at the base of a butte. They were hard to see, there was no light, but their behavior was erratic and unsettled.
Then, yep then, I had an inkling of what was going to happen next in the lives of Cloud and Ruby, and that is when I hit my friend in the leg and said, “You better get this shot.” Ray is like, “Huh?” I said again, “You better get this shot.” Peter and his crew were already out of their car behind us trying to see what was happening and me, I am just sitting there. Brain in a fog, tired.
Then, yep another then, I am like to self-thinking, “What the heck are you sitting here for?” As I struggle to get out from behind the wheel, I can’t get my seat belt off, I couldn’t get to my tripod, I dropped my lens cap, realized I have the wrong lens on for that faraway shot, and I am observing Ruby and Cloud race to the top of the ridge and witness one of the most amazing moments unfold and I AM NOT PREPARED!
I am now seriously mad at myself and I am in the middle of the road stamping my feet and twirling in circles, saying “F%*K, F%*K, F%^K…when I witness another opportunity starting to develop. Running for all I am worth to get a bit closer to use the 70-200 lens, I see Ruby fade over the other side of the butte, and watch Cloud stop and search the landscape below, I pull up, raise the camera, and fire…click, click, click. Over in less than five minutes, the entire scene, all of it, as they raced away into the North Dakota sunset.
Turning to the car with the couple, they were grinning from ear to ear and I gave her a high five and off we went for those well-deserved beers!
There you have the back story to “Forever Wild”, one of my favorite memories of all time on the Fly Without Wings journey in 2015, and even Ray will confirm to this day, he can still feel my fist hammering his thigh, saying “You better get this shot.”