The confidence of youth | Gulch View

By Arnie Hammerman, Japanese Gulch Group | Dec 04, 2013
Courtesy of: Hadyn Hammerman Hadyn Hammerman, 14, snapped this photo of an owl in Japanese Gulch.

A few weeks ago, my oldest son Hadyn and I listened to Paul Bannick, an acclaimed wildlife expert and photographer, give a lecture in conjunction with the Japanese Gulch Group.

Paul gave a very inspiring presentation, which included some fantastic pictures of owls in flight, hunting, nesting and even feeding their young.

The next day, Hadyn asked me if he could borrow our "good" camera to take a picture of an owl in the gulch.

I have walked the trails in Japanese Gulch hundreds of times, but in all my years of going there I have only seen an owl once, so my confidence in finding an owl that day was pretty low.

That said, I did not want to curb his new found enthusiasm for wildlife photography, so I did not say a word.

Upon entering the forest, I was overcome by the solemnity of the place. Literally steps from the streets of our city, once you are inside the gulch it is a different world.

The transformation is never lost on me. That feeling of escape into the peacefulness of the forest is one thing that keeps me focused on saving this land.

Every time I go into the gulch, I realize how special this place is and how truly disturbing it would be if we allowed someone to bulldoze this forest to build something as mundane as some warehouses.

We wandered the trails, taking photos of interesting trees, mushrooms and fallen logs as we went. Hadyn lead the way with a camera slung around his neck.

"I know where an owl lives," he explained to me with an air of certainty.

I followed him, even though I was pretty sure that finding an owl just because we set off to do so was going to be a little harder than he thought.

As we wound our way through the trails, the light began to fade to dusk even though it was only around 4 p.m. Hadyn, our dog and I kept going deeper into the woods in search of an owl.

"There is an owl that lives over here in this section, we just need to go a little further," he explained to me as a matter of fact.

“The one time I had seen an owl, it was in the opposite direction of where we are headed,” I told him, trying not to sound too discouraging.

"A little further," he encouraged me, and totally ignoring my hint that we might not actually see an owl.

We plodded on further and came to a clearing between two great stands of large trees. Hadyn stopped and took the camera off his neck.

"He lives around here," he said, and I just looked at him, not saying a word.

We stood there, looking around for less than a minute, when suddenly the silence was broken by a fluttering sound. A large owl flew across our path and landed in a tree on the other side of the trail not 50 feet from us.

To say I was surprised was an understatement. I could not believe that there was an owl exactly where Hadyn somehow knew it would be.

He tried to take a picture of the bird in flight but didn’t get much. We adjusted the camera for fast motion and trudged off the trail into the brush to get close enough to the owl for a picture.

Hadyn forged ahead, and the dog and I followed trying to keep quiet and not scare the owl.

Maybe 30 feet off the trail, Hadyn worked himself into a clearing and silently raised the camera, taking a picture of the owl perched on a branch.

"See, Dad, I told you I would get a picture of an owl," Hadyn said, beaming.

I had to hand it to him, that despite my skepticism he had accomplished what I thought was only a pipe dream.

As we cut through the woods back toward the trail, I marveled at the success of our expedition. I couldn't have been more proud. We had our owl picture.

I realized that my son, who is only 14, has a connection with the world that is far closer than my own. His youthful attitude was not clouded by years of experience or the statistical logic of doubt, as mine surely was.

Interacting with the forest and its creatures and the life lessons it teaches us is of unparalleled importance.

Saving Japanese Gulch is not just about preserving some trees or some animals, it is about providing access to nature for our children, grandchildren and all generations to come so they can learn and grow.

Japanese Gulch Group is holding a photo contest. You’re invited to go into the gulch and take some pictures of your own – maybe you too will see an owl. The contest ends this Saturday, Dec. 7, so act now.

Register at With your entry fee, you will receive a free T-shirt. Best of all, you will be contributing to preserving and maintaining the property in Japanese Gulch for community use.

Please join us, as we need your help with this historic purchase. Be part of the solution. Twenty years from now, when you walk through this forest, you can tell your grandchildren that you helped save this land.

Arnie Hammerman is the president of the Japanese Gulch Group. Email him at

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