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I think that is was the art of Bev Doolittle that taught me to look for patterns in nature. Her famous camouflage art ‘Two Indian Horses’ and ‘Sacred Ground’, feature the repeated patterns of birch and aspen trees with the subject of her compositions, hidden in the patterns of the trees. I’ve yet to find a pinto pony gazing out at me from an aspen forest, but because of the art of Bev Doolittle, I’ve been looking - and as a result, I’ve seen some cool stuff.

One evening I was driving the outside perimeter of Elk Island National Park, coming down from the north gate, along the west fence line. As I made a turn in the road, there were two red-tailed hawks. They were sitting on the fence posts, preening themselves in the soft golden light of evening. I shot right out of the window of my car, letting my foot off of the brake to creep forward, closer and closer. I got a couple of okay, posed shots and then the hawks flew off, but one of them landed in an aspen tree just inside the park, but at the very edge of the range of my zoom lens. Getting out on foot, I got as close as the fence would allow me and captured another image before the hawk flew off again, but what an image. The hawk blends into the patterns of the aspen that it is perched in, yet the image is still clear and crisp enough to bring out the fierce predator look in the hawks’ eye. As it flew away, I grabbed another shot, also a good one, but the better image I think is how the patterns of the hawk's feathers blend with that of the tree, a natural camouflage.

Several months later, I was again patrolling the west fence line of the Park when I came across a bull elk with a nice rack. The elk in Elk Island National Park are very skittish, so as I expected, he took off into the scrub aspen. But then he paused and looked back at me and I got the picture. Not a pinto pony in birch trees, but I like how only a few feet into the saplings, the elk begins to blend into the patters of its environment.

Not all of my aspen forest photographs have subject though. Sometimes, the subject is the patterns itself, or an interruption in the repeating patterns -‘Wabi’, a flaw in perfection.

The aspen and birch forests of Alberta are close to home for all of us. They offer nature photographers an opportunity to work on composition, depth of field perspectives and perhaps, to discover camouflaged creatures peering back at us from the patterns of nature.

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