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From Backyards to Backwoods: Photos, day trips enhance love of nature

On Halloween this squirrel is looking for nature's treats. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)

Many times when I sit down to write, I have some munchies close by. It might be a jar of peanuts or a small bowl of chips and salsa. The other night, however, as I was writing my column I replaced the usual snacks with an apple, a banana, and a bunch of grapes.

After each paragraph I'd alternate - an apple wedge, a couple grapes, and a slice of banana. It seemed to help me concentrate and by the time I was done, I felt it had been a very fruitful evening.

I've written nine columns without slipping in a single pun and that's not normal for me. I'm a punaholic; it's one of my vices. Wildlife photography is another one of my vices. You see, if you have a desire to photograph wildlife, even as a hobby, you must understand right up front that a wildlife photographer is not . . . well, just not a normal person.

What would possess an otherwise sane individual to sit in trees, ground blinds, or water blinds hour after hour just to watch and photograph some poor, unsuspecting animal?

Oh, I realize hunters have peculiar habits, too, but their seasons are limited to a few short months each autumn. Family members and neighbors may notice changes in them weeks before the season opens as they drag the duck boat to the middle of the driveway, spread the decoys around it, and then sit, dressed in full camo while searching the sky for imaginary flocks of mallards.

Withdrawal symptoms might linger weeks after the season ends, but eventually most hunters get back to leading a routine, acceptable life. The smell of Hoppe's gun oil and deer scent dissipate in time. These hunters finally even get to the point where they can carry on a conversation without a quack, honk, or grunt entering in.

To a wildlife photographer, the season never ends. There are no bag limits and lands not available to hunters are often open to photographers. Some fishermen practice "catch and release" while wildlife photographers live by the motto, "shoot and release."

Like hunters, photographers must study their prey, know its habits and patterns, and then get in the right place while waiting for it to appear. All the steps and excitement of the stalk are still there. It can be a trophy for the wall either way, by pulling the trigger or by pressing the shutter release.

I'll always be a hunter. I began hunting ducks and pheasants in 1958 - I was eight years old. I received my hunter's safety certificate in 1962 (in fact, I still have it) and that's when I began deer hunting. That history has made me a better photographer and the extra time in the field with my camera has made me a better hunter.

I'll leave you with one thought. If I wrote a poem about my vices would it be called, "A verse of vices" or a "Vice of verses?"