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The woodchuck and I.

I had the good fortune today of seeing a woodchuck up close and personal as. I must say that I am always ready for such animal encounters as I always carry my camera when walking in the botanical garden.

I had spotted the animal from afar as I was walking on the road that passes by a large field. This field is used by children who plant vegetables and other produce and are then used by the community. The animal was towards the end of the field where only grass is present.

I immediately walked straight towards the object of my interest, but at a slow pace. Woodchucks are notoriously shy and a sudden advance on them would have been the kiss of death on my photographic projects. I therefore moved only when it was not looking at me.

The animal was content in eating the grass that was in front of it, sometimes turning left and at times not moving and looking in my direction. I acted the part of appearing to be a statue. It would often chew on the grass and then look up. I was always on the move until I was a few feet from it, hiding behind a rock formation that had been shaped as a wheel by employees of the garden. From there I began taking pictures as I was unsure for how long the animal would stay.

The weather was not the best as the skies were cloudy but at times the sun would shine. I was now crouching and taking pictures of the animal and decided to get even closer to it but slowly. I knew that any rapid movements on my part would mean the sudden departure of my subject.

At times the woodchuck exhibited a strange behviour. At one point it stood on its back legs and stood up looking at me, seeming to strike a pose for me. Of course it is possible that it was trying to intimidate me by appearing larger than it really was. Interestingly not a sound was uttered by the animal. I took more pictures especially as the sun’s rays were now shining on my subject. The animal is not a colourful subject as its fur is brown with some reddish tint into it and it has the face of a beaver. But it is wild.

I was now facing the animal squarely and it did not seem to mine. In fact, it was so comfortable that it installed itself on a flat rock and stretched it front paws slightly in front of it. It was still eying me though, keeping a close eye on me. I was happy as I took more pictures while it stretched in the sun.

After about ten minutes of this the woodchuck suddenly got up and entered a small forest at the back of the area leaving me alone. Not once had it uttered a sound. It was always looking at me and knew at all times where I was and what I was doing. I was not doing much of course, except taking pictures.

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In the dead of winter.

Mid-January is a tough time for someone who likes to take pictures. On one hand, you can say that the hard part is behind you and that soon spring will arrive. But in fact it is not quite true as the hardest parts of winter are still around the corner. In other words, it will get tougher still before it gets better.

Sundays is my favorite days to take pictures. At least it was, but today left a bitter taste in my mouth. Everything seemed to conspire to egg me on and then at the last minute it was snatched away from me.

Another cold day with frigid temperatures. At least today we had nice blue skies and a small pesky wind. That was the problem, the pesky wind. I had to put my hood over my head just to feel warm. Lucky for me that my trusted photographer’s mittens did the job as I barely froze my hands. I am sure that a photographer in warmer climates cannot relate to all this.

As I entered the botanical garden I looked at my watch; it was 08:00 am. Early enough for the sun to appear slightly over the horizon. We are slowly getting back some of the minutes that we had lost previously, a sure sign that spring is just around the corner. Yeah right.

It was not before 08:45 that I saw what I was looking for, a fox. It was near where a wooded area is located. It seemed to be sniffing the ground, probably looking for some small prey that was running under the snow. I tried to follow it slowly, sometime stopping in my tracks as the fox looked towards me.

At one point I had to make a decision; to continue to pursue it from afar or to use the road that straddles the small wooded area and hope that it stays in the area. I chose to pursue it, no doubt my appetite for a good picture stimulated by the sight of this semi-wild animal. Bad decision.

I continued walking towards the fox that by then had turned the corner and was trotting along the edge of the wooded area. At one point I could not see it and I knew that it might simply install itself on a rock and just bask in the sun. Should I wait? Of course not, I am still obsessed by getting one good picture. Again, bad decision.

The fox had begun to settle down when it saw me. It promptly got up and continued its trotting but at a faster pace. I knew that I was about to lose it so I quicken the pace. Again, a bad decision.

I emerged from the wooded area and could not see the fox anymore. Sorrow grips my heart as  I may have lost the only chance to get a good picture of a fox today simply because I had pressed too hard. I continued walking on the main road looking afar at the empty fields beside it with row after row of seemingly dead trees.

Suddenly I saw the fox. It was still sniffing the ground but it was far from me. I took the decision to quickly walk in its direction. The fox had not spotted me yet. I was trying to intercept it as it was oblivious to me. I knew that my boots were making noises now. It is hard to avoid this when the snow is hard and one is walking briskly.

I was still on course to intercept the fox when it decided to look up in my direction. I stopped, waiting to see what it would do. It continued it’s trotting along but then it quickened the pace as I did. It knew that I was pursuing it from afar. I was still too far for a good picture as my lens is not a strong one, only 300 mm. I needed to get close. Too late, as now it was running quickly away.

I lost it, somewhere in the area where small shrubs are located. I could hear on the main road bands of runners hooting and hollering. That could probably spook the fox towards me I thought. I climbed up a small hill beside those shrubs and there I saw the fox, obviously listening to the runners.

I was now on the hill and waited for the fox to move. It did, in the direction of the feeding stations for birds. I pursued it and promptly lost it again. I moved slowly around the area and then on a hunch decided to walk around the small pond near the feeding station. And there I saw not one but two foxes, the male and the female playing around in the sun. Once again I was too far. I finally decided to walk around the perimeter of the pond to see them much closer but they bolted, with one fox crossing the fence into another public park. The second fox disappeared without a trace.

In the end, for two hours of walking around the garden I took a few pictures but none were keepers. At least I had seen the foxes but nothing much else. I would describe this as my usual routine; you get close but never quite get the thing you desire. It happens often in winter. Spring is around the corner, I mumble to myself as I leave the garden to take my bus. Yeah right.

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