Tales From The Field: Elephants!


I went on my first trip to Kenya in January of 1999 to participate in an Earthwatch Institute-sponsored project studying lake ecology at Lake Naivasha. But first I arranged to spend five days in the Masai Mara at what was then called Camp Kicheche. I arrived incredibly jet-lagged from the long flights from California but was also equally excited to finally see African wildlife in their native habitats.

The photo at the top is my first sighting of wild African elephants. a family group moving into the bush. My driver, Daniel, stopped the car and turned off the engine. I had the car to myself. He had the hatch was open and the windows rolled down so I could get good photos. At this point I was using a Nikon N2000 SLR with a built-in motor drive (first time I’d had one with that), a Tamron 28-300mm lens and 2x doubler. and had brought 78 rolls of Kodak 200 and 400 ASA print film.  Not a “pro” set up but pretty good for what we could afford.


The rest of the family group appeared, saw us, turned and headed away out of sight. And I thought that was it for my first elephant experience. Closer would have been great, but at least I’d seen some, and early in my first game drive on my first day, so no complaints.


But, no, two reappeared with one looking straight at us.


Then they started down the slope towards us….


The smaller of the two turned and walked away into the bush.


The big one came on down the hill towards the car, which as you will recall, was sitting with the hatch and windows open. I kept taking photos as he got closer and closer.


Full zoom-in on this wonderful creature. At this point, Daniel said in a low tone of voice “It would be good to be quiet now”. Oh, right. The motor drive. So I set the camera in my lap as the elephant came closer and closer, straight towards the car. I realized that he was so tall that he could have rested his chin on the roof of the Land Cruiser. Or reached in and plucked me right out of my seat through the hatch. At that moment I became a fatalist. Whatever was going to happen would happen and there wasn’t a thing to be done about it. At about six feet from the front of the car, he turned and crossed in front of us on a diagonal. Daniel and I just quietly sat and watched him.


Once past the car he turned and went back up the slope to rejoin the group, stopping just for this instant to give us one last look.


Business attended to and, point made, he walked off into the bush.


Aperture and a Few Favorite Photos

In between trying to get a number of paintings done, I’ve spent one full day of each of the last two weekends importing my images into Aperture, the digital photo manager that I had pre-installed on the iMac. I think I’m almost halfway there. All of Kenya 2004, Mongolia 2005 and 2006, two trips to Wyoming and one to Montana are in, plus some personal stuff and photos of paintings. The two trips to Mongolia come to 5,792 total. Kenya 2004, the art workshop safari with Simon Combes and nine other artists, totals 5,116. Wyoming, which includes Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the areas around Jackson and Dubois totals 3,824. Can you imagine how much paper and ink it would have needed if those had been prints? Or plastic, paper and ink if they were slides? And how much shelf space I’d need. So far, it’s all on the iMac’s hard drive, which will be backed up to our Buffalo Terastations.

Digital is by far the most environmentally friendly way to acquire and store images and music. I’m ready for movie downloads to our tv anytime now.

elephant-and-vehicle.jpg Samburu 2004

Aperture’s image organization system is based on projects, albums and folders. Half the battle was understanding how I would want to find things well enough to set up the essential system before I started importing. I finally went with projects based on location. Images can only be in one project, but can be in multiple albums. So, I’ve done the initial imports into country projects that have specific location albums in them. Therefore, the Mongolia project has albums for Hustai National Park 2005, Hustai National Park, 2006, Khomiin Tal 2006 and so on. I had realized when I was still working with IMatch on the PC that I needed to be able to not only go to a specific location, but also when I’d been there, so this time every location name also includes the year. The next step will be to copy all the animals into specific species albums, along with various landscape features like rocks and trees, time of day like sunsets, and weather features like clouds. Everything will be batch keyworded and have appropriate metadata added. Maybe by the end of baseball season.


Marmot at National Museum of Wildlife Art (He’s real.)

I bought an after-market book on Aperture with a DVD tutorial that I’m working my way through. I got a handle on importing and dove in because my images look so completely stunning on the glossy 24″ iMac monitor that I needed to start working from it immediately. I’ve been cruising through a bunch of my photos this afternoon, especially all my argali reference from Mongolia, and I can honestly say that for the first time I can really see what my 6mb Nikon D70’s can do. Wow.


Local herder and I at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Mongolia

My paintings are going to take a big step forward. John Banovich, who I was fortunate enough to have a workshop with, told us that “you are only as good as your reference”. That is so, so true. I can’t even believe that I ever thought that 4×6 or even 5×7 prints would give me a good result. I now have the equivalent of huge transparencies that I can work from in daylight.

Hope to post some new paintings by late next week. Heading down to San Francisco for the weekend and taking along a blue heeler from the shelter who needs to go to rescue. Next entry I’ll tell the story of my first transport two weeks ago. Super short version-four dogs, ten hours driving.