Being Fine

So I took Molly to the vet because she had a little limp.  The vet, a very experienced and wonderful guy by the way, did not want to do a biopsy, so as not to disturb what was likely to be a tumor, but we made a date to have it removed and biopsied at that time.  When he started the surgery, the whole thing went sideways, as the tumor began to explosively bleed.  They had a hard time stabilizing Molly so that I could drive her to a bigger, emergency veterinary place.  Then we had to choose, and this was very dicey, protracted and unclear as we went through it at the time, whether to put her down or take off her leg.  

We took off her leg.  Meantime, Bill was sick at home and also my knee went out, ironically, in the corresponding place to Molly’s problems, so that gave me the opportunity to sit around, worry about Molly, listen to Bill have trouble breathing, look up stuff about the election on the internet and think about death.

After a few days of this I began to realize that this was possibly not the most helpful approach to our situation. So I hopped around and put up some Christmas ornaments.  I also began to explore what I have begun to explore a lot lately, which is the answer to this question:  What does it for me?  I mean, what really works, and I’m sorry but there is no other way to put this, when things start to suck the way they have been sucking lately?

I realized I had to accept the worst thing that could happen to Molly, and I began to do that.  And then I worked on my pictures a little.  And this is the thing I want to say.  It is not the pictures themselves that help me the most, but it is what they imply.  They point to completeness and coherence in nature and to completeness and coherence in life in general.  There’s a way I get to feel it, a way it lives in my body.  Then I can know some light or joy or energy in being, not because of anything that is happening or not happening at the moment, just in being itself.  That’s what helps me sometimes, and even when it doesn’t help, I mean, even when I can’t feel it, I can still remember.

The biopsy results came back and it turns out the decision to take Molly’s leg was a good one.  It is the only thing that could possibly prevent the recurrence of the cancer and she has a reasonable chance.  And she is doing well.  She has a new red sweater to keep her warm where they shaved her for the operation.  Her beautiful eyes are clear and bright. The other day, she chased after another dog, actually ran, forgetting about her missing leg until she suddenly tipped over, but yesterday when she did the same thing again, she stayed upright.  She is getting homemade, organic, grass-fed, high-protein food, with special supplements, and why not?  And Bill is better and I am better.  And Molly loves to rest her head on Bill’s shoulder and gaze into his eyes.  So my dog and my husband are having an affair, and this is alright with me.  And our friend Rich and Kevin and Emily and their families are coming for the holidays. 

So my heart is sending this wish to your heart.  May you feel some energy and wholeness of being through the holidays and in the coming year, and may this carry you and give you some joy.

 

 

 

Eagle

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.

 

 

 

 

 

My Family and Birds and the Democratic National Convention

I like this guy and I've been waiting to have a chance to use him.  I used a little Photoshop, just as an experiment.  A nice Blue Heron blending in with the trees.  He seems to have a definite point of view.

So I went to Nova Scotia in July, where my family has a little house and a lot of land on the Bay of Fundy.  My 87 year-old mother and all six of us children were there with some of our spouses and children. 

It’s interesting how we all grew up in the same family and how we manage to have so many different points of view on everything.  I’ll say that if you put the six of us into the same room, you will hear twelve different opinions.  We established a “no politics” rule when we were in Nova Scotia, partly because we wanted to get through the week without throwing anything at each other.  Our rule worked well, but many of us watched the Democratic National Convention at night and then got into little huddles to talk about it.

I have heard it said that every child grows up in a different family.  Well, I would say that everyone in my family has grown up in a different country, where the same things have happened, but they mean different things, are given different emphasis, and laced with different opinions and placed in a different context.  And for some of us, the differences are bigger than for others.

But this is how we're the same.  My grandfather’s favorite song was the French National Anthem.  This was because it was illegal for him to sing it in what was then pre-revolutionary Russia.  I am proud because despite the fact that he was in the Czar’s personal guard, he managed to think for himself.   When he got to this country, my grandfather sang it all the time, and long after he died, the six of us children would sing it, in French and in English, whenever we drove around in our car, while my father listened with tears in his eyes.  (Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé!) So there was this idea of freedom, what it meant to be able to sing any song we wanted. 

I knew that democracy was important, and I’m struggling now to define what that meant to my father.  It’s so easy to say some words, and we’ve heard them so much that we almost forget what they mean.  All I can tell you is that my father worked very hard.  He was responsible for quality control in a company that made helicopters for the Vietnam War and he went in at six in the morning and came home for dinner and then he went back until ten at night.  He did this for years.  Because he was a supervisor, he did this without overtime pay.  The people who worked for him made two or three times what he made, but as much as he needed the money this wasn’t the most important thing to him.  He said that his sons or his nephews could be in those helicopters and that none of them would fall from the sky if he could prevent it.  It was as if they were all his sons and nephews.  It was as if they were all worth any amount of trouble.

When my dad was in his 90’s, it took my mom several hours to get him down to the polls because it was so difficult to get him around with his wheelchair.  It was a lot of work, but my father had to do this, because this was sacred to him, the fact that his opinion would be counted, the rare and precious chance to choose. 

I grew up with my whole family and my grandmother in her house and I was always trying to make her laugh, because even as a child I knew that she was sad.  She had come to this country from Minsk to New York City, the youngest of several children, all by herself, when she was 18 years old.  She worked in a sewing factory and when she came home at night, she worked in her garden.  She called it her “gardna”, and she said that working there was her vacation, and I knew it was the only vacation she ever had.  There was the Bolshevik Revolution and the Menshevik Revolution and she got stuck here, and then she married my grandfather and there was World War I and World War 2, and all of it hit her people right between the eyes.  My aunt went back to Russia, finally, I think in the 1980’s, after my grandmother was gone, and she could not find any family.  

My father lived through the Red Scare when there was always a danger that as a Russian, he would be branded as a Commie.  He also fought in both World War 2 and in Korea and I didn’t know how bad that was for him until I was with him when he was old, when he said things in the middle of night or when he cried out when he was coming out of anesthesia.

It is strange how this has affected me.  For example, a few years ago, I was taking pictures of my niece and nephews, and I couldn’t get them to stay still for a minute, I could only follow them around.  At one point they happened to arrange themselves against an old barn wall.  I smiled and laughed and took some very nice pictures of their beautiful little selves, but inside I found it hard, I still find it hard, really hard, it makes me sick almost, to think of any children against any wall.

So my idea of what is difficult and what could happen in a country is calibrated by my grandmother’s and my father’s experience, against something that was both explicit and implicit in my family the whole time I was growing up:  “You are so lucky to be here… to have all this food on your table.”  And, “People have died for your freedom.”   And, “You carry our future.” And, “Take care of each other.” 

I wonder what I could possibly add to the conversation, when there are brilliant people who’ve spent their careers engaging in national discourse.  But I feel it’s important to be involved at this time in our history.  So I need to be involved and I can only give what I have, so this is it.

When Bill was sick, there were several months when I didn’t know how bad it would be, and of course I was afraid.  Of course I was focused on the problem and I wanted to do something that matched the way I was feeling.  I wanted to do something radical.   So I wanted to move off the island.  And I thought and thought, and looked all over the mainland, and I finally stopped for long enough to ask myself what I wanted.   And then I thought, “But I love it here.”  And then I started to think of what I had.  I loved the island.  I love my life.  I love my husband and our family. 

So I learned something.   I decided that whenever I have to make a big decision, I will think about what I love.  Because that’s what I need to stand on when I think about my problems.  Because what I have is so much bigger than my problems, and if I remember that, I might possibly find solutions without throwing my life down the drain.  And I also learned that fixing a fear is not the same as fixing a problem.  Because I was afraid that Bill might have stage 4 cancer and he only had stage 1 cancer.  If I had tried to fix stage 4 cancer, it would have taken so much out of us, and that would have been worse than the problem we actually had.

I have heard it said over and over again that if people want to be in politics there has got to be something wrong with them.  But I know how my father felt, how people in my family feel.  We care a lot.  We all want to help.  We won’t be selfish about our country.  I won’t do that to the memory of my grandmother or of my father after all they went through.  It would make me hate myself.  So I don’t think we have to be so cynical.  I think we can call to the meaning of our ancestors’ lives, and to what’s best in each other. 

I have also learned in taking pictures that if life is difficult, it is also very beautiful.  And it seems to me that it’s always yearning forward, seeking and healing and re-making itself.  And it defines what’s real, no matter what we say about it.  It always runs on what’s real.

I think right now, politically speaking, it’s like we are driving in a snowstorm.  And all this snow is falling on our windshields.  Somehow we have to look through all of that and find out how to stay on the road.

The world is has changed just like it changed for our grandparents and for our parents.  Our children are different than we are.  I have been told that they are more like each other, irrespective of national borders, at least in information-laden countries, and more different from us, than we are from each other. 

I say this understanding that people are made in layers.  I mean, when I say our children are different from us and more like each other, I would say that it’s partly on the surface.  There are things underneath, deep things that are learned and hardwired through generations, welded in by our ancestors’ courage and trauma and weakness and love, and those things stay in us even after we forget how they got there.  So here are some questions.  Do we remember what matters?  Do we know where we came from?  Do we know what we have?  Do we know who we are?

