Times Spent Outdoors: Priceless!

The Ghost And The Guardian

Editor’s Note: Eric Dennison is an aspiring freelance writer who lives in Hatfield, Pa., a small suburb just outside Philadelphia. Dennison is an outdoor enthusiast who loves to fish and chronicle his experiences in print. We at Western Outdoor Times/Arizona Boating & Watersports thank him for his insightful and moving recollections inspired by his visit to our state.

Wander the worlds suspended between this one and the next long enough and you are bound to see ghosts. One second they are standing right in front of you and the next they are gone.

Cloaking themselves with unearthly shades of light and merging themselves into dark, elongated shadows, they suddenly become mysterious and obscure shapes in a mystical, panoramic landscape. And you are only left to wonder if they were ever really there at all.

And so it goes with ghosts — nature being full of them. Real nature — not the semi-vacant lot of trees or small patch of grass and weeds left over by the suburban landslide that continually steamrolls over society’s almost depleted sense of rustic aesthetics.

But real nature in the form of an untamable rush of water that rampages forever at the base of a river valley or canyon wall, a tapestry of green hills and rugged forests draped across an entire mountain side, or the eternal expanse of sky mirroring the wide open plains that run endlessly beneath it.

Real nature. Where heaven meets earth and man — if he is lucky enough —touches the ethereal plane.

I Reached Out To It In Arizona

I reached out to it in Arizona. After a six-hour flight from Pennsylvania and a five-hour drive from the hotel with my friend and his family, I found myself in a whole different world — the Grand Canyon to be more precise. The place where my own almost-depleted sense of aesthetics was elevated to new heights.

Staring like a child into a large window filled with amazing natural creations, face and hands pressed firmly up against invisible glass, will do that to you, I suppose. So will an apparition staring back at you.

Of course, a place such as the Canyon with its immense and unearthly configurations must surely have a spirit or two lurking somewhere within its majestic confines. And it does.

A Coyote Emerges

The outline and shape of the coyote first emerged a few hundred feet ahead of us, slowly crossing the nearby road that would eventually take us out of the Canyon’s gravitational pull — the coyote itself now being drawn in.

My friend Joe, who was driving, pulled the car over to the side and came quickly to a stop, allowing me to get out with my camera in tow. Having taken pictures all day of the Canyon from every conceivable angle, I suppose it was only natural to have it handy should nature turn suddenly on its side again and show off another startling profile.

The coyote was still a distance away when I began to take pictures — perhaps out of fear that the animal would bolt at any time, leaving me absolutely no trace that it ever existed. Remarkably, the coyote kept coming closer, occasionally disappearing behind trees, re-emerging and slowly trotting over small patches of snow splashed intermittently over a canvas of green grass.

Hope For One Perfect Shot

I continued to take pictures, doing my best to keep the animal in focus. I am by no means a wildlife photographer; I also didn’t do myself any favors by having nothing more than a no-frills, point-and-shoot camera. For whatever reason, I was hesitant to jump headlong into the digital age.

If I could just get one shot perfectly showcasing the animal as a lone, solitary figure frozen in a landscape that itself would never change over time, I would be pleased. What I needed was the coyote to idle itself and remain completely still, suspending itself above the laws of nature.

Miraculously, the animal halted at a distance where we could look into each other’s eyes. Face to face, we each cautiously studied the strange shape that was displacing a small piece of the world in front of us.

What it thought of me, I can’t say for sure, of course. If I had to venture a guess, I was barely something inconsequential to its existence. For me, the coyote was an aberration of my suburban-honed senses, long since dulled by my limited exposure to real and rugged nature.

A Thin Veneer Of Nature

How limited? How about the menagerie of squirrels, rabbits and groundhogs running up and down trees, bustling in and out of bushes in parks and playgrounds, with hawks circling above; or the occasional run-in with a rogue fox or small group of roving deer bullied and bulldozed out of their own personal terrain by the vast expansion of apartments, townhouses and condos, and reduced from their natural state to nothing more than a living, breathing attraction on someone’s freshly mowed lawn. That’s not nature, but a thin veneer.

