It was my own fault because when we went down to the wedding in Virginia, many of us were sharing a car, and that morning I had put my cameras in the trunk of the car, and my niece was taking the car to run an errand for just an hour. But as things go, and should be expected to go on a family wedding weekend, that errand had stretched into many errands and several hours and the thing was, I needed my cameras.
Because I had discovered the egret rookery with hundreds of Great White Egrets flying around and this was the last evening I had left to take their pictures. So I considered the fact that Ansel Adams probably never had to wait for his niece to get back with his cameras. And I contemplated the fact that photography was the only thing that I had ever done just for me. And so I told my sister that I needed my cameras. Now.
And then I called my niece and I deliberately kept my voice calm and level, although she would probably disagree, and I very sweetly asked when she was coming back because I needed my cameras. And she, who had been running errands for other people all day, also spoke calmly and said that she would be back as soon as was humanly possible.
So I walked to where she was expected to arrive and I paced and waited and carefully thanked her, but by then I was pretty upset, partly because I needed my cameras and partly because I was being such an ass. By then there was a dinner going on, but I skipped it, and began to take my pictures, and the kindest thing, the best thing was that since I hadn’t eaten all day, my sister walked to where I was taking the pictures and brought me some food, carefully selecting the things I might like. And I thanked her profusely and the misery drained from the whole situation.
I had offered my nephew that he should come and also take some pictures. And when he arrived I explained to him in my professional voice that bird photography is the hardest kind of photography, because the birds are moving so fast and so far away, and because the telephoto lenses are heavy and it’s hard to hold them and site them properly under so much magnification. I said he should not be disappointed if he only got a few good ones. And then I gave him my camera and the best light of the day.
Well, Matthew is a baseball player, skilled in tracking little white objects as they hurl across the sky, and he has many muscles to hold up the camera and the reflexes of an athlete. He had the best time. He kept saying, “This is crazy!” He got excited about what was possible, and that was the entire point. And he took 457 pictures, really well sited and focused, as good as the camera and the distance would allow. They were better than the ones I had taken. It took me a month to get over it.
So I did go back to Block Island and I did get on with my life. And now we have taken our boat to the mainland because we needed some repairs. And do you know who is coming and landing right next to our boat, several times a day? An egret. A beautiful egret, so close that if she had whites in her eyes I could get them in the pictures.
It was wonderful to have all those hundreds of egrets in Virginia, but to take the best egret pictures of my life, I only needed one bird. And what I might lack in muscles I make up in stealth and persistence. And I’m going back to Virginia next year, because even though I have many pictures of egrets, I could always use some more. And because if there is one thing I have learned in the course of being a photographer, it’s that life will always give me more pictures, as many as I need.