Big Sky photographer Mike Haring fits right in with this shot of bighorn sheep. This grey owl was captured, in photo only, by Haring as he watched the bird on the hunt in Big Sky. Brook trout, say hello to the human. Mike Haring discovered them when he went snorkeling up Swan Creek in September.

The art of his adventure

Local globetrotter and photographer embraces a beautiful life

Mike Haring stuffed $600 in his pocket and bought a one-way ticket to Europe when he was 21 years old. He stayed for 13 months – surviving by playing music on the streets.

“This was 1985,” he explained. “There were no cell phones; no credit cards.”

It was in those formative years that adventure and travel were established as a life focus for Haring. He introduced a camera more seriously into the mix about five years later. 

As a result, much of his life can be summed-up in two words: artistic adventure.

Initially, his desire for adventure was the driving force for him to photograph, but he has evolved over the years: now, the desire to photograph wildlife is the driving force for his adventures.

He just returned from traversing over 3,000 miles in Namibia – a journey primarily focused on wildlife photography.

The lens of his camera has seen the magnificence, brutality and beauty of nature. He has photographed all three types of rhinoceros on the endangered species list: the black, the white and the Asian one-horned.

“I’ve seen orcas and humpback whales leap out of the water. I’ve seen a cheetah run at 70 miles per hour to track down a gazelle,” he said. “I just found a hole on Swan Creek that had 50 fish in it. And they’re looking up at me like, ‘What are you doing here?’”

While he considers it almost a moral and professional obligation to capture endangered species before they leave this planet, the artist in him appreciates any creature that allows for him to see into their life – a glimpse of the purity and simplicity of the natural world.

He also appreciates the ones that don’t eat him, he quipped. Being in the wilderness as he so often is has led to some close calls.

Al Malinowski considers his longstanding friendship with Haring his good fortune. The friends have traveled to Alaska five times together.

“I’m lucky to go with Mike and see that his photos capture the moment perfectly,” he said.

He remembers one time in Katmai National Park and Preserve when the friends were standing on a sandbar in the middle of the Brooks River. Haring was photographing brown bears. Malinowski was holding the monopod in the river, making sure it didn’t shake so Haring could get the photo. All the sudden a sow brown bear and her three cubs came very near. The men panicked a bit because Montana logic is to never get between a sow and her cubs.

“We saw them and suddenly mom’s gone. In about 10 minutes she showed back up. When she was back they all went scampering to her,” Malinowski said.

The duo told a park ranger the story. Her immediate response was, “Oh, you were babysitting.” She wasn’t kidding, he said. Humans were viewed as nonthreatening and safe to sow grizzlies in that area – where male cubs are under continuous threat by male brown bears.

Controversial figure Timothy Treadwell also spent time there and a popular topic of conversation for park rangers who spoke of him to Haring and Malinowski. Treadwell lived with the brown bears in the park for 13 summers. He would document himself treating grizzly bears similarly to domestic dogs in footage that would later be used in Werner Herzog’s documentary “Grizzly Man” – created after Treadwell and his girlfriend were mauled and eaten by a bear in the park after the berry crop failed in 2003.

Creatures of the mountains and the sea have reminded Haring of his vulnerability in the wild. He ventures into their realm as respectfully as possible, he said.  While he’s only been bluff charged by a bear once, he’s been chased by cow moose three times. One had a calf and the other – which actually chased him twice – had a grizzly bear on the other side, so she viewed Haring as the “lesser of the two evils.”

Haring was in a sea kayak off the coast of the San Juan Islands when an orca kept turning around him. “He came up about 20 feet away and kind of looked at me,” he said. “That was a ‘clean your drawers’ moment.’”

Perhaps even more impressive than all of Haring’s adventuring is that he somehow found a way to weave all the things he loves into his life: nature, science, music, wildlife and art. He played music for 30-plus years and can sometimes be found at gigs in Big Sky, strumming his guitar and singing with photos he took on his adventures playing on a slideshow behind him.

With his background in mathematics and physics, his appreciation of scientific precision is folded into his craft. “Photography is very technical. It’s just a big problem-solving adventure,” he said.

When other people grew up and perhaps forgot about their fascination with the natural world; with the earth’s creatures, Haring did not. He’s okay with that. He admits he’s living the dream he wanted for himself when he picked up a camera in his teens.

“Photography points me in the direction that I go,” he said. 

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