Sleep In The Dirt

Boundless & Free: Wildlife Filmmakers Traveling America

The Campfire Chronicles

Somewhere beyond the hours of hurry, these are the moments of still that I savor. Camera down. Shoes off. I breathe in the wild, free, open air of mountainous New Mexico. Breathe out the day’s right doings and wrongdoings. I’m surrounded by sacred country, soaking in the crack in time, a wrinkle in possibilities for what lies ahead the next day. My mind races – did the trap cameras capture the mountain lion mom and her cubs at the elk kill site? Will the coyotes feast on a snow goose? Does the elusive Bosque del Apache bobcat dare to appear in the daytime?

Tonight I trekked out a little farther down the campground, carrying my superlight shelter and diligently constructing my spacious home for the night. As the sun sleeps and stars awake, I take a precious moment to pause, and just look up. I didn’t dare put on my rain fly – the fiercest adventure females at Big Agnes crafted the Tufly tent with a mesh top, making stargazing as a priority. Above me lies the best-rated hotel around – the beautiful, billion-star luxury suite featuring the mysterious, infinite galaxy. Lost in wonder, that’s when it hits me – who needs a roof when you’ve got the sky?

We were all born wild, restless creatures. Yet somewhere along the way, our affinity for the wild and our innate connection with the outdoors has been challenged with devices and technology. Everything is so instantaneous. It’s now easier than ever to be in a rush. Time seems to fly by. For myself and my two best friends, Filipe and Brian, we find ourselves pulled repeatedly into a paradox of hurry and calm. We’re currently traveling the country in Florence, an old ambulance that we converted into a sprinter van, filming the most unique wildlife across the US.

Our voyage demands the rush (react quickly so that we don’t miss filming dolphins launching themselves up onto banks to catch mullet fish) just as much as it does patience (boating around aimlessly for hours in search of a crocodile or monkey). Wildlife filmmaking is, in essence, the calm before, during, and after the storm. In that uncertainty, the three of us thrive and have come to appreciate the wild spaces and creatures that our country hosts.

Home on the road is the wild backcountry. We live amongst the mountains, rivers, and swamplands. Each night we pull up the van, take out our tents and Sugarloaf Shelter, and create our own community; one where we’re able to calm down and unwind from our busy rush of filming.

While traveling on this project, I’ve grown in countless ways as a filmmaker, storyteller, and human. I’ve witnessed dolphins hydroplaning, the aftermath of a crocodile devouring an alligator, monkeys swimming, jumping spiders mating, coyotes hunting, and bald eagles stealing from ospreys, all of which began to reignite my sense of wonder for the world. One of my favorite wildlife moments was flying a Harris’ Hawk at our campground in the wild west of New Mexico. A beautiful yet powerful creature, the desert bird of prey, these hawks flew with freedom and grace. One even decided to make my Tufly his home – a pure, symbolic snapshot of the freedom of the outdoors.

In between the rush and calm of these voyages into wildlife refuges and national parks and campgrounds, I experienced a powerful change in perspective; an awakening to the fragility of our natural world. It’s not our job to impede; so much as it is to appreciate. After all, we are all just visitors here, and we must all be pioneers for protecting our planet. Sometimes all it takes is removing the roof, and riveting in the untamed air of the sky.

McKenzie Barney, Producer – @comforttheory,

Untamed is a 10-part digital documentary series that launches on Nat GeoWILD’s YouTube March 14. Catch the trailer here:

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