An Hour, A Trail, and a Camera

August 21, 2012. Twenty one days down, ten to go. On-lookers may reason we’re on the downhill side, but August is a lopsided mountain in student affairs – the climb, the long-haul, just keeps going until it suddenly stops somewhere in the vicinity of Labor Day (if we are lucky and our students stay sane, safe, and sober).

I was at my desk. I had reached the limit of my ability to reason clearly and push forward with the paperwork that has piled up while I’ve been training the Resident Assistants. I looked at the clock. It was only 5:20 on a beautiful afternoon. No evening session planned. I wasn’t on call.

So I bolted.

I was possessed by a sudden, single-minded energy. I had not planned it, nor had I thought of doing it until that moment. It just popped into my brain as a whole thought, and I practically tripped over my own feet in my attempt to move quickly (the fear of getting stopped by someone’s need as I try to leave campus is a very real one in August). I was home, changed, and on my way within minutes.

I saw others setting foot on the path as I pulled into parking at the Indian Creek Nature Center. But once I set out on the trail, camera in hand, I did not see another human being for a full hour. As I walked, I felt my entire body relax. My breathing deepened, and I felt my soul open up, not like a flower to the sun but like a jack-in-the-box, swiftly and all at once. I have never been a  “granola” girl, but as my physical fitness has improved I’ve discovered that getting out in nature, on foot or by bicycle, has the automatic effect of releasing any tension I carry. I relax completely.

I’ve also discovered that taking my camera has an interesting impact on my experience of nature. I feel myself expand as the tension leaves my body. And the camera exerts an opposite pull: that of focusing my attention. It would seem that expansion and focus are opposites. But in the context of nature photography, they not only coexist, they paradoxically enhance one another. As my being reaches out to the natural world surrounding me, my camera lens selects something on which to focus and I see the place and the moment in striking detail. I see light, color, texture and find I am also more grounded, able to use my other senses more extensively.

I spent one hour on my own – just me, my camera, and a few critters (both seen and unseen). By the time I returned to the parking lot, my shoulders were no longer hunched up to my ears, I was breathing normally, and (best of all) no sense of panic or worry remained in my head or thumping heart.

And now that I’ve used my words to describe the experience, I thought you might like to see some of what I saw on my short journey of expansion and focus (I took 100+ photos, so this is truly a sampling):












The Fall of A Sparrow

Three weekends ago, my friend Mike came into my house via the side door saying, “Did you know you have a bird’s nest above this door?” I said that it had been there and empty since I moved in. He said, “Well, it’s not empty now, I just scared a little bird out of it.” And sure enough, when I asked him to check, there were eggs in the nest. We were worried the smell of his fingers touching the eggs might keep the mother away, but soon she was happily sitting the nest, keeping her eggs warm. On Sunday, after Mike left to return to Minneapolis, I pulled out a step stool and snapped the shot, above, of the little speckled eggs.

That weekend, we were marvelling at the early spring that had arrived in the midwest. We made a point to start using the front door, in order to cause less disturbance to the little bird family nesting in the side awning. And we made friends with the neighbor’s cats, who do love to sun on my porch and rest in the shade beneath my front bushes. One beautiful tiger cat was especially friendly, lying at our feet and stretching to expose his belly to be scratched.

Every day I’ve watched the progress of life in the little nest. I haven’t wanted to get too close, since any movement at the side of the house sent the mama bird flying away to distract attention from the nest. I’ve exclusively used the front door, even when arriving home after dark, fumbling with my key and crossing the pitch black living room to find a light switch. Finally, last night, I noticed a change. Tiny movements in the nest, tiny chirps – the little chicklets had hatched. I plan to take the afternoon off work tomorrow, and thought it might be a good time to attempt a photo of the hatchlings to go with the one, above, of the eggs.

This morning, I woke and went to the gym for my TRX class. It was a hard class, and I returned home physically wrung out. I turned on the tea kettle to boil water for my morning coffee, and sat down at my computer to put the finishing touches on today’s blog entry. Suddenly, there was a loud noise at the side of the house, much like someone attempting to break down the side door. My heart leapt into action, hammering hard and fast in a fear response. I ran to the side door, thinking that whomever was trying to break into my house might go away if they realized I was still inside.

The sight that greeted me was not what I expected. The tiger cat looked up at me from a crouched position, obviously startled in the middle of something. And that’s when I thought of the nest. Opening the screen door, I was greeted by the sight of five little birdlings, gasping their final breaths on the cement at my feet, the nest that had sheltered them hanging like a straw beard from the awning above them.

Death took all but one within seconds of their fall. The last and largest of the hatchlings lived for maybe two minutes. There was absolutely nothing I could do, except witness the little thing’s passing.

For some reason, I really wanted those little birdlets to live. I’ve never watched a nest before, never been so engaged before in this process, not even as a child. I wondered how I would be able to bring myself to dispose of their little bodies. Luckily, I was spared that task by the arrival of Tom, the facilities groundskeeper who tends my lawn. He is such a kind-hearted man that though it saddened him, too, he agreed to do the grisly clean up.

But even in my sadness, I can’t hold it against the tiger cat. He was just being his cat self. Next time I see him, I’ll reach down and rub his belly the way he likes me to. And I’ll be reminded that sometimes our role in the day is to be a witness to this amazing world and to the life that inhabits it. We get so caught up in being actors in our lives, deciding and speaking and moving. Sometimes simply, silently, witnessing is necessary, too. Necessary for us and for our world.