Photography for me has always been about another way of seeing.  It’s not that the life or beauty hasn’t been there the whole time.  It’s just that I was so used to it that I forgot to notice.  So photography has helped me to see again.  In some ways, it’s helped me see like a child again, with many surprises and with lots of hope and wonder.  I need that right now, in this situation.

I think that facts will win in the long run, but I hope that they will win soon.  I hope we can remember what we have and not be afraid, and that we can learn, and that we can sacrifice for each other because people have sacrificed for us.  And I know that we are able to be so good, because we are so good, because we are made with the same hand that made the waves and the birds, and because we have come from people who loved us the best that they could.   And because we already have such beauty and so many gifts in our lives.  Because we can do this right, and if we do, this is what our children will remember and how they will behave when it’s their turn to make the world.

 

I went all the way to Nova Scotia and do you know what I found there?  Blue Heron.

Back at the fish hatchery, just before coming home to Block Island.  I have never seen Great Egret there, but this time there were three of them, mixed in with the Blue Heron.

Wings

Our good friend Rich Field runs all over the world doing legal work.  He is also a fine performer and appreciator of many kinds of art.  After my last post, he wrote to say that my birds reminded him of a dance performance he had seen a few years ago.  This performance included the poem, "Wings", by Susan Stewart.  I love this poem very much and I wrote to Susan who kindly gave me permission to share it with you.  So I set myself to take some bird pictures in which I could show that flying is like dancing.  And this morning, while walking with my husband, we saw this great blue heron against a cloudy sky.  So this post is given to you with appreciation for our friend Rich, for Susan and her wonderful poem, for this bird, and for all the ways that so many human and other beings express their courage and beauty in the world.

Bird Study

Miss Elizabeth Dickens, a woman who was born on Block Island in 1877, was the last of a family that had been here since the late 1600’s.  She was also one of the first Audubon teachers in the country.  She taught Bird Study at the school.  As a result, there are generations of Block Islanders, men and women, who grew up learning about birds.  They know everything, can name every bird by sight and sound and behavior.  They know what birds eat, and when they are coming to Block Island.  It’s part of the culture, deep in the culture here on the island, to know about birds, to feed them and love them, to report on their activities as an important part of what’s going on.  It’s a wonderful thing. 

So I was visiting my friend Edie, and on the way down her driveway I passed her son Chris’ bird feeder.  I climbed into the passenger seat and rolled down the window.  The birds, (and this is usually true as long as I stay in the car), accepted my presence and allowed me to take their pictures.

I love mourning doves in particular, with their gentle cooing songs, and their subtle colors so nicely paired with a dash of turquoise, very tastefully done, to highlight their big, black eyes.  So I was happy when they flew down and even happier when this little story happened:  There were two mourning doves, sitting companionably, looking this way and that way, turning their heads in tandem, agreeing on what to observe about the world.  Another bird came down and sat between them, kind of hogging the perch from the left one a little until that one left and then the other one left, leaving the new bird alone.  I'm thinking it didn't work out like he planned.

I try to imagine what it’s like to live through eyes that see more colors, to have magnificent wings, to be able to fly and turn in the air like a ninja, to have no hands, but a beak as my only recourse, to eat worms and seeds, to have so many babies, and to be out there exposed to the elements, no matter what comes; to have a world of experience, of hunger and beauty and birth and death played out in a different kind of body with a different kind of mind.   I can only guess, but photography allows me watch more closely, and pretend that I can know something.  At least I know this, that they’re not particularly worried about the election, and I like to think that they feel their lives as deeply as I feel mine.

When I originally looked at these pictures, I was a little confused.  There were little dots everywhere and it looks like rain, but nothing is wet in the pictures and I don’t remember that it was raining.  It could be the beginning of a light drizzle or it could be pollen, but that’s a lot of pollen, but of course it was spring, so I don’t know.  In any case, I hope you like these pictures and that you can imagine with me, a little bit about the lives of these birds.

 

PS.  I stepped out of the house yesterday and the air smelled like roses.  This is my favorite thing at this time of year, that everything is newly green and the air smells like perfume.  It’s beautiful here.  Beautiful, beautiful.

PPS.  Bill is well, we’re doing well, getting the boat ready and moving out of the house a week from tomorrow.  I just finished making slipcovers, and next week I’m going to make a bimini and some other things for the boat.  Of course.  Some nice giant projects just before we move out.

Great White Egret

We've brought the boat back from the island to the mainland for the winter.  I decided to stay here with Molly for the rest of the week so that we could get used to our new lives together, so that I could give her some time. 

It's quieter now that the season is winding down.  We are in a slip at the dock and that's easier than out on a mooring.  There are certain conveniences, like abundant electricity (!) and running water (!) and heat (!) whenever we want it.  We can look out and see the water and the sky and the boats moving along in the channel.  It's night right now.  There are lights on the docks and those reflect on the water so that everything is softly illuminated.  It's very quiet and I love that very much, but the best thing is there are Great White Egrets that come to fish in the morning.  They come before the sun breaks over the village of Noank, so the rocks are still in shadow, and the egrets, because they're so white, seem to glow on their own, a little. 

An egret can wait for hours without moving but in the first few pictures this one was fishing and moving around.  It's hard to see but there is a fish in her beak in the third picture down from here.  Then she settled down and was preparing to wait, and I was preparing to wait with her.  Then a cat made its way down the rocks, just out of the frame of the pictures.   I realized it would make her fly.  That was handy for me because I wanted to catch her wings open, but I have a general policy of not disturbing wildlife.  If the cat did it, however, who was I to complain?

I pretend sometimes.  It's a game I play with myself when I'm taking pictures, especially with someone like this bird, to see how far I can go in feeling her life... until I can stand on my own long legs, can wait and wait with my yellow eyes watching, can suddenly stab my whole head into that cold water, can feel that fish wriggling as it slips down my throat, can have my strong breasts, can wrap myself up in the cloak of my great wings, can lift them and can fly.  I can imagine myself with her mind, a mind made only to know her things.  I can do all of that just a little bit.  I like to do that very much, to feel and know that there are so many ways of being in the world.  It opens up my way.

I see how much I like the layers of convenience that I as a human being, have built all around myself.  But the egret's body is her only safety and almost all of her shelter.  I see how she's reflected on the surface of the water.  I wonder if she sees herself, and if she knows that she is beautiful.

Because she is so beautiful.  That's the main thing I love to know about her.

A Place to Stand

What if nature makes no judgments, has no worries, carries no regrets?  What if everywhere, in everything, all the energy from the sky and earth goes into making life happen?   I look out my window at the shad and the blackberries and at all of the scrubs and vines that densely intertwine in our maritime climate.  Where they were bare and frozen just over a month ago, their shoots are suddenly shining through all the tangles and prickles in all of their new, green glory.  That’s where the energy is going.

I, on the other hand, forget this.  I habitually put my energy into forming extraneous concerns.

For example,  I mailed the big lens back to Canon a week ago, this past Monday.  That is, the $11,000 lens I had borrowed under the Canon Professional Services Program with the promise to get it back to them on time.  I used priority, registered mail.  So the lens got to Boston (it was going to Virginia) and sat there for a day and a half.  I went on line and tracked it, sometimes every five minutes.   I called the US Postal Service customer “help line.”  I encountered one of those automated phone systems carefully designed to be a blank wall.  I got mad.  I called again.  Called again.  Called again, until the system finally hung up on me.  I drew conclusions about the entire federal government and the direction of everything in general.   I voiced my opinions to my husband, painting a picture of a future where everything will exist at the pleasure of an infinitely obstructive and impersonal machine.  I considered moving to Alaska and living off the grid. 

The lens was still in Boston on the day that it was due. I called our postmaster who carefully explained that registered mail is secure enough to carry gold bullion; that each package is handled like a precious child of the universe and kept under lock and key; that the 2 – 3 day promise in this context or should we say, "estimate," means… (she said this more professionally but this was the gist of it)… nothing.  Our postmaster went out of her way to care about my problem, even to the extent of researching and calling me back with more information, but could not do anything about it.   I finally called Canon.  I explained the situation and they understood.  In fact, they were extremely nice about it.  They looked at the tracking number and said that it was clear I had mailed the lens in plenty of time.  They said not to worry.  They said (exact words), “no harm, no foul.”  They gave me an extension.  

Problem?  Solution.  I could have skipped all those hours, all that head banging, all that smoke and steam in between.

So I set an intention to preserve and protect my precious state of mind.  I thought of the pure life energy pouring and running through everything.  I said, “It is there for me as much as it’s there for the blackberry bushes in my yard.”  I said, “As vast as it is, it’s completely generative and completely intimate and personal, exactly the opposite of the electronic call-in system of the US Postal Service.”  I said, “I will be calm.  I will skip all the fretting and stewing.  I will match the world.  I will put my energy completely into life-affirming action.”

So do you know what happened next?  I got back to my car with my dogs, in the rain, and could not find my car keys.  I reminded myself that my life was not at stake but I got upset anyway.  I cleaned the car, combed the brush and grasses around the car, re-hiked the entire hike I had just finished.  I finally found them in a strange spot where I think Molly, my golden retriever, had put them.  I also got upset about something with the summer rental of our house.  Then got upset because a good friend is sick.  Then my cousin was upset so I got upset for her sake.  Then I got upset, just because I was so upset about so many things at once. 

