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Call of the wild: Palmer braves nature, elements to get her shot

Posted: August 30, 2014 - 8:18am
LINDA HICKS STAFF PHOTO  Eilish Palmer is known across the country for her wildlife shots.
LINDA HICKS STAFF PHOTO Eilish Palmer is known across the country for her wildlife shots.

Eilish Palmer of the Saltillo community, is accustomed to sleeping in her car in below-freezing temperatures, eating peanut butter sandwiches and going for a couple of days without a shower when she’s on a hunt. She has been known to lay in wait for eight hours or more. She will do whatever she has to do to get her shot and bring home her trophies.

“You do whatever you have to do to get the shot,” Palmer said. “I get the same high as game hunters. But the photographs are my trophies.”

She is known around the country for her outdoor photography. A series of wolf shots, photographed by Palmer in 2012, hang in many venues across the United States from Washington D.C. to New York, as well as in a variety of publications. She took those shots in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone Park. She hopes they will bring awareness to the plight of wolves in that area.

“They have been taken off the protected list, and the wolf hunting has started,” she said. A smaller, black wolf, she refers to as Spitfire, in that series may be one of the only Lamar Canyon Pack still left in the park, she said. The second wolf appearing in the series, referred to as 776, hasn’t been spotted in some time.

Since photographing Spitfire, Palmer has monitored the wolf’s movement and lifestyle, watching her go from a yearling to mothering seven pups. She also is a bit feisty and loves playing with bison. The wolf wears a GPS collar, and wolf watchers who are in the park on a daily basis keep her updated. Palmer is known to many of them simply as the Lady with a Camera, which is the trademark name that appears on her photographs. Some in the other states refer to her as the gal with the Southern accent.

“I can probably tell you more about what is going on in Yellowstone than I can tell you about what is going on down the road from me,” Palmer said.

On average, Palmer makes three or four trips per year to Yellowstone. She knows the route there like the back of her hand, and it takes her about 22 hours to drive. She drives 11 hours per day and she spends one night in Goodland, Kan., in a KOA on her route. She packs her own food, and unless she is traveling with others, she carries a tent and sleeps in it. She said she doesn’t like the tent subdivisions and prefers camping in a more primitive fashion. While in the park, she said, she might put a thousand miles on her vehicle.

Her routine is to leave her campsite before light and not return until dark. Because she may have to go without a shower, she keeps plenty of baby wipes handy. She has her photography pack down, she said, to a tripod, two camera bodies and a couple of lens, including one that is 500mm.

While she is a wolf advocate, she realizes they are predators that kill to eat. “They are not sweet, loving puppy dogs,” she said. She makes it clear that she is not opposed to hunting animals for a food supply but that’s not her cup of tea.

Palmer developed her love for the outdoors as a young girl. Referring to herself, she said she was born in Memphis “a city girl.” Her family moved to the Ozarks when she was about 7 to allow her dad to pursue his dream. He is a member of the band Black Oak Arkansas. In the Ozarks, she discovered her love for the outdoors. The woods and outdoor streams were her playgrounds.

About 10 years ago, she said she re-discovered her love for the outdoors and started developing her photography skills.

Her ultimate goal, for now, is to photograph a bear. However, she hasn’t been able to be in the right place at the right time yet. She said to be successful, she has learned that you must think like a hunter and do your homework on the habitat of animals. She has immersed herself in the education and hopes for success soon. Her husband, Charlie, “for the most part,” she said, supports her efforts. He has purchased a pop-up, camo blind for her to use in the woods and she is hopeful that will help. She will use it now, rather than using her car. On that note, she tells about getting scrapes on the side of his car once using it as a blind.

Palmer said her sport is not for the girlie-girl. She often emerges from one of her adventures with battle scars. On a recent trip to Smoky Mountain National Park, she decided she needed to get down to a platform on the base of a waterfall. She scaled a “rope trail” hanging onto the sides going down. The rocks, covered in mud, were much slicker than she imagined. Once down, she decided she might have bitten off more than she could chew. Her husband had declined to follow and stood at the top watching. She said she kept thinking, “if I can’t make it back up, they are going to have to send in a helicopter after me and that is going to cost a lot of money.” After many attempts, she finally made it to the top, tired and with scrapes, bleeding and covered in mud.

“But I got the shot,” she added, a smile on her face.

On that note, she has been involved with many other comical adventures. Once, she was hanging out the window of a car being driven by a friend while she was taking photos in Yellowstone. A huge bison came into view. The puffin pad she was using to stabilize her camera went out the window. Her friend broke the cardinal rule and stopped for her to get out and get the pad. The bison started toward her. She was closer to a mini-van filled with strangers. She charged toward their car and asked if she could get inside to avoid the charge. She didn’t have to get inside but she did get the OK if there was a need.

Palmer’s work is displayed in many Arkansas locations. She has been recognized for a snowy owl she photographed in Little Rock.

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