I intended to have these pictures for you in the middle of November. Then we had the election, and I didn’t have the heart put them in the blog. But I can do it now. So here they are and I want to say a few things about them.
I just had a few minutes to stop by the fish hatchery to give our dog, Molly, a little walk. It was already mid-morning. I thought I had missed the good morning light and I thought all the birds would have had their breakfast and gone. But I brought my camera anyway, just on general principle. As I walked through the woods and over the small hill that runs down to the fish ponds, I saw something odd in the closest tree. It looked like a big squirrel’s nest or a bag of feathers. I still wasn’t sure what it was, but then it suddenly flew and I was able to get a few pictures. They weren’t very good pictures but by then, I was starting to wonder… I knew it was a big hawk at least, but could it be possible, down that low? Then I played the pictures back inside the camera. And yes, by God, it was an eagle.
I’d never seen an eagle down in the trees like that but only way up in the sky or out of reach on the high-tension wires. I thought I had lost my chance and kept on walking. Then on the other side of the ponds, there he was again, in the lower branches of a tree. I started to try to be stealthy, walking perpendicular to the place where he was, first using a building and then a truck as a blind.
As if that even mattered. As if he hadn’t already seen me from the moment I came over the hill, and possibly from the moment I arrived at the hatchery. I finally realized he wasn’t afraid of me or of Molly, that he could take us both if he wanted. Then I was free to take picture after picture, to get as close as I felt I could.
I have to tell you the best thing, the very best thing about photography: It is the way I get to be surprised. This is the definition of hope for me, or how I learned to hope, because there have been hundreds if not thousands of times like this, when I went out and I got a picture that was more than I’d ever seen in my whole life, more than I could have imagined.
I will now share with you the most important secrets of the Grace Bochain Luddy school of fine art nature photography. First, go outside. Second, have your camera with you. Oh, and have your battery charged, and your camera turned on and have a memory card in it. And take the lens cap off. And have it set up already so that when something suddenly happens, you won’t have to stop and fiddle around. Third, when you try to talk yourself out of bringing your camera, speak to yourself, as follows.
You: “I don’t want to bring my camera. I’m too tired.” You: “You don’t have to take any pictures. You only have to bring your camera.” You: “Nothing is going to happen. It’s the wrong time of day.” You: “That’s true, but bring your camera.” You: “But don’t you think it’s the experience that matters, and won’t I experience more deeply if I’m in the moment, without having to take any pictures?” You: “You can have your experience. You can be one with the entire universe. Just bring your camera.”
So do this every time. Because I can tell you that the best things have always happened exactly when I didn't expect them to happen.
I also want to tell you about this eagle. He is approximately four years old. I know this because his brown baby eyes have already turned to yellow, and his head and tail have begun to transition from brown to white. I like to think of this eagle, powerfully soaring around at the fish hatchery. I like to think of him there right now. I like to think that he’ll get through the winter, and that he will come into his full adult plumage in due time. And I like to think that when that happens, he will be so fine.