Then I worked on my pictures.

I saw how this blue heron let the wind pass through and ruffle her feathers to slow her down for landing.

And how she landed in between the branches without poking her eyes out or skewering her wings.

And how she flew through the shadows with the open field and the luminous leaves in the distance behind her.  And I thought that seasons have always changed like this, that light has always shown through new green shoots, and that birds have always flown like this, since primordial days.

And that is how I calmed down. 

I know it is one thing to aspire to a state of mind and another to achieve it.  I'm glad to have found this practical, physical thing I can do that works for me, this thing that brings me to such peace and wonder.  This doesn't change my circumstances, I mean, we all have things to be upset about, but it does give me a foundation of trust in the natural world, and that gives me a place to stand. 

PS.  These pictures were taken with my regular equipment because the extra special super amazing lens was already glacially working its way back to Canon.  I had been to this same place with that lens the week before and the heron were nowhere to be found. 

I don't want to talk about it.

 

 

 

Big Picture

I took this picture at Patchaug Forest from very far away.  I was surprised to see how the watery light bounced up onto their yellow bellies. 

I borrowed a giant super telephoto lens from Canon Professional Services again this year.  I waited for what I thought would be the best time, like it was this time last year.  I was very excited.  I have been enjoying the way that photography has been letting me see so much more about animals.  I wanted to see the looks on their faces and find things about them that I didn’t even know. 

I went to the fish hatchery.  If you saw my blog last year, you’ll remember  there were eagles, and ducks and heron and turtles.  But, this time?  Nothing.  It was like an abandoned city.  It was like there had been a war.   I went the next day.  There was one heron in one pond.  There were none in the trees where they always wait, sometimes by the dozen. I finally went to Patchaug and found a few turtles.

One blue heron in the shade.

Then I went to the island, hoping for great white egrets and swans.  But it was hot on the mainland and the island was socked in with fog…fog so thick I could stand on the beach and not see the ocean.  Fog like I’ve never seen.  Fog for four days, and still counting.  I went out again and again at all different times and all over the island, hoping to catch moments where I could see something.  I got an occasional shot, but it wasn’t what I had hoped for. 

Have you ever wondered what fog looks like when you take its picture with an $11,000 lens?   Now you know.  This is a picture of North Light, taken looking over the water, from the parking lot at the end of Corn Neck Road. 

This was taken near Beach Road, when the fog had cleared a little.  This small egret is there all the time and is used to people.  But he saw me with the lens and his head snapped up so fast, like, "Who are you and what is that thing you are pointing?!"

I had to send the lens back yesterday.  I never got the pictures I had imagined.  And because of the way the program works – the loans are actually equipment evaluation loans, you only get to try each piece of equipment one time - I’ll never be able to borrow that particular lens again. 

That lens was so tightly, smoothly made.  It could focus so fast and reach to such a distance.  It was made with a fluorite lens element (made out of super expensive man-made crystal) and other high tech "ultra low dispersion optical glass".  That means that light didn’t break apart into its prismatic colors when it passed through.  That means there was no distortion.  That lens was a wonder.  My father, an engineer who worked in the aircraft industry, would have gone crazy over that lens.

But there is a balance to strike between the power of your equipment and what it takes to use it.  If a bird suddenly flies for example, you’ve got to lift your camera.  When you’re using extreme magnification, there’s a lot of space in which to find one bird.  You’ve got to get that bird in the view-finder and track it as it flies and keep it in focus.  You can do it, but it’s not easy. 

Sometimes it’s good to not to try so hard.  You can get good pictures that way too, because it's unpredictable anyway, and when your chance comes,  you'll have your lens with you, the one that you can realistically carry where ever you go.

Getting close is wonderful.  Wonderful.   I’m going to keep on striving to get the look in those eyes, or perfect wings of birds in flight, to the best of my ability, with the best tools I can afford.  But equipment isn't everything.   The picture is also about the whole situation, the whole context.  It’s even about you, the one behind the camera, being out there in it, because it’s where you meet the world and it meets you.  It’s about what you choose from all the myriad things in your field of vision, it's what the picture makes you feel and understand in that very moment. 

 

 

 

 

I was at the fish hatchery, having not gotten all my amazing bird pictures, and the dogs and I went deeper into the forest.  We sat by the bank of a stream.  The spring-swollen current was hitting a log, pushing under, coming up and boiling the surface.  There was something that I couldn't see happening under the water, maybe stones on the bottom and smaller branches that vibrated in the current, because the water was coming up all complicated to where it looked like sound vibrations.  And that thrumming surface was  reflecting the new green leaves and many naked branches and the old blue sky above.  Something about it connected, told me about all the things that are always happening all together all the time, and I felt that they would always keep on happening.  That current is still running, for example.  That water is dancing.  Now. 

I want to make sure I tell you that I didn't see all of this detail at the time.  I didn't know it looked like a map of a landscape, a range of mountains, the trunk of a tree.  I couldn't take particular delight as I do now, in the way that nature seems to repeat the same patterns from different materials, over and over.  I simply couldn't process fast enough an image I took at 1/1000th of a second.  (I had to show it to you the long way to make it big enough for you to see.  You might want to hold it sideways, to see how the river was flowing left to right.) 

I just saw the boiling, roiling water, the colors more merged together, but I did feel something about it.  For a second, I felt like I was part of it, or that it was part of me.   I think that is something I will remember from now on.  So photography can be like that, the chance to bounce off the surface of that, to notice that, stay with that, take a picture of that, learn from that, and then to see it after, in ways the human eye can't normally see, to see it new, to take a moment, to feel what is actually going on in this world.

So much of photography is for me, about being available for what ever happens. I couldn’t change the weather and couldn’t make the birds come, not even to their regular places. I was upset about the fog,  but then I had to laugh at myself for holding on so tightly to what was out of my control.  Maybe a good thing is not so hard to find.  Maybe I don't always need special birds or special weather or special equipment.  Maybe it’s under my nose.  It is.  I think so.  At the end of it all, I had some pictures that were new and unexpected and I learned  and now I am very pleased.

Well, if life gives you fog, you can make foggy pictures.  I liked how the cormorants lined up in formation.  They only did so, west of the Boat Basin dock where I was standing.  There were none on the corresponding piers on the east side of the dock.  That soft grey smudge on the horizon is Champlin's Marina.  These piers will anchor the floating docks that I'm sure are going in any day now, and soon they'll be a few more boats, oh, like a hundred more boats in this marina.  That is, if the fog lets up.

PS.  At 7:15 this morning, the National Weather Service cancelled their dense fog advisory.  At 7:16 they put it back in place.

PPS.   The more I work with wildlife, the more I feel I should leave them alone.  Their lives are hard enough.  It's one thing to take pictures of birds whose natural habitat includes people.  It's another when they are nesting or forced out of their natural range, like snowy owls.    If you chase them around, you could actually help them starve to death.  I had some great white egrets in sight yesterday, and I took a few pictures, but they flew to another spot and I knew it was because of me.  So I stopped.   I just have to wait for my moments.  A lens with big reach will help, and I'm looking into cheaper alternatives now.

PPPS.  No offense to myself, but I got a little dizzy looking at that river picture, especially up and down like that.  I had to rest my eyes on the last picture.

PPPPS.  I did see blue heron in some of the other ponds and rivers.  I saw them in pairs at the far ends of hidden places.  So they are not gone, just moving out.  Maybe they have to be more careful now, because of the eagles.  I saw one, flying at speed, staying low, threading it's way through the narrow spaces above a small stream, twisting and turning like those big birds in the movie, "Avatar".  A wonderful sight.  Impossible to get a picture with that big lens.

 

 

 

Perfect

I went to the inner ponds of Great Salt Pond and a Great White Egret had come.  I watched as she stood waiting in the grasses, and then stretched, and stabbed, and got her long narrow fish for breakfast.  Every time.  She never failed.

When I watch the birds, I see how perfect they are for all that they have to do.  Their eyes, their beaks, their legs, and of course every feather. They open their wings and the feathers just follow, perfectly formed and fit and open and working together.  They know what to do, simply by being in their bodies.  Should they fish for a living or take up photography?  They don’t ask those kinds of questions. 

It’s different for us humans.  What if a long time ago, someone just built us and dropped us off and said, “We’ll leave you all here on this winter day.  All the other animals will have bodies suited to their survival.  They will have claws, and strength and speed and teeth and wings.  That will be enough for them, but not for you.  If you go out in this weather you’ll be dead in no time.  So you’ll have to figure it out.  Have a nice day, and I’ll be watching to see how you make out.  It should be quite a show.” 

And it was.  It is.

This was taken this past January, at dawn, from Corn Neck Road, looking toward the breakwater in Old Harbor.  With the windchill, it was 35 degrees below zero.  I had trouble getting out of the car long enough to take the picture, but if you look closely, you will see birds flying above the breakwater.

