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One fine spring day while out looking for wildlife, I found a crowd of people, indicative of wildlife found. Peering over the edge of the Cottonwood Creek in Grand Teton National Park I saw a cow moose eating the afterbirth of a newborn moose calf –excellent!
I grabbed my gear and headed over to some familiar faces and set up my tripod. Soon after I set up, a frail old man who clearly was in his late 80s who knew everyone, joined the group, and Grover said hi Daryl. Embarrassingly I didn’t remember our first meeting.
Upon Grover’s arrival, my friend Jim Layborn went to his own car to get a camp chair he kept there for when he bumped into Grover at a wildlife sighting. All who seemed to know him showed great respect, Grover’s cachet level was through the roof among this crowd of afterbirth munching spectator, photographer colleagues.
When the moose laid down for a snooze we all started back to our cars, one of the photographers tripped and broke their camera. Grover having two cameras, more than he could shoot at one time, insisted on lending the other photographer one of his Canon EOS 7D ( = $1,600.00 ). It did the photographer no good to protest Grover’s insistence, so the photographer acquiesced excepting Grover’s extra camera until they could get theirs repaired. I never again overlooked Grover in a wildlife jam.
Grover lost his wife of 58 years when he was eighty. At the behest of Max & Helen Kudar, and their daughter and son in law Diana and Tim Waycott, Grover started spending his summers in Jackson Hole as their guest. Grover became the newest member of the Kudar family. Grover filled the hole in his heart with his love of photographing nature. He soon bought a Jackson Hole home.
My job as a wildlife safari guide and photography guide had me in Grand Teton National Park nearly every day. As I learned to recognize Grover’s Ford Explorer. I marveled at how often this octogenarian was in the field photographing critters or the magnificent landscape of Jackson Hole. My respect for him grew! I also noticed Jim Layborn often would be driving Grover around. Now Jim is rarely seen anywhere without a critter in the viewfinder of his video camera, yet Jim often made time to take Grover shooting. I then figured Grover could use another photographer to help him get around and relieve him of some of his driving duties, mandated by his nature photography compulsion. I volunteered, then my life became richer.
After the best light was over and many of the animals had gone to bed Grover would be up for meeting me for a cruise around Grand Tetons Park. It wasn’t like Grover was sleeping in because he was eighty-eight or anything like that. It was because he had a heck of a business selling photo DVDs in town at his gallery in the Lexington Hotel. Grover figured there wasn’t much sense speculating on freelance photos when there was hard cash to be collected for photos already in the portfolio. The idea that people would pay him for his art made Grover beam with delight. Whenever Grover introduced me to anyone he would say; “This is Daryl Hunter; he is a real “professional” photographer.” I would then remind him: “Grover, you are the only one around here making any money at photography.”
Jim, creator of “Always Endangered” befriended him several years previously after huffing and puffing to get up a steep hill for a photography vantage point where he found an impossibly old man at the top. Fascinated and amazed, Jim struck up a conversation then they were fast friends until the very end.
Knowing that I took people out to find animals and landscapes for my profession, one day he was thanking me profusely for taking him without charge and wishing he could give me something. Jokingly I retorted; “Grover I overcharge everyone else so I can take you out for free.
The truth was, I was the beneficiary of these trips because I was hoping Grover’s indomitable spirit would be contagious. With each passing decade, most of us have a new frailty come up and slap us up the side of the head and let us know they are here to stay. My six decades are starting to stack up exponentially in a way that doesn’t feel good. That said, Grover had three decades on me, and when nature calls Grover didn’t go to the bathroom; Grover went to Grand Tetons Park. That is inspiring!
Grover’s ninth decade took away has ability to walk in the field. Refusing to be benched at such a tender young age, he got an electric cart and a carrier for the back of his car. He would then search for, then find a moose or bear, grab his oxygen apparatus and his camera, go to the back of the Explorer, and lower his cart then scoot over to the moose or bear. Grover inspired hope and aspirations that I could do the same when I am ninety
A publisher named Aaron Linsdau heard of Grover’s indomitable spirit, found him then offered him a book deal, so Grover became an author at ninety years old. It’s a lot of work writing a book when you are ninety, but Grover was up for the challenge. His finished work “Roaming the Wild” was a giant point of pride. Grover Ratliff’s irrepressible spirit shines through during his narrative about photography and life. Grover’s beautiful wildlife and landscape photography can stand-alone, his anecdotes are icing on the cake.
My favorite passage from “Roaming the Wild: “This bald eagle was perched in an old dead cottonwood tree about 250 yards north of Antelope Flats Road. Of course, I didn’t have any lens that would reach that far: I watched him with binoculars for a short time and decided that I could zoom in on him with my feet.” Grover was also funny.
Grover’s magnetic personality wasn’t just for his nature photographer friends of Jackson Hole. Somewhere south of eighty he charmed what must be one of the best available belles of Texas, Bettye I’m sure was the fuel that illuminated Grover’s spark. The love and care Bettye gave Grover I’m sure was what helped our favorite photographer stay with us for so long!
Grover’s great attitude effected all around him, One day, world renowned nature photographer Tom Mangelsen, a friend of Grover’s, saw one of Grover’s photos and asked Grover if he could have a print of it, Grover beamed and soon had a print for Tom. Three weeks later Tom called Grover and asked him to come down to his gallery, Tom had a large framed limited edition print for Grover. The print became one of Grover’s treasured items, the anecdote became one of his favorite stories. Two days before Grover passed, Tom went to visit Grover and Tom and Grover traded books. Knowing Grover, as well as the story of the limited edition print, I’m sure he lit up like the Grand Teton drenched in alpenglow, at such personal recognition of such a luminary of the nature photography field.
Grover’s son Kurt in a retrospective, reviewing life lessons learned from his dad mentioned this one;
Grover was a good friend, so he had many!
Godspeed Grover, in about thirty years I’ll see you on the other side.
I don’t know who took many of these photos, I pulled them off of Grover’s Facebook page, it they are copyrighted I apologize, if you would like a photo credit let me know. Thanks in advance.