Musings of a roaming nature nerd

Archive for August, 2011

Life without a photograph

My best friend teases me that I need a photograph to remember anything. It’s unfortunately mostly true! However, since I’ve spent more and more time observing nature and fine-tuning my ability to focus I find that I do vividly remember certain images and occurrences without a photo. A photo captures a moment, captures a fleeting feeling, makes it easy to connect to the past. In the absence of a camera or with the decision not to use one, I absolutely must focus on the present and thereby often find myself much more in touch with the details of the situation and with the subsequent memory. I enjoy reliving some of these moments captured without the camera.

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I walked alone up a dirt track in the sun and the sage, toward Idaho. Slowly climbing into hills frequented by mule deer, mountain lions and melodious birds of all kinds. Already my heart had pounded in rhythm with the thumping hooves of two mule deer bounding fast down a small wash next to me. I had not seen what startled these two huge bucks into full force flight, but my heartbeat did not settle until long after their thundering bounds had faded. Even more alert than before I refocused myself on the colors of the popping wildflowers and the sounds of the birds I sought. I enjoyed the bright flashes of orange and black from Spotted Towhees kicking at the ground for insects and fluttering from bush to bush singing and mewing their strange shrill call.

I sat in the humble shadow of a choke cherry for a water break and surveyed the baking hillsides in front of me. As I settled in, the mewing of the nearby Towhees grew stronger and from one spot a hundred meters away a distressed sounding mewing carried on and on. Lazily and with half hearted curiosity I raised my binoculars in that direction and landed on the most adorable, fuzzy, red face of a baby fox! Having mistaken its little cries for a slightly odd bird call, I almost missed this wonderful discovery.

For several minutes the kit cried and barely moved from it’s sanctuary of sage. The parent did not appear while I watched, and nervous that somehow my presence might be hindering the natural flow, I moved on. When I passed by later, the mewing had ceased and the kit disappeared from view. No photo. No memento. Yet a beautiful image still remained.

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Other memories hold just as strong and clear. Watching a doe chase a coyote at full force down and up and around a hillside! The coyote running for its life from those flying hooves of a no-doubt protective mama.

The dancing of tiny feet on my head, which woke me after a night spent under the stars! Disentangling myself from my sleeping bag, the tiny feet leapt away and I looked up to see a chipmunk scurrying up the side of the truck- looking back at me just as startled as I!

No photo captured the little fox, the angry doe, the tiny dancing feet, but the observations and the memories are complete. Photography is something I greatly value and enjoy both as art and as a tool of documentary. Training the mind to focus and be present enough to remember details without looking through the lens is a skill I’m discovering to be priceless.