Daniel Biggs, La Grande native and production manager for Blue Mountain Television in Walla Walla, Washington, spent the last 15 months where the wild things are — among the 400-mile-long, 100-mile-wide Blue Mountains.
Stretching northeast from the center of Oregon into the southern corner of Washington, then southeast toward the Oregon/Idaho border, the “Blues” are a magnificent, omnipresent fixture on the horizon. Biggs’ newest production for BMT, “Secret Life of the Forest,” aims to capture mountain life in all its intricacies — from the smallest, most delicate plants and fungi on the forest floor to the Blues’ fiercest predators.
Biggs and series narrator Mike Denny comprised a two-man production crew for the entirety of the series, focusing the majority of their efforts in the northern Blue Mountains (north of Interstate 84). The two met and became friends when Denny was interviewed for another BMT production, “Valley Viewpoint.” Biggs later pitched the idea of a series on the Blues, to which Denny, a naturalist who had been studying the Blue Mountains over the last 40 years, agreed.
“It turned out to be a huge project, and a lot of time and energy was spent on it,” Biggs said. “We both were passionate about it — I love photography and he loves explaining the Blue Mountains.”
Working as photographer and editor, Biggs followed Denny into the forest — shooting a combined 15,000 photo and video files for the 13-part series over the course of their explorations. The series premiered Sept. 23 on BMT with a look at the smallest, most basic forms of wildlife — such as native plants, flowers and fungi — and will progress to insects, amphibians and reptiles, fish, birds and mammals.
“What Mike wanted to do was show the relationships between living systems — between the soil and the plants, the plants and the insects (and so on), so we’d start from the base of the foothills and work our way up to higher areas,” Biggs said.
While it might be assumed that documenting nature would require miles of strenuous hiking deep into the wilderness, Biggs said that usually wasn’t the case.
“We’d get on county roads and go for a ride up in the Blues and see most of the stuff from the roads,” he said of the filming process. “There was a loose goal — we would go where we knew we could film (specific) things — but everytime we went out we were finding something new and special to shoot. Oftentimes we’d come (upon) unexpected treasures — certain wildlife or plants we didn’t expect to see.”
With Denny’s expertise — knowing, for example, the area in which a particular animal is likely to be encountered, or when and where certain plants would be in bloom — the pair would venture out to document their subjects. Biggs said most animals hardly acknowledged their presence, though some, like birds, were especially tricky to capture on camera. For larger predators, such as wolves, bears and cougars, Biggs relied in part on trail camera shots provided by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Having grown up in La Grande, documenting the series was especially poignant for Biggs.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Blues, but it wasn’t until I hung out with (Denny) that it really became special to me,” he said. “The first time I went out with (Denny) and he was explaining how (things) have to fight for survival, and all have their perfect little role they play — that they were there for a reason — I found myself tippy-toeing out of the forest. Everything became precious to me because of how it had a function (and) a purpose.”
Though the series covers hundreds of species, Biggs laments that due to the vast amount of plant and animal life existing in the Blues, it wasn’t possible to include everything in the final series. Nonetheless, he hopes those who watch will glean something from the series.
“I hope we see the Blue Mountains as a treasure and appreciate it on a different level. I expect people are going to hear and see some things they never knew existed in the Blues and have an appreciation they maybe didn’t have before,” Biggs said. “We can pass by a lot of beautiful things and just not see or take the time to look at (them).”
Though filming has concluded, Biggs is still working in post-production.
“The amount of editing is intense. I’ve (finished) about seven episodes out of 13,” he said.
Despite the workload, the process has allowed for a deeper education of the surroundings he’s known for a lifetime.
“We have a relationship to the Blue Mountains — it’s where we get our drinking water, it’s the air we breathe (and) the trees that produce our oxygen,” Biggs said. “What I’ve learned, being out in the woods with someone who really understands it, is everything is reliant on relationships. All species need things, and without (those things) there are problems and consequences. But it’s also beautiful — you see (everything) working in harmony together.”
“Secret Life of the Forest” airs Sundays at 7 p.m. on Blue Mountain Television, and can be streamed live at www.bmt.tv or the BMT Roku channel. Rebroadcasts run Wednesdays at 5 p.m. and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m.