When Squirrels Make Eye Contact
- Spring - Rock Creek Canyon, Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California -
I woke without an alarm just after dawn. Faint early morning light filled my tent. The melody of Rock Creeks fast moving spring flow filled my ears. Eager to start my day I quickly dressed in layers, made coffee and enjoyed a cup while I readied my camera gear for a short hike upstream from camp to a place I scouted the day before. I wrote a quick note letting my friends know where I was going and more importantly let them know that hot coffee was awaiting in the thermos on the picnic table. I placed my note on top of a flat rock and pinned it down with another rock just a few steps from their tent door. Then I was off.
Rock Creek - Fallen Trees
After an enjoyable 10 minute walk I arrived at my first destination and photographic opportunity of the day. This time of year the creek and river flow volumes are dictated by snow melt runoff. Overnight the temperature drops resulting is less, little or no snow melt. So the flows in the morning can be significantly less than later in the day. I anticipated this and was happy with what I had to work with. I took my time setting up and working out a composition. I made three exposures. One at 10 seconds, one at 5 seconds and the final at 1.3 seconds. This is my favorite of the three and is the 1.3 second exposure.
Rock Creek - Morning Rage
Two minutes further upstream from camp is a 200 yard long section of the creek that falls at a much steeper gradient than most other sections of the creek in this area. Here I picked out an interesting cascade and got in real close. After working out this composition (which was a little harder than I thought it would be) I setup for a long exposure in order to soften up the fast flowing water. This is a 30 second exposure.
Content after completing my first objectives of the morning. It was still not yet 8 a.m. and I was savoring the peacefulness of the morning, laying among the grass and pine needles along the banks of Rock Creek enjoying the unique smells of the damp forest floor, pine needles, grass and the nearby flowing water. It's always an interesting experience to get down low and look at the forest from a squirrels-eye view.
That is, until I looked up and a little to my right and saw a rather demented looking brown squirrel standing on its hind legs staring right at me from less than five feet away!!
Where in the hell did that come from I silently thought to myself.
I watched from my laying position as its upper torso and head were obviously twitching nervously as if all its cylinders were not firing in the proper order. Now paralyzed I lay in the grass at eyeball level with what I was beginning to believe was the Charles Manson of the squirrel world. I wanted to scream, but I couldn't. The squirrel twitched more rapidly and its eyes opened wider into the most terrifying gaze I have ever seen in the eyes of a wild animal. I begin to feel the warmth of panic flowing through my veins. Pure torturous panic! Charles the squirrel dropped to all fours - quickly adjusted slightly to its left - now aimed directly at me - staring - that awful - evil - stare. It slowly wiggled its front claws scratching the ground like a sprinter getting their fingers in place readying to lunge out of the starting blocks. I was certain that it was taunting me! I now felt that I was in the presence of pure evil!
BAM! It bluff charges six inches directly towards me kicking up a small amount of debris and a cloud of dust while crunching through some scattered pine needles. I freaked! - which in turn shattered my paralysis - leaping from my laying position to my feet faster than I have moved in at least ten years.
The next thing I know I'm about thirty feet in the opposite direction of where I last saw Charles the squirrel. Frantically searching the ground, left, right and up and down all the nearby trees. Charles is nowhere to be found! Nowhere! I cautiously walked back and picked up my camera gear and then made a very slow and tedious march back to camp looking back over my shoulder all the way back.
Back in camp I greet my friends, but never say a word about what just happened. Because, I'm not really sure what just happened.