Yellowstone: One Small Step

I still remember an incident that happened in the Spring time at Yellowstone several years ago.

We were driving on a mountain road when we came to a big traffic jam. Over ten cars were parked on the side of the road.

Big traffic jam usually meant wildlife sightings. I quickly took my cameras and went out to take a look.

Fifteen photographers were lining up along the edge of the road with tripods and big lenses. They were all pointing downwards. I set up my tripod as well and looked thru the camera viewfinder.

There was a river stream below the cliff where we were standing at. I saw an elk carcass on the side of the stream. As I glanced around the elk carcass through the viewfinder… I almost fainted. There stood the species that all yellowstone visitors dreamed to see– the gray wolf.

I was in ecstasy. He would give us a mean look from time to time even though we were at least 200 feet away. With a greedy smile, I clicked the camera shutter continuously like no tomorrow.

There were at least thirty people behind us, all smiling and celebrating this rare sighting.

After half an hour, I heard somebody said bison.

I thought to myself, Who cares? Bison were everywhere in yellowstone. Why would I want to photograph a bison when I can photograph a rare-to-see wolf?

So I kept photographing the wolf, as if I didn't know that every photo I took of the wolf would look the same.

Then, all of a sudden, I felt the ground shaking.

Was that earthquake?

I took a quick look to my left.

I saw three photographers on my left. They were all standing at the edge of the road behind their tripods.

About 20 feet to our left, there was a black shadow. My first impression was that it reminded me of the ring-wraith from the movie “The Lord of the Rings”. It was at least one feet taller than us.

It's a bison charging at us at full speed.

The bison was going to knock us down in no time. The 3rd photographer, the one furthest from me, grabbed his tripod and camera, and… he jumped down the cliff.

I didn't have time to react to that shocking act. I wrapped around the tripod with my arms, and quickly stepped backward, barely avoided the collision by the bison.

I could still remember the loud noise when the bison passed by us.

That’s one small step for me, a giant leap for my life.

I looked back and saw that the whole place was in chaos. Some were hiding behind their cars. Some were running away.

After the bison ran passed us, he charged at a girl who was about 30 feet from me. The girl was in her 20s, with long blond hair, who looked like Kristen Dunst, and was wearing a light blue down jacket. She ran for a few seconds and accidentally fell down before a 2-feet tall snow dunes. She sat helplessly on the ground as the bison was about to hit her.

It all happened so quick that none of us were able to go and try to save her. I closed my eyes. I heard a big splash and opened my eyes. The bison braked in the snow about 3 feet from the girl. He looked at her and breathed heavily. I could see white smoke coming out from his nose. The girl was looking at him. The wind was blowing on her hair. It was bizarre, but it reminded me of a scene in the beauty and the beast.

Then the bison turned around. He was taping the ground quickly with his feet. His body was rotating but he remained at the same location. He could charge at any one of us at anytime. We felt so helpless. After half a minute, he turned and walked away. We all walked towards the girl and lifted her up. She was smiling.

And just at this time, we heard a siren. The park rangers arrived.

Tin Man Lee

Tin Man Lee has a deep love for wildlife and photography. Most recently, he won the Grand Prize of Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International with the winning photo currently displaying at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC, while having a full time job in medical imaging. He is the judge for Nature's Best Photography Asia and Viewbug. Through this blog he hopes to share what worked for him and what didn't while learning the craft of wildlife photography.

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