If three months ago, someone had told me that I would wake up every day at 4:30 AM, don five layers of warm clothing and go and stand next to a frozen lake with temperatures close to -20C just to photograph some swans and cranes, I would have sent them to see a psychiatrist. And yet, from February 11 through February 18, I did just that. Not only did it make me question my sanity, but also it tested what extremes I was willing to go through as a photographer.
Of course what made it seem very normal was that I was in the company of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Marsel van Oosten, and four other die hard nature photographers, and with a driver who only wanted the best experience for us. Marsel’s wife and partner, Daniella was great enough to make jam and bread sandwiches for breakfast for all of us (which itself was a challenge to eat with two gloves and a balaclava) and there we were at twilight witnessing pure natural beauty as the roosting swans and cranes woke up.
Hokkaido, Japan’s Winter Wonderland, is blessed with an amazing natural beauty with wide snow vistas sparsely decorated with solitary trees. It is here that one can see a wide variety of rare birds including Whooper Swans, Steller’s Sea Eagles, and the famous red crested Japanese cranes.
I was not new to the cold and had lived in Chicago and Michigan for an extended period in my life, but yet I had never felt an openness and calm which I experienced visiting the remote corners of Hokkaido. I was reminded of Kawabata’s Snow Country which although was written in Honshu has this wonderful opening of the train coming out from a long tunnel into the snow country where the earth lay white under the night sky. The unadulterated whiteness of the snow is a baptism for the soul and I felt refreshed and able to appreciate the nature and beauty around me. Standing at the edges of the frozen Lake Kussharo and watching the Whooper Swans waking up and flying in to be fed is a memorable sight, and this experience only got better when I witnessed the grace and beauty of the dance of the red crested cranes.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Marsel and Daniella for allowing me to work with them on this tour and also a big thanks to Liesbeth, Sam, Jan, Tony and Shin for a wonderful time and your patience and curiosity that allowed me to share my insights on Japan and Japanese culture. I hope that we will meet again sometime, somewhere and hopefully in one of Marsel and Daniella’s many adventures around the world.