Or maybe we emerged, step by step, changing or being changed in imperceptible ways that added together to make big ways, just like any creative project.  Something moved us, chipped away at us, placed us in a merciless world and then worked out in us, a way to survive.  We became exactly as smart as our physical weakness required us to be.  And as a result, we have options.  The egret had her fish but I had my camera and I could get into my car and go home.  I could cook my dinner with fresh produce from California. 

Whenever I see the birds, I put more faith in my body.  I see I must be perfectly built for something.  So I ask myself:  “What is inherently human?  What is mine to do?”  And then I make lists.  Short list:  “To stay alive.”  Long list:  “To see, to feel, to walk, to speak, to think, to seek and wonder, to love, to learn, to rest and to build.” 

So I try to do that, and sometimes I’m surprised.  I take pictures I didn’t expect to take.  I watch thoughts I never had before make their way onto the page. Things fit together and organize themselves into concepts and patterns, as they just did right here in this unexpected sentence.  They unfold like feathers when a bird reaches out with her wings. 

Perhaps the same principle that operates in nature also operates in me.  Like, nature creates itself in birds by making beaks and feathers; in me through what happens with my hands or in my mind.  The egret is so good at getting those fishes.  I’d be good at it too if that was all I could do.  I think we make a lot more mistakes than birds, because we’re in a different experiment, pushing forward into things that haven’t been done a million times before.  If the world changes, it will take my beautiful egret a long time to make a new beak, but all I have to do is make a new idea.  This egret can stay in a certain habitat, and only at certain times of year, but I’m so flexible, so generic, I can go anywhere.  I’m free as a human, you know?

At some point, and a long time ago, someone took a saw and cut this tree down.  And the spring floods came, I'm guessing, to the Connecticut River, and this tree trunk floated on the currents and tides across Long Island and Block Island Sounds.  All those forces, all that time, and the random chance that it landed on this island.  But here is something unmistakable.  There is nothing like it... the mark of a human hand.

It makes me happy to make things.  Sometimes it feels like, “This is me.  Everything I’ve ever learned is here in this creation.”  And it might not be the best thing, but it’s true in the sense that it’s authentically from me.  Well, it’s from me and from whatever-it-is-that-moves-and-breathes-me.  It’s what we have invented in our making dance together.  Maybe it won’t be a Thing That Changes Everything, but at least it can join in the vast project of making a world that is constantly being born because everyone and everything is making that happen every minute all day long.

I know we have problems, and it’s hard to imagine what the solutions will be, but I think it is very human to solve problems, and we’re not alone in this, not alone at all, and the best solutions seem to come out of nowhere, and necessity calls them out, and I think that all of nature is behind us in this, being perfect like she always is, and because there is such need, specifically because of that need, there is no telling what will happen now.

Reach

I am interested in this picture.  I am so used to working for good pictures of birds – sharp focus, good light through their feathers, good wings in flight.  But I used a higher ISO and so this picture had greater depth of field – good focus on the trees as well as the bird.  Maybe it was the way the shapes in the heron’s wings mirrored the shapes in the reaching branches.  It made me feel that the heron was in its natural home, that this landscape and this bird fit together, that their lives were entwined, inseparable.

 

The camera allows me to see much more than I can see with my own eyes and this is how I come to these conclusions… this heron’s tongue for example.  I never imagined it would be shaped like that.  What a delicate tongue to be protected inside that long beak, to poke into the mud.  How perfect to wriggle out those little morsels. 

The heron settled into its tree in its classic heron pose.  I waited with my telephoto lens at what I hoped would be a non-disturbing distance across a little pond.  I was preparing to stay, like scores of other mornings, with a heron who wasn’t moving and who might not move for hours.  I’ve always admired the ability of birds to wait.  I think it is important to their survival, as important as their ability to hunt or fight  - their ability to rest, to wait, to collect their strength.  So as always, I sat there, trying to match her, wondering what she saw and thought and felt, wondering what was it was like to live her life. 

It was a cold morning, but I could feel that spring was coming.  I considered this.  I mean, after I forgot all the extra stuff, like the fact that taxes were due in two days, after I forgot all the other things in my constructed life, there was how it felt after a long winter when the air was cold, but the sun had just risen and I could feel it warm on my face.  I thought, “We all know this.  We know it across the human race.  We’ve been knowing it, whether we’re humans or other creatures.   We’ve been knowing it together for hundreds of thousands or millions of years.” 

The heron and I were at the hatchery together, she with her instincts and I with mine.  So we waited and I want to tell you that what happened next was something I’ve never seen.  The heron reached, turning and craning her neck, tracking something across the sky.  I turned also, and there was an eagle circling.  The eagle passed and she immediately settled down, groomed her feathers, and went back to her rest. 

Then my dogs began to tussle and the heron turned and looked at us.  If you ever have a large wild bird look at you, something will happen. I’ve felt this a few times, once with a hawk, once with a snowy owl and now this time.  Something in the oldest part of my brain woke up.  There is no word for this that I know of, this I’m-being-studied-and-measured-and-thoroughly-seen-by-a-large-wild-bird feeling, but there it was.

There have always been dozens of heron at the fish hatchery, but I’ve been there all week and I’ve only counted three.  It could be the exceptionally difficult winter, or it could be the eagles are eating them or driving them away.

I learned some things this week:  (1) That the heron have pointy tongues.  (2) That everything reaches, that the trees reach and the birds reach in very similar shapes and for very similar reasons.  (3) That the heron and the landscape are inseparable from each other.  (4) That it’s important to rest, to really rest, to practice resting as a necessity for life.  (5) That the heron reach first with their eyes, like photographers do, and that their whole bodies follow.  (6) That now that the eagles have come the heron might be gone from the fish hatchery, and soon. 

Swans

I went out to Sachem Pond on the first warm day I can remember.   There was a new stretch of open water.  And the swans were doing something I'd never seen.  They were sailing.  They let the wind fill their feathers and push them along.  They put their beaks down.  I'm not sure if they were filtering water, or if it was part of the game.  They must have been using their feet as well because there was a sort of bobbing motion, bow to stern.  

I've watched the swans all winter and fretted over their situation.  It's been so cold, and I've wondered how they were managing.  It looked like they were containing themselves, holding on.  But this day was different.  They'd sail for a while and it seemed like they were doing it just for fun, and suddenly, they'd  fight and scatter everywhere, and then they'd go back to sailing again.

I went back two days later.  It was windy and much colder.  The swans flew to the lee of the sand dunes by the North Light, trading the large open water by the parking lot for the chance to be out of the wind.  They stayed and I stayed also.  They faced the wind and rested.  Then, they began their beautiful mating dance.

And every so often they poked a neighbor. 

When I'm out with the birds, I try to be patient.   I copy them as they stay and stay, because I realize that being in nature in their way must create a state of mind.   I stay with it sometimes, and sometimes I fidget and hum and talk to myself, because they are ready to wait forever, because they out wait me every time.

I like to do this.  It gives me a sense of who I am.   I don't have to think.  It's not a concept.  My skin knows.   And then I run home to make myself warm.  I'm glad I can do that, and I never forget that they can't.  But I don't want to be so secure with my layers of safety and comfort that I forget that I'm also a creature on the earth.

The sun came out and I felt it warm on my face and the swans immediately flew to the less protected, bigger water. 

It took several shots because the swans were all jumbled together, but here they finally separated.

Here are some of them landing.  I think there were two more, out of frame.  You can see Corn Neck Road at the east edge of Sachem Pond in this picture.

So it's been a good chance for pictures.   I love this time of year, especially because of the birds, because of the new warmth and their relief and stirring and energy. 

And soon, life will make its move.  Soon, they'll be mating and life will weave its way through them into the particular pattern of new swans.  The babies will ride on their backs in the room created by their feathers.  I would love to go with them.  That must be something.

So look, I thought it was cool the way the swan's wing and this wave taken near the parking lot for North Light mirrored each other.  They were taken the same day.  You know that place, where the waves curve around?

A Little Swim

Wilson and Molly in Great Salt Pond.  I have always liked their colors together with the golden grasses.

I have a waterproof housing for my camera and I've been working up my nerve to use it for several months.  The last time I used it, after all my careful tightening and testing, it leaked.  It doesn't take a lot of salt water to totally destroy a camera, which is what happened.  I sent the housing back to the guy who built it and he put in an improved gasket, but the problem is the little wing nuts that hold the housing together.  I don't trust them.  I think that's what happened...one of them got knocked last time.  The housing can't leak if it rides around in a dinghy next to a motor that vibrates all the screws loose, or if someone puts something on top of it, or if I get thrown by a wave.  It can't leak ever, no matter what happens. I need at least one fail safe and possibly another one after that.  So this is a work in progress. 

Meantime, it was such a beautiful evening.  The dogs were in the water and there were white egrets edging the pond.  The fall light was showing everything in gold and copper colors.  I waded into the water, mostly looking out toward the egrets but also being very careful where I put my feet.  I imagined how to fall.  I've read stories about photographers who fell into the water on their backs, their heads submerged, but their arms up, their camera held high above the water.  That was the plan. 

Here are three egrets at the edge of Great Salt Pond.  See the Great Blue Heron?  He's a newcomer I think.  I haven't seen him all summer.  Blue Heron are exactly the same birds as the Egrets, except for their color. 

