I went to Patchaug State Forest on the way to work on the boat this week. I went in the back way. There was a big marsh with many birds, and two waterfalls, and bridges over the falls. There was a parking lot next to a little cottage. The cottage was modest but nicely kept. There were signs of careful attention, and of the particular French Canadian esthetic that came with the workers who once filled the textile mills in Eastern Connecticut. Everything was clean and freshly painted. Every leaf and blade of grass was in its place. There was a lighthouse, about five feet tall, with pilings and real dock lines neatly wrapped around them. On the pilings were wooden pelicans. There was a black metal eagle over the garage, and four large concrete lions were sitting on their haunches, guarding the sidewalk that led to the front door.
I got out of the car and I thought that Wilson and Molly would stay with me, so I was organizing my cameras and lenses. I looked up in time to see the dogs scampering straight to the man’s front door. He was there with his little grand-daughter. I hurried toward the dogs, but the man called out, “Don’t worry! Don’t worry.” I knew I was in the wrong, but the man’s kindness made me more willing to admit it. I said, “I should have been paying closer attention.” He said, “They’re wonderful. This one is older isn’t he?” I said, “You have a beautiful spot here. You’re very kind about the dogs.” To aerate the point, Wilson chose that moment to pee on the man’s perfect shrubs. I said, “I’m sorry.” He said, “They have to do that, you know.”
So I left the man, liking him so much that I wanted to buy the house next door or buy him a house on Block Island so that I could have him for a neighbor, and I thought about the times when it is very important to fight for something and times when it is not important at all.
I went off to see the birds, and I love the earliest days of spring, when the birds are full of electric energy. I saw this big guy coming in for a carrier landing.
I used my telephoto and got a few more pictures of birds, but then I decided to use my close-up lens, because there were these leaves. I love these also, these remnants that have stayed through a brutal winter, getting thinner and more transparent, but still holding on. All this fragile strength, all this staying to the very end with the light coming through, all the beautiful ways in which the beating they have taken has changed them, this is what I wanted to show you.
And then I got interested in the waterfall. It was yellowy brown from all the tannins, from decaying leaves in the water. I take so many pictures of the ocean, and I’m not used to water this color. I considered making black and white pictures, but then I thought, “This is the clear, clean color of a living system. How can I think that’s not good?” In any case, I thought it would be interesting… I never get this close to crashing water, not with my camera in my hand. Here was my chance to see what was happening right inside. I set the shutter speed to 1/2500th of a second, just to see what that would do, and then I switched to much longer exposures.
I realize that living next to the state forest the way he does, that man must get a lot of people, right there next to his yard. Some of them might not be watching their dogs the way they should, and some of them might leave litter, or misbehave in other ways, and it would be reasonable to expect the he would have gotten a perfectly justifiable attitude about it by now. He could have put “no trespassing” signs all over the place. But he didn’t. Not at all. In fact, I get the feeling he enjoyed seeing us.
I’m still thinking about him, because he made me see how it was in this particular case, how it can be when someone decides they can just relax about something. I took a nice picture from across the pond, with the light on the water, and his yard and his lions and his pretty house. I thought I’d print it for him and drop it off some time, to thank him.