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  • Jere Folgert

The Yosemite International Film Festival

Honorable Mention Award at the Yosemite International Film Festival. Adventures of the American Pika directed by Jere Folgert

Pikas, Perseverance, and Precarious Parenting: My 3-Year Odyssey with America's Fluffiest Acrobats

The American Pika. Those adorable little bundles of fluff that resemble stress balls with oversized ears.  They're nature's living teddy bears, perpetually wide-eyed and bouncing across talus slopes like popcorn kernels on a hot skillet. But capturing these pint-sized Picassos of the rabbit world on film? That, my friends, is an adventure worthy of its own epic documentary.

For three glorious (and slightly deranged) years, I, Jere Folgert, embarked on a quest that would test the limits of my sanity, my hiking boots, and my ability to differentiate between pika squeaks and my own mounting hysteria. 

Picture this: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon – a scenic smorgasbord of mountains, all crawling with these furry daredevils. My days were a blur of chasing puffballs across treacherous slopes, dodging grizzly bear scat (and the occasional grizzly itself – let's just say I developed a newfound appreciation for bear spray!), and desperately trying to film these Pika speed demons before they vanished into a convenient rock crevice.

Imagine the frustration!  Here I am, lugging enough camera equipment to outfit a small wildlife network, only to have my star disappear faster than a politician's campaign promise.  But amidst the chaos, there were moments of pure, unadulterated magic. Capturing a pika mid-yawn, revealing a mouth full of impossibly tiny teeth. Filming a daring escape from a hungry short-tailed weasel (spoiler alert: the pika lived!). Witnessing their intricate social networks, a symphony of squeaks and whistles that would put a dolphin convention to shame.

These experiences were the fuel that kept me going, the reason I braved the elements, the justification for the questionable fashion choices necessitated by weeks of living out of a backpack (trust me, "trail chic" can only take you so far).

Life can sucker punch you harder than a runaway tumbleweed in a Montana hail storm . In a blink, I found myself dealing with a double whammy that would leave a lesser man weeping into his mescal at the bottom of a dusty bar. First, my died, leaving a void the size of the Grand Canyon in his wake. Then, Cassidy, my canine companion, my furry confidante with a perpetually wagging tail, crossed the rainbow bridge. Let me tell you, the silence in the house was enough to make a cricket contemplate a career change.

Let me tell you a tale as serious as a mushroom's spore print, yet with a sprinkle of humor that my dear old dad would surely appreciate. Picture this: one day, my pops decided to take a stroll into the great beyond, leaving behind a gap so vast, it could rival the expanse of the Grand Canyon itself.

You see, when he wasn't busy enlightening young minds with the wonders of English and History, he was out there in the wild, exploring the intricate world of fungi like a true mycologist extraordinaire. Oh, the stories he'd weave about the hidden life beneath our feet! So, as I bid farewell to my dear ol' pops, I can't help but imagine him now, perhaps frolicking with the forest sprites or swapping tales with the wise old trees. Rest assured, his legacy lives on, teaching me not just about the pages of history, but also about the delicate dance of nature that he cherished so dearly.

Antidepressants? Nah. Therapy? Overpriced whining with a copay. My cure came with a side of fresh mountain air and a healthy dose of adorable. I funneled my grief into the glorious pursuit of the American pika. Those little balls of fluff, defying gravity on talus slopes, became my furry therapists. Chasing them across the American West – Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon – may have set my bank account on a hunger strike (gas money and car repairs, anyone?), but it was a heck of a lot cheaper (and more effective) than listening to someone in a tweed jacket tell me about their childhood issues.  

Because in the grand scheme of the universe, what better way to honor the memory of loved ones than by getting out there, soaking up the beauty of nature, and chasing fuzzy bundles of joy across mountains?  So yeah, the pikas may not have cured my grief entirely, but they sure did give it a good talking to.

But then, life, as it so often does, threw me another curveball.  Identical twin boys, bouncing into the world with the same boundless energy as the pikas I'd been chasing.  Suddenly, the allure of chasing American Pikas across mountains diminished (although, let's be honest, the thrill of dodging diaper explosions is a whole different kind of adrenaline rush).

So, with a heart full of pika love and a backpack full of slightly dusty camera equipment, I hung up my metaphorical hiking boots and embraced the joys (and challenges) of fatherhood.  And guess what? The dedication it takes to film a documentary about pikas is nothing compared to the unwavering commitment required to raise twin toddlers.  

Both endeavors require a healthy dose of patience, a bottomless well of energy, and the unwavering belief that eventually, you'll get a decent night's sleep (spoiler alert: again).

But hey, the sacrifices were worth it.  In the end, "Adventures of the American Pika" not only captured the hearts of audiences (and snagged an Honorable Mention at the Yosemite International Film Festival, no big deal!), but it also documented a pivotal chapter in my own personal journey.

If you are luckly enough to watch a pika frolicking on a talus slope, remember the blood, sweat, and (hopefully) very few tears that went into capturing their story.  And for all the aspiring wildlife filmmakers out there, I say this: Go for it! Just make sure you have a good babysitter lined up, because trust me, these furry little Pika ninjas will take you on a wild ride.

By - Jere Folgert 2017 Yosemite Film Festival Award Winners

The Yosemite International Film Festival is a non-traditional film festival and awards competition created as a platform to provide worthy films and filmmakers with recognition for their filmmaking and screenwriting achievements.

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