“You never know when it’s going to take off,” says Elaine Miller Bond, pointing her camera up at a red-tailed hawk perched on a power-line in Berkeley’s Tilden Regional Park. “It could be 30 seconds, could be 45 minutes, could be never.”
At that exact moment, the hawk spreads its wings and swoops towards the ground before ascending, as Miller Bond pans her camera and clicks dozens of photos in rapid succession.
As a wildlife photographer, Miller Bond has spent over a decade peering at animals through her lens — from hummingbirds to black bears —waiting to capture the perfect moment. Many of her stunning images and accompanying essays have been published exclusively by Berkeleyside. Now, Heyday Books, the nonprofit publisher based in Berkeley, is publishing her first children’s board book, Running Wild, which features her wildlife photography alongside verbs that explore how animals move.
At her book launch party on Monday, Oct. 3, at Books Inc. in North Berkeley, Miller Bond will describe the behind-the-scenes making of the book, and answer questions about her creative process.
“My goal is to bring nature and wildlife to everyone in the urban experience,” she said. For Miller Bond, that means photographing the East Bay’s pigeons, raccoons, and even poppies that grow in highway medians, just as carefully as she photographs bears and bobcats.
The book is the first of three in a collection called the Little Wild Board Books. The second book, Living Wild, is due out March 2017, and the third, Wild Colors, is due out spring/summer of 2018. Heyday will also publish a fourth book that chronicles the life of a hummingbird’s nest Miller Bond photographed over several weeks. (She first wrote about the hummingbird nest for Berkeleyside and presented the experience of documenting it at Berkeleyside’s Uncharted Festival of Ideas in 2015.)
The concept for the Running Wild book struck Miller Bond, who lives in the East Bay, as she was hiking in Point Reyes National Seashore and caught a deer mid-prance. She jotted down all the verbs she’d like to weave into her book, like “flutter,” and “slither,” and made a “dream-list” of animals she wanted to photograph. That list included everything from monarch butterflies to California condors, which required a trip to Pinnacles National Park. Other animals, though, she found in Tilden Regional Park, like a pouncing coyote and Western Pond Turtles floating in Jewel Lake.
“Elaine’s books treat wildlife and nature in a very respectful way, which is very important to us editorially,” said Christopher Miya, sales manager at Heyday Books. “They allow young people to empathize with animals without personifying them. It’s a subtle thing, but I think it’s really effective.”
A Bay Area native, Miller Bond’s life has often centered around science and nature. For eight years, she worked as a science writer for the University of California Natural Reserve System. Though she was a hobbyist photographer for years, her passion took hold 12 years ago while on a trip to Bryce Canyon. After a day of looking for prairie dogs to photograph, she stumbled across one of the world’s leading prairie-dog experts Dr. John Hoogland, who was doing his once-a-year talk at the visitor’s center.
“He turned to me and said, ‘How’d you like to take the photos for my next book?’” she said.
A year later, she was trekking around Bryce Canyon snapping photos of prairie dogs and learning along the way. (“I had a lot of hard-drive space,” she said.) Since then, she has traveled to national parks all over the country – capturing moments like a coyote chomping on a vole, a mule deer nursing, and a chuckwalla scaling a rock.
Nature doesn’t always make it easy, though. Once, as a newer photographer, Miller Bond pulled over to take a photo of a golden eagle perched on the side of the road. Flustered, she switched lenses on her camera and the eagle flew away. Then, her car door also shut on her, giving her a black eye.
“I still got to see a golden eagle,” she said, adding that those painful missed shots, “can inspire you in other ways. It doesn’t have to be a photograph.”
And though she believes nature is abundant even in the most urban parts of the East Bay, sometimes the perfect shot requires packing up the car. A few weeks ago, she woke up at 6 a.m. and drove to UC Santa Cruz’s Arboretum after hearing rumors about rare white hummingbird. She arrived and stood in the sun for eight-and-a-half hours.
“I said, ‘What are the chances I’ll actually be able to get it?’” she said. “I felt they’d probably be pretty slim, but they’d be nothing if I don’t go and put myself there.”
Just before the arboretum closed, she nabbed the shot.
Even if she doesn’t catch the animal she set out to see, she said she’ll always find something on her expeditions that makes it worthwhile. Typically, though, the animals that glide, slither or pounce past her camera lens aren’t in carefully planned destinations, but rather, simple hikes in Bay Area nature.
“Usually,” she said, “I just go out on a hike, and see what I see.”
The Running Wild launch party is tonight, Monday Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at Books Inc., 1491 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. Visit Elaine Miller Bond’s website to see more of her work.
If you appreciate nature photography, you may like to meet Steven Bumgardner, aka ‘Yosemite Steve,’ a highly regarded natural history filmmaker whose work focuses on the national parks of the west. His camera has taken him from the top of a giant sequoia to deep dark caves. Bumgardner will give an illustrated talk at the Uncharted Berkeley Festival of Ideas in Berkeley on Friday Oct. 14.