On my last evening in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, camped out on the edge of the coastal plain by the Beaufort Sea, I hiked countless hours trying to find subjects to photograph. The light was magical, from about 10:00pm until I went to bed at 4:30am. Unfortunately, I had a tough time finding subjects to shoot. I saw a few foxes, but didn’t get close enough to any for photos. I saw my first ever snowy owl, an unbelievably beautiful, yet extremely skittish bird that I never got close to. Near camp I saw a tundra swan, and I managed to crawl myself close enough for some photos. When I first saw the swan she was standing on the tundra, walking around feeding. Swans have short, stubby little legs, and their enormous bodies are a little much for those legs to move around with ease. They kind of wobble and tilt and nearly tumble, especially on terrain like the arctic tundra. Eventually she moved into the pond here. It was eye opening to witness the change her movements. Immediately the water held her weight, the tundra swan became poetry and grace in motion, moving across the water with indiscernible effort. The long graceful neck arched, just enough to give her a dignity that was noticeably absent when she ambled over the tundra. Once the swan got used to my presence, she accepted me as long as I didn’t move too fast or too much. Stopping every few seconds before moving on seemed to allay her concerns that I may pose some threat to her.
The tundra swan swam around the pond, not feeding, just showing off her beauty, and soaking up that evening light. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve had the distinct impression she was simply enjoying being there, enjoying the space, the air, the silence, the endless arctic evening. Of course, this couldn’t be true, could it?