It was a cool evening with beautiful warm light.  The birds, who can wait patiently fishing for hours, eventually flew, and I followed one, turning as he turned and I got his wings open against the sky.

It's an aspiration of mine... to get the perfect picture of almost nothing but coppery, smooth, atmospheric light.  I love Egrets and Heron in any case, their great elegance, their primordial ways.  You know birds are from dinosaur days, correct?  So maybe if there was a sky like this and a bird like this, this could have been back in the day.  I mean, actually back in the day.

And then we went swimming.  I love to swim and Wilson and Molly love to swim with me.  Sometimes we swim side by side, three dogs in the pond, and sometimes they go to shore and tussle while I'm swimming.  This is the perfect time to do this.  No people to bother on the beaches while the dogs run around.  No birds nesting.  But the water is getting colder.  I have all these little tricks for measuring how how cold it's getting day by day.  It's one thing to get into the water.  It's another to stay.  There comes a day when I don't get used to it, when it just stays cold the whole time.  That was yesterday.   

I love all the things that can only be seen from down inside the water - and I want to show you.  I've been planning how I was going to do this for months, but the limiting factor is that housing.  Maybe I can solve it before the water gets too cold to get in.  We'll see.  I might have another few weeks.  For now I have to be content to get as close as possible.

Sometimes, just at sunset, the wind dies and Great Salt Pond becomes as still as glass.  This was after I finished swimming.  I was still wet, carrying my fins and snorkel and other gear back to the car, with my dogs jumping around me.  I had to shoot quickly, as the light was changing very fast.  I was gingerly balancing the camera, holding it away from me to keep it from getting sandy and salty.  I liked the patterns made by the sand with the outgoing tide, and I also like the touches of smooth light.   I had the telephoto on the camera when I really could have used the wide angle lens.  I didn't have time to do anything about it and had to improvise.  This is actually six pictures stitched together in Photoshop. 




Seasonal Migration

Very early morning, Quinebaug Valley Trout Hatchery, Central Village, CT.

So I realize I’ve been invisible lately and I wanted to catch up and tell you about it.  We’ve been back in the house for just over a month and I’ve been going though a bout of weirdness.  I mean, it’s good, but there is a process to moving back in, and it surprises me every year.  It’s not like we’re moving back home.   It’s more like we’re moving in to a place that hasn’t been home all summer and now we’re making it home again.  It takes a while. There are questions under the surface, the answers being acted out as I slowly put my cupboards and drawers in order.  How are things different this year?  What have I learned?  What is important this time?

We are not the first people to live a life entirely measured and changed with the seasons.  This is one thing I like about it.  It’s an old way, marked by big transitions.  It creates many seasonal chances to choose and recreate a life.

Take photography, for example.  If this year is like other years, putting a camera around my neck will soon will be as automatic as picking up my car keys.  But in summer it’s different.  It’s difficult to be out with all the people and the equipment and two dogs.  Inertia carries me for a while, and then I just stop.  And then I can forget that I ever took pictures.

Light is everything in photography, as you know.

I went out the other day.  It was interesting to watch myself unpack the process, especially to watch the progressive removal of the obstacles I had constructed for myself.  I gathered my equipment, convinced that it would be hard to get all the lenses and batteries and memory cards together.  But it wasn’t hard. 

Then I went out to the fish hatchery where I didn’t even want to go.  I was sure that I had seen everything already, like heron.  I thought, “Big deal.  I’ve seen them hundreds of times.”  But I began to notice the light.  You know, it was a beautiful morning.  

See the blue heron in the fog?  That's a shot I didn't expect.

Dawning light in fog through the grasses.

I didn’t want to bring different lenses because I didn’t want to carry my backpack, but I did carry my backpack.  I didn’t want to change the lenses back and forth because that is such a pain.  I said, “It won’t make that much difference.”  But I did change them back and forth and it did make a difference.


This is what a close up lens will do for you.

And when I saw the seagulls dashing around, I initially dismissed them.  I said, “I’ve taken so many seagull pictures that I can’t imagine getting new ones.” But then the light played on their wings.   And the contrast with the dark forest made the white in their feathers shine so fine, and the gulls were feeding…wheeling and turning, their feathers splayed to show what I always hoped to show in feathers, everything wild and akimbo and spreading and flashing, and at the same time, so ordered and skillful, so effortless and perfect.

If you look closely at the seagulls in the water, you'll see that the one on the right has a fish in it's mouth.  All the other gulls immediately knew and are converging on that spot.

The commitment to the dive.

I thought I had seen it all with seagulls but I got to see something new.  And it was good enough when I was out there taking the pictures, but this is the thing about photography.  I got to take them home with me.  I got to see them, really see them, see like people could never see before they had cameras, see the moment the seagull turns, or drops the fish, see the whirling motions stopped forever.  See the gulls, see the look in their eyes, see their bodies dropping through the laser path cut with their eyes, see them enter the water and come up with a fish, see the water splashing, the fish twisting and dying, the light dancing.

When you do this for a while, it changes what you think about.  It changes what you dwell in. It changes what you know.  It changes how you feel about everything.

Two gulls, one with a fish.

He dropped it.

Last night, we sat on the floor with our grandson who will soon be one year old.  He and his father fed the cat.  I had forgotten how tricky it is to get kibble into a scoop and drop some of it onto the floor, then to carefully pick up the little bits, to have them stick to your fingers, inspect each one, and get them into a dish.  I am so glad our son loves to be with Julian through all the time it takes to do this… that he never gets tired of being with Julian, seeing through Julian’s eyes.

This is what photography is for…to see like Kevin does with Julian…to have the wonder of seeing again.

Sometimes morning light is silver like this.

My sister’s husband Paul is at his home with hospice care right now because of throat cancer.  A few nights ago, he went out naked to see the stars.  He didn’t care that he was naked.  He didn’t even care that it was a cloudy night.  He knew it was his life and he wanted the fullness of his moment outside and under the sky.  This is also what photography is for.

Digital cameras can perform certain actions to reduce the size of the file, turning them into “.jpegs”.  (This process reduces the file to 1/10th of its original size.  It stands for “joint photographic experts group”.)  But many cameras can also shoot “.raw”.  Pictures taken this way are not compressed. No decisions have been automatically made about what’s important.  Nothing has been filtered or removed.  The files are large and unwieldy, but everything is there.  

I think this is a good aspiration as I reconstruct my photographer self for this season.  I would like to be raw…to be more transparent to the process, to forget what I think I’ve done before, to have fewer opinions, to make fewer snap decisions, to let more in.

I realized last night about Julian.  He was all about feeding the cat.  But he couldn’t see what we saw, that it was not about the cat at all, but about him, and what he is becoming through all the busy things in his day.  And of course Bill and I see something else, how Kevin and Royah are working so hard, loving Julian every second.  And how that love is getting into them, shaping their lives, forming them.    

This is detail from the picture above.

I do put up my own obstacles but every time, every single time I move around them, every time I inconvenience myself or believe my way past some doubt or objection, or every time I just keep moving, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if I don’t think it will work, it moves me by degrees.  I know there are life circumstances to contend with, the way things are, and I often don’t know where things are going.  Sometimes I know the next step I can take, but I don’t know the one that comes after. But I find that life is always there to meet me, returning every effort I make with something of its own.  I think when I open up it’s a small thing, but when life opens up, I mean, when the whole thing opens up, then it’s really something.  It’s so big.  It gives a hundred or a thousand or a million times over.  And then whatever defense, whatever protection I think I need, whatever I think I’m not good enough to hope for, whatever is left of the wall around my heart, starts to soften because the world is so beautiful.   So I think I’ll work with that a little bit more.



And very beautiful seagulls in flight.

The Heart of a Place

This picture is from Block Island.  It's called "The Sun Drawing Water".

So I’ve been feverishly working on my show for several weeks and I wanted to tell you about it.   (The show by the way, is this coming Saturday, from 5 - 7, at the Spring Street Gallery on Block Island.)

I went through my pictures for the year.  I picked out a little over a hundred pictures, and then I studied them every which way.  I culled through the pictures and then culled them again, favoring the ones I liked the most and the ones I hoped others would like.  I also imposed upon the good graces of family and friends to give me their opinions.  I kept casting around for a concept… a story to tell that would make the selection of pictures make sense.  That was tricky because I liked so many pictures from so many different places.

OK, well there are waves from Block Island.  What a surprise.  But have also have many others.  I should tell you that I actually desaturated this picture from what you saw before, taking it half way to black and white.  While the actual colors at sunset were more vibrant, I liked the softer colors.

I finally got down to a few dozen pictures.  I printed some small ones to see how the colors on the screen would work out on actual paper.  I made adjustments.  Then, I started to think about sizes.  I liked some when they were nice and small… only six inches square, and some got bigger and bigger and until I had a few that were almost four feet tall.

This is one of the small ones, only six inches square.  It's hard to give you a sense of scale, here in the blog, because some pictures change completely if you change their size.  I'm doing this one, both on paper, matted and framed, and on wood in encaustic wax.

Here's another Block Island wave picture, taken the same evening as the one with the big rock above.  The real colors were in melon oranges and greens but the black and white was my favorite.

