I was recently asked by a fourth-grader via email what the most dangerous photo I had ever taken was. I began looking through my library for shots with exciting stories with at least a hint of danger, and then I came across this photo. I was in a small crowd of other photographers standing on a small bridge, so there was no danger of being attacked. So what makes this photo so dangerous? This photo caused a massive earthquake in my life and forced me to act on a bigger risk than I had ever taken before.
I took this photo while I was on a spontaneous road trip with the intent to explore Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico before returning home in Phoenix, Arizona at the time. The original plan was just to revisit Grand Teton National Park where I had only briefly driven through four years earlier, and then continue east into eastern Wyoming. I was on my way out the park when I saw a small gathering of photographers along the roadside across from Lozier Hill. Having seen at most only one car up until this point, I figured this was worth parking and getting out to see what was going on. Before I could even ask what they were looking at, I saw dark forms through the trees slowly moving east. As they came into a clearing, my eyes opened up at the sight of not just my first wild grizzly bear, but my first wild grizzly bear with three three-year-old cubs! I eventually learned that this was grizzly bear #399, whom had become increasingly famous in the area for successfully raising her cubs along the roadsides of the park.
I followed the bears with the other photographers there for roughly four or five hours before the bears disappeared into the wilderness. It was the most fun I had had with my camera since I first got one four years earlier. Watching such a majestic creature exploring its natural habitat was an indescribable sight that had unknowingly planted a seed in my soul to experience that a more frequent basis.
I stayed in Jackson Hole for the rest of the trip and wound up driving back to my home in Phoenix in one 16-hour day. I had a good life going in Phoenix, but I underestimated the experience of observing so much abundant wildlife in such a naturally beautiful and protected place. That seed that grizzly bear #399 had planted in me was just about to bloom though. I returned with my fiancee at the time that following September and upon our return, felt a tug to move up to Jackson, Wyoming. I enthusiastically expressed my interest in moving up there to her and was frustrated to learn that she wanted nothing to do with it, not because she didn’t enjoy her time up there, but because Phoenix was her home.
I was confronted with a difficult decision that left my mind in all kinds of knots. On one hand, I had a life in Phoenix where I was engaged to a beautiful and caring girl, and on the other were my hopes and dreams steering me into the unknown. I was torn for weeks trying to reach some kind of compromise with her. In examining my life closer, it became obvious that her and I were simply on different paths in more than one way and the risk of leaving one life to start another became too alluring to ignore as the tug grew increasingly stronger.
During my drive up to Jackson Hole, I began second guessing everything. I had never abandoned so much to just go into the unknown. Four years earlier I had left a great network of friends in Texas to move to Phoenix, where I had never even visited before, but this time I had had an established life with a great girl in addition to plenty of great friends. Had I just self-sabotaged my own life while at the same time sabotaging hers as well? Two days of driving was giving me plenty of time to wonder if I should just turn around and think about it more. Eventually I talked myself back into the initial feeling I had felt nearly two months earlier; the feeling of just starting over in a place with so much wildlife in the middle of the mountains. I pushed through it, determined to at least give it a shot.
Fast forward nearly three years later, and my photography has matured faster than I could have ever imagined. I have my own free-lance web design business that keeps my schedule open and free for spontaneity, and have been able to observe more wildlife than I ever thought I would be able to in my lifetime. What about her? She’s better than ever. She’s in a new relationship that’s much more conducive to what she wants than I could have ever given her and she’s also pursuing more goals than I had ever even heard her mention around me.
The lesson I learned was that if you feel “tugged” in a certain direction by a feeling you can’t describe, you have to follow it. I’ve preached similar concepts on this blog before, but that was the biggest one that got me to really notice it. Many people worry about those that will be affected if they follow that tug, but when you follow it and make the most of it, you’ll eventually inspire those people to more as well, whether directly or indirectly.