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Still, They Come

By May 8, 2018No Comments

Sanderlings feeding at the edge of the surf, San Diego County, California, USA. © Cathy and Gordon Illg

Story & Photographs by Cathy and Gordon Illg


More important than any photos you take of animals or the places they call home is simply the chance to watch the creatures in their habitat and breathe the air of the forest, desert, prairie, jungle swamp, tundra or wherever. The opportunity to experience a wild thing’s home, to feel the heat, the cold, the rain, the snow is more than merely earning the pictures you come home with. To plan your life around sunrise and sunset, the phases of the moon, upon the seasons and the timing of migrations is to feel alive again. It’s the chance to live in conditions we actually evolved to live in, a chance to see the world through eyes that acknowledge how dependent we are upon the wild world.

© Cathy and Gordon Illg

How important are these experiences? You can see it in the eyes of the people who join us on our tours. The effort these people make just for the chance to flow with the ancient rhythms speaks volumes about their desire for the wild. It’s probably no secret that most of our participants are not young, and many are dealing with the various maladies associated with getting older, but still, they come. Some have come off the plane in wheelchairs, but still, they come. How much easier would it be to relax at home, sitting in a comfortable chair, engrossed in a good book or movie, and not suffer through the hassle of fighting traffic and/or the airlines? Experiencing the wild is obviously one of the premier events in our existence, and to miss out on this is to be less than fully alive.

© Cathy and Gordon Illg

Pieces of wild, or semi-wild, can be found virtually everywhere, and the distance you travel is not important. Your own yard can be a refuge from the artificial habitat we’ve created. The important thing is being out where wild things live, for these creatures always bring a bit of the wild with them. Even birds at a feeder can draw you into their world, a world where an easy meal and a relatively carefree bath are more valuable than gold.

Sea otter mother grooming pup, San Luis Obispo County, California, USA © Cathy and Gordon Illg


© Cathy and Gordon Illg

The species we photographed on our Beauty & the Beasts Photo Tour hardly required time in the wilderness. We were never more than a couple hundred yards from the road. However, even if our feet were firmly planted on concrete, looking through a lens into the giant eyes of an elephant seal or the inquisitive ones of a sea otter transported our souls to a watery world of ocean swells and kelp forests. Watching seal pups in the viewfinder, it becomes obvious how life hangs by a thread, dependent upon constant access to hyper fat milk. And the gulls and vultures pecking at the odd carcass on the beach are evidence that the thread can break without warning.

Northern elephant seal mother and newborn pup imprinting on each other, Piedras Blancas, CA. © Cathy and Gordon Illg

Experiencing the wild though is as much about life as it is about death. You can watch new elephant seal pups enter the world almost every day in January, and they seem to swell right before your eyes as they gain 10 pounds a day. The living kaleidoscope that is a cluster of monarch butterflies has had more than one generation hatch during their migration. Shorebirds, common birds on almost every beach, literally dance with the waves as they probe the newly exposed sand for mollusks and arthropods. The creatures we photograph may be surrounded by asphalt and concrete, but they bring the wild with them. And more importantly, they are willing to share it with anyone who also yearns for the wild.

Wintering monarch butterflies clustering together for warmth and protection, San Luis Obispo County, CA. © Cathy and Gordon Illg

Cathy and Gordon Illg have been full-time nature photographers since 2000. Their work is widely published and includes numerous covers of magazines like Backpacker, Defenders, National Geographic Kids, Ranger Rick and National Wildlife. Several of their images decorate the tails of Frontier Airlines’ jets, and they’ve done well in photo contests, the highlight of which was being flown to London to accept awards in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest. Both of their first two books, Dynamic Wildlife and Photography and Worshipping With A Camera, have been well received, and for the past 18 years, their livelihood has been dependent upon their ability to share the magic of wild things and wild places with other photographers.  To learn more about their work, check out their website at