I printed them and then there were the inevitable reprints.  I was framing one large picture, leaning over a 19” by 29” image, and a drop of my sweat fell on the picture.  Another one was entirely about a large span of perfect calm water, glowing through the fog.  After I printed it, I found a few tiny dots from sensor dust.  There was another long picture, with rocks going back into the distance.  It posed a classic photography problem because a camera “sees” in a narrower “dynamic range”, or span from light to dark, than a person sees.  So the bright water and the dark rocks stood in more contrast to each other than was actually so on that day. I lightened the rocks to be closer to what I remembered.  Then, I thought they were too light and so I went back and reprinted the original file.  But then they were too dark and I went back and lightened some of the rocks.  Then I changed my mind and went back to the one I printed the first time.

This is the one from Nova Scotia where I kept fooling around with the color of the rocks.  What happens is you see it on the screen when it's back lit and then when you print on mat paper it's darker.  So you have to account for that.  The folks at Pro Digital Gear (see below) are suggesting I buy a calibrated monitor, where what I see here on the screen would be much closer to the actual print.  I'm tempted.  It would save a lot of time.

I made this one really big, and as you can see, if there is the tiniest little spot in all that expanse of flat calm water there is no place to hide.  I had to reprint it.  This is also from Nova Scotia.

Now it was time to give them names.  Sometimes an excellent name pops into my head, and sometimes not so much.  Edie named the first picture in this blog, “The Sun Drawing Water” because that’s what her father used to say when rays of sun came through the clouds, presumably sipping water from the ocean.  I named the one with all the stones “Long Walk” because that’s when my 85-year old mother got a much longer outing than we planned on the tippy shores of Nova Scotia.  At other times, I fell back as usual onto the simplest, most functional names.  It’s like when I was a kid and the six of us children could not agree on a name for our cat.  So we finally named her “Cat”.  So I have names like that:  “Egret 1, 2, and 3”.  And “Blue Heron 1 and 2”.

There were also moments of synchronicity.  For example, I’m doing a new thing this year because of my friends Karen and Robin, called “encaustic wax”.  You prepare a wooden base and then glue on a picture using special stuff and then you paint it with bees wax mixed with resin and then you take a heat gun and you melt some of it off.  I asked my friend Larry to make the wooden bases for me.  I went to see him in Moosup, bringing the intended pictures, so there would not be any mistake.  We took an hour one morning and measured very carefully together. 

Now, Larry’s work is perfect.  I’ve never known him to measure anything incorrectly. But he made the wooden bases and I went and picked them up in Moosup and I could see that they were too tall.  I decided to save them for another time.  Then I thought of a pair of pictures I had worked on.  I was attached to them because they were from the morning of the anniversary of my father’s death but they were an odd size and I had put them aside.  I didn’t want to do them.  I argued with myself.  I had enough pictures.  I had never done anything that big in wax.  I didn’t have the time and isn’t that why I drive myself so crazy anyway, trying to do too much in too many directions?  Wasn’t it better to simplify?  That would be my new motto…to simplify, especially when I’m living like a nomad in the summer… That was the secret… the key to everything…to live an orderly, serene, intentional life.  But I couldn’t get those pictures out of my head.  I finally said, “Oh fine.  If the pictures are the right size I’ll do it.”  And they were.  They were 23 ¾ inches wide and 43 ¾ inches tall.  When things slot in like that, who am I to object?  So I’m not making any promises but I’m going to work on them.

This will be a super big one in the encaustic wax.  There is another one to go with it, taken at the same time.  As I said, I've never done this size before, but if it works, they'll both be in my show.  Waterfront 1 and 2.

Pretty soon, I’ll see the final pictures, all matted and framed or covered in wax and done.  As my niece Elisabeth (who helped me, by the way, with matting) would say, “Done and done.”  That’s when I will feel lucky and grateful. 

Because everyone has his or her own way of seeing and choosing what to see.  And not it's just people who do so.  In my whole year of pictures, there were Wilson and Molly, and birds and turtles and deer and insects and many other creatures and they were all out there seeing exactly what they needed to see, in exactly the way they needed to see it, for their own particular purpose.  Every landscape, every crashing wave, every still, calm pond, every span of stones sweeping into the distance, was holding a world of creatures, alive and breathing and watching.  And there I was with my little camera in one particular spot and I got to see it in my way also.

It is something to review your life as represented in a year of pictures.  And then to choose and choose, progressively narrowing down to the ones that seem most beautiful or significant.  And then to have them in front of you, and then to put them up on a wall. 

You feel exposed at first when people come into the Gallery and start looking, but sometimes you get to know a person in the connection that is made around a picture, and you know her in a way that is beyond the ways that people often get to know each other.  And because people are normally kind and because you get stronger, you become willing to take more risks in your pictures and more willing to stand up and let yourself show what matters to you and in that way, you get to be more of who you are.

Our house is still rented, and will be until the day after the opening for the show.  With moving around so much and with my congenitally short attention span, there is major coordination going on all the time just to know where my toothbrush might be.  (It is missing at the moment.) That means I’m tired.  That means that putting a show together, with mats and frames and papers and printing and all the associated stuff, not to mention the food for the show, not to mention figuring out what I’m going to wear when I’ve worn the same thing every day for three months, is going to be interesting.  But things are moving along.  It will all get done.  It’s getting done now. 

I hope when you read this you don’t get overtaken with all the complications.  I mean, they are there. I just have to get through them.  And if I didn’t have this pressure, this show to put on, I would never have pushed it the way I am pushing, I would never have begun to find out what is possible.  In the end it’s wonderful.  It’s my life, affirmed in all these pictures, lived and seen and remembered and shared.

This is one of three egrets, creatively named Egret 1, 2, and 3.   They are little 6" pictures, on paper, matted and framed.

Now I’m standing back and looking at all my pictures for the show, which are arrayed because of boundless generosity and kindness, along the walls of a bedroom at our friends’ Paula and Greg’s (and Ricki and Alex and Max's) house.  There are the ones you've seen in this blog and then if the encaustic goes well, 17 more.

Why did I pick these particular pictures?  I was always looking for light… light on or through the water… special light breaking through the fog… the last light of the day or the first light of morning.  I am struck by how much is always happening everywhere… light dancing, wind blowing, waves crashing, plants growing or going to seed, birds flying.  The pictures remind me of what was happening on the day of each picture, of what those places mean.  They reflect what I hope is close to the heart or spirit of these places, at least to my eyes.   

So that will be the name of my show, The Heart of a Place.  That’s whether it’s Block Island or Moosup or Nova Scotia or anywhere, there is always a heart to be found by paying close attention. 

This wave is from Block Island again, and it's similar to some of my others.  I like it because it looks a little smokey.  I called it Salt and Smoke.

 

PS.  For those of you who are photographers, I want to tell you about some colleagues who have also become friends through the years.  I go to the folks at Pro Digital Gear in Salem, CT. for my cameras and lenses and papers and printers and inks.  They are the people who cheerfully helped me when I spilled a can of soda on my camera or when I have to do a repair on my giant printer myself rather than bringing someone over from the mainland.  I also went there just last week because I have another big project and they were very generous with their time and expertise.  John Fast, one of their experts, is having a photography show this coming Friday.  Here is info about his show at the Artist's Cooperative Gallery of Westerly, RI. And here is Pro Digital Gear's website.  Best prices anywhere.  These folks are professional and good to every single person who calls them on the phone.

And also Stu-Art Supplies.  They cut my mats and provide me with the parts to do all my framing.  They have beautiful, thick, museum quality materials and Nielsen frames.  If there is the slightest question or problem they help immediately, even if I am stammering my way through an order on the phone, calling at the last minute. getting dyslexically confused between mat outside sizes and inside sizes and frame heights and widths and so on.  They are wonderful people also.  Here is their site.    And here is their blog.

You've seen this picture before if you've been following this blog.  It's a great old tree from Amy and Stan's farm.  It's one of the pictures I still have to frame and I haven't named it yet.  Or maybe it will be Great Old Tree.  In any case, it's in the show even though it's different from the others because I love it so much.






Back in Moosup

Here are last year's milkweed pods with the new grasses of early summer.

I’ve been in my home town in Moosup, Connecticut all week.  (Sorry to tell you if you were hoping for a bit of Block Island.  I’ll be back in time for next week’s post.)  In any case, I also drove to New Jersey to visit some friends.  We had good company and an exceptional lamb dinner.  Plus, after knowing them on Block Island for almost 15 years, I finally got to see their house.  They are art dealers and in addition to many, many pictures of their much-loved family, their house is full of the most spectacular art. 

I learned a lot.  For example, there is much to be said for a big picture.  I mean, BIG, the size of a wall.  And there is such a thing as a perfect colorAnd the really good artists… and my friends know how to find them… have their own language and you can feel it even though any you might find it difficult to put into words.  And those paintings can speak so powerfully that you can drive all the way back from New Jersey and not be able to think of anything else. 

I've been waiting to get a picture of a blue heron, wings outstretched and feet pointing down, and in full display of all her wonderful feathers, just before she lands.

Tiny little new wildflowers.

