(Coyote pup shot in the JT Highlands summer of 2009. Copyright Diana Shay Diehl)
Okay, so this is not a freshly taken-just-today shot. Today was one of those days where the camera and I just couldn't cross paths. Hence, another 'oldie but goodie'.... There's a great story attached to this image few of you know of even if you are familiar with this photograph. This coyote pup photo earned 3rd place in the Southland Art Show in 29 Palms. It graces the walls of the Mojave Desert Land Trust and is used in their campaign to secure funding towards the preservation of wildlands in our high desert region. It is also in a multitude of private collections all over the US and even in Canada. I like to print him in a 5 x 5 inch format or in 12 x 12/10 x 10/ or 8 x 8 formats which are framed in 16 x 20 or 11 x 14 museum grade frames. All sell out. Every photographer likes to have that signature piece that helps pay off our habits of new gear purchases. But that isn't the best part of this particular photograph. It is how I came to be in the right spot at the right time and the relationship that happened around this experience.
Thanks to my friend and local favorite wildlife nature photographer, David McChesney, one hot, very early June morning afforded me a rare opportunity to get close to nature and see just how vulnerable we humans are in not being able to 'fix' everything... (Incidently, you can check out David's works, tours, new books, lectures, etc by clicking on his link to the right of this post. Good stuff!) David and I had been talking about photographic equipment as I was in the market to add to my collection of lenses. He offered me to try out some of his lenses before I blindly forked out money for something that may not suit my needs and suggested one summer morning at 5:00am. 5:00am? You mean like before the sun comes up? You see, David is one of THE most energetic, enthusiastic people I know - who truly understands that if you want to capture those images that wow people and show people just a taste of what we don't or can't see on our ordinary comings and goings - you have to be up pretty much like anytime. I compromised. I showed up at 6:30. To see David in action is pretty awe inspiring. He has quite the set up in his private setting tucked in the hills of Joshua Tree. Several tripods and cameras are set up to capture whatever might wander in his sight among the native plants on his property. He is totally in tune with his environment which is quite evident if you've ever seen his work or read his recently published book, Miles of Wonder, or even spent a moment with him.
This particular week brought to David's property, a lone coyote pup....separated from it's pack but probably not by choice. There were apparently 4 pups all together. This little guy was the only one left. And he was sickly. My heart ached just watching this little fellow timidly poke around the property - drinking a bit from the pond, looking for tidbits to eat. He reminded me of many, many students I've had over the years - trying to figure it out, alone. The family is there, you can see or feel their presence, but they aren't there at all when it comes to the nurturing part. I felt that watching him and listening to David's account of what he had been observing the past few weeks. You can't see it in this photo, but he only had one eye. The other was lost in a soupy crud from whatever disease was taking over. (David thought perhaps parvo consumed the litter.) He howled once or twice - a tiny but fierce sound from such a wee one. I think his pack was communicating with him somewhat. You could hear the echos from a distance. They must have known he was weak, ill - not fit to continue on. As in nature, only the strong survive. They don't go to great lengths to save the sick. You make it or you don't.
So, that hot June morning was spent with me peering out windows of a shaded porch and little coyote pup peering back, watching David and me, with no trepidation. At one point, I desperately wanted to capture this little fellow and take him - somewhere, anywhere - to someone who could 'make him better'. But, that's a human reaction. Nature's reaction is to let it be. Instead, I snapped away with my camera and David's lens. While I did capture several positions and angles of the pup as he wandered about, this one resonates the most with me. At that moment, the pup sat under the branch. He didn't move. I felt like his one little eye was studying me, David, the action on the porch. He didn't even flinch when I raised my camera and snapped the shot. I wasn't that far away, maybe 15/20 feet. The blurred background (or bokeh in photographer speak) is from using a wide aperture and zoomed in tight. Nothing else was done to this shot except maybe adding a bit more exposure to lighten up the shadows. The shadow from that droopy branch hid the sick eye perfectly. What was he thinking, I often wonder. Two weeks later, David found his little carcass. He had succumbed to whatever infected him and his litter.
David had written a song and poem about him. I cried. Coyote pup lives on in a few captured images and heart-felt words; a reminder of vulnerability and sweet innocence.