The coyote was real nature — an animal embedded in a landscape where it could navigate by impulse and instinct, the currents of which reverberated endlessly through forests and woods and ran ceaselessly alongside rivers and streams, and they were not to be interfered with by the overbearing hum created by the continuing expansion of the human hive.

The Canyon, besides being a geological phenomenon was, I figured out, a symbolic oasis whose vast edge and rim and deep abyss prevented man from “progressing” any farther. The line in the rock had been drawn, and, this time, I was the intruder. I could sense it immediately. The animal stood erect on all fours, posturing itself as a stern guardian of the land, never to be removed from its post.

Hoping To Capture The Essence

The camera in my hands was the one means by which I could both steal and seal this intimate moment, taking the coyote out of its world and bringing it back to mine. The photo opportunity I was waiting for finally presented itself.

I knew all the other pictures I had snapped probably wouldn’t amount to anything, but this one, I felt, would be the one that captured the true essence of our face-to-face encounter. The coyote remained still, allowing me what I hoped was ample time to ensnare it without it even knowing it.

After I took the photo, the coyote remained poised, gazing at the growing crowd of inquisitive onlookers who began to stop their cars to get a glimpse of the strange, uninhibited roadside object. More intruders.

As they began to exit their vehicles, I hopped back into ours, leaving the coyote to face the hoard alone. We drove off, watching the crowd get bigger and the coyote smaller until it was completely out of view.

An Opportunity Almost Lost

A few days later, Arizona was completely out of view as well, but I traveled back there and to the Canyon when I got the two rolls of film I shot developed. The pictures of the Canyon were pleasing, but I did regret not owning a quality digital camera that would have accentuated the Canyon’s finer aesthetic points, such as a swirling pool of shadow and soft light poured steadily by the sun into its base like a pitcher of cool water.

An opportunity almost lost, say for the mental pictures developed and stored in my head. I continued to hurriedly shuffle through the stack, however, easily more excited to re-enact my encounter with the coyote.

I quickly waded through those first long-distance shots, knowing full well I hadn’t captured the subtle and intrinsic beauty of the animal in any of them; the reject pile was roughly ankle high. The picture I wanted to see the most was that of the superimposed figure fiercely clinging to whatever scrapes of unabated landscape were left in the world.

A Ghost In The Fog

But it wasn’t there. Not the unabated scraps of landscape, but the picture I was certain I took. Leafing through all the shots of the coyote, I was heartbroken to see that our close encounter was the only one that didn’t develop properly, at least in a photographic sense.

The other pictures lacked focus of the aesthetic variety. Either too far away, turned to the side or turned around completely, the coyote proved to be a difficult and evasive subject by eluding every trap I set for it.

And now, in plain sight no less, it managed to give me the slip one more time by disappearing into a camera-induced fog that enveloped it completely. A ghost if I ever did see one.

But where did it go? Back to the Canyon, I suppose. There was no room for the coyote in my world, it seemed — not even as a compressed image gently tucked away inside the plastic pages of a thick scrapbook. A defiant animal to say the least.

A Guardian: Waiting, Watching

Remembering the throng of people, myself included, that began to impinge upon its space, I began to think it had good reason for standing its ground. That more than any other is the image that will remain most etched in my mind — more so than any of the other “pictures” I tried to take.

Truth be told, the coyote didn’t go anywhere. In fact, it never left the confines of the canyon, even when I tried to pry it away with my camera. How could it?

The throng, in one sense or another, will keep coming. And, although they might not be able to chip or chisel one measly rock from the great wall, that doesn’t mean somebody won’t — in one form or another — give it a try.

If my encounter with the coyote is any indication, it will be waiting, watching and listening for the first hammer strike. And I bet you it won’t even budge an inch. A guardian if ever there was one.


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