I also went to see my niece and nephew’s graduation from kindergarten where one child was so overcome by the magnitude of the occasion that he burst into tears, and the next day went to see another nephew’s graduation from third grade, and then unfortunately yesterday, I went to a funeral. 

And in between I went to the fish hatchery to take some pictures.   So all of this has been mixed together all week… my friends and their art and the very young children and their brand new lives and the unexpected, untimely death of my cousin. 

I thought about all of this and then I went out and took pictures and I thought about how it is when a person goes out to try to know or feel or express something about the depths of this life and this world.

These ducks for some reason, did not fly away when the dogs and I came closer than they liked.  They just threw out a big commotion as they powered themselves around the corner.

I noticed this guy first after investigating when I heard something plopping into the water.

All of it... the example of really fine art and people who have made it their passion, the wonderful, deeply felt lives of children, and the fact of my cousin's death... it all affected my photography.  I want to spend more time and go as honestly as I can.

I didn't expect to see these turtles.  In fact, as many times as I've been to the hatchery, I've never seen them before.   So here is some new information for me about more creatures and their self-referencing lives....about their complete, self-contained experience...about the way that life expresses itself among them. 

There is all this thrum and energy and every time I see something new or something expected and still so beautiful...I just feel it is worth the closest attention I can muster.

 

(PS.  Happy Father's Day, especially to my step-son Kevin on his first Father's Day and to Bill who is far away, having just arrived in Southeast Asia.)

It took me a minute to realize that all these little dark spots in the water were turtles.  There were many, many more, even, than what I'm showing you in this picture.

 I've been watching this nest whenever I come to Moosup, because I thought it might be an eagle's next.  But it's for osprey.  Here is one osprey, dropping a fish into the nest.  It's way up on a pole for high tension wires.

I've been watching this nest whenever I come to Moosup, because I thought it might be an eagle's next.  But it's for osprey.  Here is one osprey, dropping a fish into the nest.  It's way up on a pole for high tension wires.

This is how the osprey feels about us coming this close to the nest.

Here is a field at the fish hatchery.  The river is just beyond those trees.  I can imagine it as a complete world for someone.

 For this guy, for example.

For this guy, for example.

And here are some young geese, in the "kindergarten" of their lives.  I wonder if the world looks as new to them as it did to us.

And another old milkweed pod, still standing after a hard winter.

Energy Management

Water falling in Savoy, Mass, near Lisa and Bill's cabin. 

I am busy right now.  We move out of the house for summer rental on June 8th.  Because it’s a maritime environment, every wall, ceiling, and floor is washed, and all the bedding and slipcovers, and then both offices are converted to bedrooms, everything of ours in the kitchen, and in bureaus and cabinets is squashed into lock out closets.  All the stuff that in my impeccable system of housekeeping has been piled in corners and left to breed and multiply through the winter has to be decompiled and dealt with.  There is an electrician coming today and we’re standing by for the itinerant appliance repair person who comes from the mainland and whose time is more difficult to get than let’s say, the Pope's. 

In addition to that, this is the narrow window of time for many much loved people to come and see us.  There were four people here last weekend.  There are six people here right now.  There are more coming the day these folks leave, and then two more and those may overlap with two more, in which case our neighbor will kindly allow us to house the overflow, and then there will be four more people over Memorial Day weekend and then we have two weeks until we move out. 

Not much effort.  A lot of force and power.

Oh yes, and then all my pictures have to be planned and made and matted and framed at least for the beginning of the summer art season.  The Gallery opens on the 23rd of May and the building has to be finished (Becca, Eileen and I have been painting, and Jerry has been doing construction) and there are innumerable meetings and many, many details. 

How am I going to get this done?

My Dad’s father used to make his own shoes and tools.  He worked pressing clothes during the day and worked on his farm in the evening.  There was economic necessity but there was also an ideological component.  There was something morally wrong in not doing everything yourself, unless you had children, and in that case it was definitely wrong if they were not doing everything with you.)   My father used to take copper, coat it with two-part epoxy and wrap it with electrical tape.  (My father loved two-part epoxy.  Everything in our childhood seemed to involve two-part epoxy.  Or duct tape, preferably smuggled out of work.)  That is how he made his own wire for the boat and I remember holding it for him by the hour so he could wrap it.  This, instead of going to the hardware store and buying some.  We were not “parasites” - lazy, privileged people who didn’t even know how to make our own wire.  We were self-sufficient people living in America, a free and democratic country where everyone was equal.  (The boat would be ready in August or possibly September.) 

So I tried to do everything myself, with a certain righteous strain, as if my personal worth or even my right to be on the planet could be measured by how overworked I was.  But over the years I have learned that it feels so much better and we actually do a much better job when we ask for help.  So Gabby (God bless her and keep her) and her folks (ditto) have been cleaning, and Nick (ditto) has been working in the yard, and Becca (ditto) is going to help me paint, and Larry (ditto) is coming to do some construction and Bob, another photography friend, is helping with broken screens and wobbly furniture, simply out of the greatness of his heart (ditto, ditto).  As a result, we are in better shape right now than we have often been three days before we move.  So I have help.  I have plenty of help.  What a concept.

This has left me with time, I wouldn’t say with an abundance of time but with enough time to work on my pictures.  This has also changed through the years.  Going out and about with a camera around my neck is part of my life now.  It’s just what I do.  The side effect of doing this is pictures.  So now, there are so many pictures and I have to choose. And once I choose I have to make them up.  There are papers and inks and the size and shape of each picture, and matching mats and frames and glass or plexi.  Controlling all that is a little like doing taxes.  It’s easy to get lost in the weeds.   So I am taking the time to develop a master plan.

In winter, on Great Salt Pond, it's a little less busy than it's about to get immediately.

Among other things in my former corporate life, I used to be responsible for “performance management” in my company.  I used to think a lot about this… how to get a whole bunch of people marching quickly and efficiently in a planned and measured direction.  I would go to conferences about this.  I would run home and make up forms and manuals and training and incentive programs.  I found the conferences a little upsetting.   People were paid a lot of money to get all worked up about performance management concepts.  I thought that there was too much about going faster and more cheaply and too little about what we were doing and why we were doing it. I remember one time coming home and saying that these systems would have been very useful to Adolf Hitler, that great performance manager. 

(I happened to be in a doctor’s office and I picked up an article in Time magazine about suicide prevention.  The article said it would be so much better if the people who were at the point of suicide could be reached closer to the beginning of the downward spiral, rather than waiting for them to make a call from the emergency phone on the bridge.  They said it would be much more cost effective for the whole system if they could find a way to do that.  I thought, “cost effective?” It just killed me how automatically that was written, how deeply that has been driven into our cultural water table.  Upon reflection, I thought maybe this was social worker lingo… from people who were used to having to justify what they do to the people who pay for their programs.  I know that game, sneaking human values into corporate language, but I imagine a world where the undisputed bottom line includes the value of being alive.)

I used to measure life, especially at this time of year, in terms of “Things to Do.”  I would make a list and try to get through it as quickly as possible.   But now, because of help, I have the pure luxury of stepping back a little.

And here we were in March a few years ago, everything about to burst out.

I’m thinking about the context in which I work:  Where are my tools… what is my way of being organized?   I’m thinking about my energy:  Do I need to step back or rest for one minute right now… do I need to say “no” to something?   What feels good about working?  I’m thinking about my purpose.  Why am I doing this?  What is precious?  

I’m older.  I can’t blast myself out of a canon and do two weeks of work in two days.  (Plus, that requires cramming a lot of stuff into my closets and my closets are already full of other stuff.)  Plus, the things I want to do now require consistent effort and emerging, clarifying purpose over an extended period of time.  So I need to keep working on context… tools and places and practices that will carry me along.  And also, this is something… I used to work as if it was the product that mattered… not what it took out of me to make it.  Now I matter more - my life matters more.

I used to go around with my hair on fire as if I was always in a life or death situation.  Well animals are in a life or death situation and they rest whenever they can.  (Great White Egret on Great Salt Pond.)

I want my pictures to fit together.  When people come to see my part of the gallery, I want the whole thing…the wall, the bin, the book, the portfolio to give a coherent experience. There are the pictures for now and then I will have my show in the fall, and that will be a different experience.  My niece Elizabeth is going to help me with the matting and framing (she is very good at this) and that will leave me time to do one thing that I never seem to get time to do, figure out how to market my book and if I’m going to do any advertising.  I will.  See, that’s the difference between having help and not having help.  I will have time to do this.  I’m often working right now, from five in the morning until ten o’clock at night.  (I had to tell you.  I’m still my father’s daughter.)  But it’s fine.  I came in from the studio the other night.  Bill said, “How was the commute?”  (I used to drive three hours a day.)  I said, “Oh, it was terrible… you know, weeds in the path and everything.”  

There is a Navajo saying.  “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  I am learning who can be trusted and I’m asking for advice and help.  I am spending time on the context and process and purpose of working and I feel that my life matters as much as the output itself.

Yesterday I cleaned the house, prepared bedrooms, made dinner, took the dogs for a walk, wrote some stuff for the gallery, welcomed guests, took a few pictures, moved all my matting and framing materials, ordered more materials, paid bills, printed pictures, talked to a friend and photography client and to the electrician and the appliance repair person, and locked myself out of the car… and the funny thing is… I never felt like I was working.  I basically felt like I was doing what I wanted to do.  Why do I want to do this?  For my life.  For the lives of other people.  I'm not alone.  We're in this together.

