The depth of winter draws us home. We find solace in those we trust, comfort in the spaces we know to be safe.
Our movements slow, limited to only what is necessary for survival. We follow the trails broken by the most capable and determined among us.
Some relish the season’s stillness, venturing out into the hills with light feet and bold intentions, driven by a hunger to be filled by something more than what the valleys below can provide.
In Yellowstone National Park the sounds that define the warm seasons have become distant memories. Roaring streams are reduced to a faint, muffled babble beneath ice and snow. There are no waving grasses, no flutter of hummingbirds. The wind blows, sugary snow scratches across the surface. Bison grunt and breathe heavily as their hooves punch through the crust, their heads pushing and digging for the meager sustenance buried feet below them. A cow elk raises her nose and bleats, looking for a way out as her end approaches. Wolves howl after the chase, drawing family in. Wagging tails cut through the still air as hide and flesh are ripped away. The only sounds are those of struggle.
At the heart of winter the world becomes monochrome. February’s clouds wash away depth and texture, and the stillness of sound is surpassed only by the stillness of the landscape. What looked like just a small rock suddenly springs to life and trots across the bright white distance. A herd of lumbering brown beasts crests a rise from the river bottom below, bringing color and a thunder of life to what just moments before had been still and silent.
In just a couple short months, color and sound will again return to Yellowstone. Songbirds and flowing streams will fill the void of winter. But so will the drone of millions of footsteps, car and bus engines, honking horns and slamming doors, waves of camera shutters clicking, and children and parents and rangers and bears shouting.
But until then, Yellowstone will be bright and white and still.
The pictures of bison were taken from inside a vehicle with a 50-millimeter and 135-millimeter lens. The pictures of wolves were taken from 250 yards away with a 600-millimeter lens and were further cropped in post-production. The picture of a coyote was taken from a vehicle with a 600-millimeter lens and was cropped in post-production. Yellowstone National Park requires visitors to remain at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards from all other wildlife. – Eds.