"One hand full of rest and patience is better than two fists full of labor and chasing after the wind." Ecclesiastes 4:6 AMP
We first met “His Majesty” on the south side of the Snake River near Jackson Lake damn. We were hoping to discover evidence of elk-crossings. In the fall, the elk of Grand Teton National Park spend their days in the cool evergreen forest on the north flank of Lookout Mountain. As evening comes, the bull elk harangues his girls, better known as his “harem” of sows, and encourages them to cross the Snake River where they can graze on the tender grasses of the meadow flats. In the early morning hours they will cross the river in the opposite direction hurrying to their sheltered forest before the heat of the day arrives.
While walking along the river’s edge, we heard the bellowing of a bull elk somewhere in the distance but were still surprised when “His Majesty “quietly and unexpectedly emerged from the dense evergreen forest. Proud and stately, he looked down his narrow nose at us, seemingly questioning why on earth we were invading HIS territory. We immediately froze and began the dance of silent evaluation. He watched us, we watched him—neither or us moving an inch. His coat bore the scars of many a challenge to his domain, but his antlers were perfect, all 40 pounds of them held high above his head. After gazing at him for what seemed like hours, we quietly backed away, leaving him king of his realm.
It only took that one experience and we were entranced. We came back almost every evening for weeks. We often herd his bellow echo thru the valley in challenge to his competition. Some evenings we saw him in the distance, his antlers moving above the tall grasses on the opposite shore. Other evenings we watched him corral his harem in preparation for their swim to the other shore—but always he would quickly move out of sight. He was tricky in more ways than not and would always outwait us for his harem’s river crossing, doing so under darkness of night instead of the usual sunset hour. It was as if he knew what we were after and was committed to defeating us.
Finally, we changed tactics. We came at sunrise. We saw the sows grazing on the open meadow and hurried to set up our cameras along the high bank of the river. We weren’t disappointed. It wasn’t long before the “girls” made their way across the river—but not “His Majesty”. He was nowhere to be seen. We could hear him, but no physical evidence of his presence. We waited for an hour or more, knowing he had to cross. Finally when we could no longer hear him, we abandoned our seemingly perfect camera location and hiked to the riverbed to photograph the changing mountains as sunrise lit the sky.
We were about to pack up our gear when we both caught the glint of reflected sunlight on the high plateau above us—antlers, just antlers shimmering in the sun with maybe a touch of steam in the air from his breath—but too high to see any more of him. The accompanying noises of prancing and blowing gave a sense of his presence. And then, gloriously, risking exposure, he came into the open. Parading down the steep bank like it was nothing. Splashing across the river as if he owned it. Cameras snapping away, he finally granted us the privilege of capturing his majestic grandeur.
Patience is defined as steady, perseverance, the ability to wait WITH a good attitude. This is one of the many lessons we learned from His Majesty, the virtue of patience. It is a necessary tool in both your camera bag and your life handbook. We would never have gotten the final image of His Majesty without patience; patience to return evening after evening; patience to learn his rituals and routines; patience to wait for what might come next; patience to give the unexpected time to arrive; and even His Majesty’s patience in finally deciding he could risk his exposure with us. Our instantaneous world seems to pry patience completely out of our hearts. Fast food, express lanes, instant messages, immediate tweets—everything has to happen NOW. However, it doesn’t work that way in nature. Nature has a rhythm that begs us to slow down, watch, experience, feel the flow of the natural world. And, most importantly, nature teaches us that the best of what God gives is TRULY worth waiting for.
Important Note: In all of our time with His Majesty we obeyed all the park rules about distance and disruptiveness. We honored and respected the fact that this was HIS home not ours. Sadly, in nature photography, our presence often becomes part of the story. Always be reasonable, respectful and responsible in you actions, honoring the guidelines of the park.