Shot of the Month – April 2015 

Cottonwood Tree, Yellowstone NP (1045)

This month a landscape photo captured on a lovely fall afternoon in Yellowstone National Park.

I originally chose this image as a shot of the month because I think its purty (IMHO).  I like the vast range of colors, shapes, and textures.  And I like the transition from full bore color and texture in the foreground with the dense collection of shrubs, bushes and sundry plant-like things.  To less color and density as you guide past the tree to the more open fields.  To the hillside with only a few colors, green and black mainly.  Leading to a hill top that is denuded and virtually monochromatic till you reach an essentially white sky.

However, the more I stared at the image I realized that the visual depth of this image hinted at the depth of connection between the animals, the plants, and even the forces of nature like fire, wind, water, and so on that co-exist in this landscape.  This was more than just a pretty picture.

Let’s start with those denuded trees at the top of the hills behind the tree — that part of the forest was ravaged by fire and the trees have died.  Don’t be alarmed, this is a glorious thing.  For the first 100 years of the park’s existence the rangers would extinguish forest fires thinking they were protecting this great park.  Rangers eventually realized that fire plays an essential role in revitalizing the park’s ecosystem and they now allow fires to burn naturally and will even instigate controlled fires to mimic natural processes.   Fire reduces dead vegetation, stimulates new growth, and improves habitat for wildlife.  Soil samples from the park reveal that fire has helped shape and nurture the landscape in this area for over 14,000 years.

Ugh – Fire Good.” (Said in my best caveman voice)

And then there is that knarly cottonwood tree in the foreground.  Cottonwoods are few and far between these days in Yellowstone, much like the Aspen and the Willow tree.  These trees went into rapid decline after the last wolves were killed in Yellowstone in 1926.  What do wolves have to do with trees?  Well, with the top predator gone the elk population exploded and young trees and saplings were overgrazed and could not recover.  Since the reintroduction of wolves in the park in 1995 the trees appear to be making a comeback.  Astoundingly, the wolves seem to touch virtually every life form in the ecosystem.  Watch this video:

Now when I see this image I don’t see just a few trees and shrubs, but the entire park and its entire history.   Every element in this photo exists, or doesn’t because of every action or inaction that took place to arrive at this day.  That cottonwood tree may be standing there because of a wolf that was born in 1996 and the life she led.

Everything we do, or don’t do, has an impact on life, big and small, even when out of sight.

with Great Power Comes Great Responsibility



Until next month….



Nikon D4S, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII @95mm, f/8, 1/125s, ISO 200, +0.5 EV