It’s five o’clock in the morning right now.  The sun will be coming up soon.  It’s orange and red and purple across the north and east horizon.  The water is glowing blue and silver through a tangle of newly budding trees and bushes.  And I’m not getting up to take its picture.  I’m enjoying it very much in any case.  And Bill is up and making coffee.  Coffee.  Very nice.

North LIght

Not Working too Hard on Easter and Taking Pictures of Birds

A front view of a tree swallow. 

When I was a kid, we had many relatives over for Easter.  We would cook for the holiday as if we would not be eating again until summer.  Dad would smoke a large turkey in a contraption he had made.  He would track the whole process year after year, in fifteen-minute increments, in his perfect handwriting, on yellow graph paper.  We would make 10 pounds of potato salad; 20 loaves of Easter bread.  The table would be set with the Noritake china, which made a nice complement to our other method of food presentation, which was to lay everything out on little yellow Styrofoam trays.  (We had a thousand of these trays.  Dad got them at a discount.  We used them for everything from food to bolts and screws and boat parts.  We still have some of them around my Mom's house, I think.)  We covered the trays with clear sheets of Teflon film that Dad smuggled from work.  The film was intended for use, and I have no idea how, in the manufacture of helicopters, but we used it for years in place of tinfoil and saran wrap.)  And for some reason, we would suddenly decide to complete a big project on the morning of that very day.  Once for example, we laid linoleum in the kitchen, with the skilled and efficient labor of the six of us young children.

So to be out taking pictures on Easter morning with the table set and the cooking done.  Well… it was a wonderful thing. 

I was out at the hatchery at first light.  Malcolm Greenaway had given me a book on bird photography, and I was trying a new technique.  I had always assumed that to track a bird in flight I had to set the camera so it could automatically adjust to changes as the bird flew against a blue sky or against the trees or the grass or the water.  But no, his book said to be completely manual… to set everything for the bird and for the bird alone.  That way the background could be over or underexposed.  Whatever.  But the bird would be fine.  It was all about the bird. 

This is the kind of shot, against a bright blue sky, that can easily create a very dark bird.  The manual exposure gave much more detail.

It was true again with this bird... There was at least some light from the side and the much less contrast, so I was able to get a very good rendition of the feathers on his back.

I should also say I love the chaos of the twigs and branches around him, the way they fall into messily perfect patterns, and the way they are just beginning to bud.

I had some trepidation, departing from my known procedures.  I decided to try it and you know it did work.  It worked very well.  Something that I thought would be difficult was really quite fine. 

And after many long months … the air was finally warm.  It felt good and I could only imagine how good it felt to the birds.  They now had energy to burn.  They were pairing up… flirting… defining and defending territory.   

Here is the mate for the tree swallow up above.  They were sitting nicely, one facing one way and one facing the other.  Then they flew off together.

Eagle defending his perch.  The eagle held its place, even though the osprey came several times.

And then the eagle was perched on the high electrical pole.  At first I thought the second bird was another eagle, but it was an osprey… and it started a fight.  I had never seen this, ever. 

It was all happening on this morning…rich and alive and warm and busy and budding or nesting or pregnant or newly born.  And the camera was bringing me to it… allowing me to see it as if I was right in the middle of everything.  I loved this.  I was happy. 

I was almost back to the car when I met a man with his two boys, four and five years old, on their way to a morning of holiday fishing.  They carefully petted Wilson and Molly and I showed them my pictures of the eagle.  They were at the age for questions:  “Why do you have two dogs?”  (I said, "Why are there two of you?"  That got me a look.)  Then, “Why is your camera so big?”  “To take pictures from far away.”I said.  One child spread his arms.   “Yes.  It’s to take pictures of very big eagles from very far away.”, he said.  And he brought his hands in.  “And if you have a little camera you can take pictures of little birds from very close together.”  I nodded.  I said, “That makes sense.”  He nodded also. 

 

On the way home I spied what I thought were eleven hawks circling over what was once the Moosup Baptist Church, but has recently become Iglesia di Christo.  When I saw them up close I realized they were turkey vultures.  I thought this was a little apocalyptic for Easter but I got some good, if disquieting pictures.

I got home and everything was easy.  (My sisters and my mother and my cousin and I had decided to keep it simple.  We limited the menu.  We actually agreed on this.  So all we had was Russian Easter bread, other bread, crackers, cheese, home made gravlax, smoked salmon, trout and blue fish, with associated side dishes and garnishes, deviled eggs, an entire spiral ham, many links of fresh kielbasa, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, potato salad, roasted peppers, marinated asparagus with rosemary, caramelized onions, kale, lobster pie, salad, blintzes, and fruit, and lemon ice, and an Easter egg hunt, unless I’m forgetting something.)  But we only had to lay out the food we had made, finish the vegetables and gather the food as it came in the door with the other people. 

I showed the vultures to my niece and nephews.  The older boy, (He’ll be eight in May.  He knows a lot.) explained that a vulture has no feathers on his head because would you want your feathers to get dirty if you had to eat what they eat?  And the twins (They are six, and I should mention that they are no slouches either.) pointed out that even though they had not personally seen a snowy owl they knew someone who had.  Their Auntie Grace.

So we had a nice Easter, made nicer because everyone did something and no one did too much and because the children were thrilled (and I mean as thrilled as I was with my pictures) because the Easter egg hunt included marshmallow peeps and because everyone was healthy and happy and clear-eyed and because we used paper plates, which is the answer for holidays.

I went out the next morning and realized that I didn’t want to go back to the hatchery after such a lucky day of pictures because I didn’t want to hope for more.  So I went up route 14A to see if there were any hawks in the marsh.  I was surprised by a line of trees at the edge of a field and the sun coming up through the fog.

Foggy at the hatchery.  The heron love to sit in these trees between the ponds.

Then I realized that the hatchery would also be foggy over the ponds.  I said, “That’s a completely different situation.”, and I hurried to the hatchery.  It was much darker than the day before when I had been in sunshine.  I pushed the ISO (the sensitivity of the camera) as much as I could to get a workable aperture and enough speed for the long telephoto.  I got some pictures of heron. 

 

This blue heron began to fly and then came back down, which is very unusual behavior.  Look at the second picture.  I wonder if his foot might have been stuck.

Here is a closer look at the third picture in the series.  I love the beauty of these birds.  I also appreciate the fact that the second bird remained imperturbable throughout, and stayed that way after the other bird flew, and also stayed after I left and went around the hatchery and came back to check on him.  That's one calm bird.

If this heron had his foot stuck, it ruins my theory about the perfection of bird behavior, at least for this particular bird.  It did however, allow me to take many pictures.

I made some very nice roasted vegetables this Easter, and my gravlax was good and the ham was good.  But there is something rich that has come to my life through photography, and I think it might be feeding my family more than the food.  It certainly feeds me. 

I have told you all of this because my life used to be about cooking for people (and working in Human Resources but that's another story).  I am so lucky now, at this time in my life, to have something that is so heart-driven, so much about the depth and energy of life. 

I never knew when I started what would be possible for me with photography.  I was afraid to take the camera out of the box, for fear that I would break it.  Every technical thing seemed like something that I would never be able to do.  But now I do all the technical things and it's fine.  I still do many other things, but the photography gives me ground for all of them.  And I've developed a way of knowing what is beautiful and trusting what I see.  And I see things that only I can see in my particular way of being.  And I'm sure this is true for each person.

PS.  You might be afraid of using manual settings on your camera.  (Check out the technical info section.)  But you get control in certain situations and you become a student of light.  I find this a worthy aspiration.  For example, I was taking my pictures and everything was fine.  And then I walked for about three minutes.  The sun was coming up just a little bit and the fog was burning off just a little bit.  My eyes adjusted and I didn’t realize how things had changed.  I overexposed some pictures.  That taught me to know the light was changing even though I couldn’t see it.  Now I pay closer attention to what happens with light, whether I am taking pictures or not. 

PPS.  I am back on the island since last night. I’ve driven out by the water. I have a slight head cold but I’m sitting in the car so the dogs can have an outing while I’m writing this post. I’m looking across Great Salt Pond to the Coast Guard Station and it’s warm enough and very windy.  The water is sparkling.  I am a lucky person.

PPPS.  Bill just got on a plane in Bangkok.  I put my emotional radar on when he’s on his way home. I like to think of him getting closer and closer, as if I had been holding my breath and I’m starting to let it out, or as if there had been something out of place and it’s rectifying by the minute.  The next time he calls he’ll be in Chicago, and the next time he’ll be in Providence and the next day he’ll be home.

Here is another blue heron, taken the second day, just as the fog was starting to burn off.  The background is a little overexposed, but the heron is good.  It is especially good to see the detail on the part of the wing that's in shadow. 



 




Nantucket

The lighthouse on the way into Nantucket Harbor.

As you know, it has been a long winter.  So I thought I would try a little change.  I mean, something really different…like going off to see a small island off the coast of southern New England. 

It all seemed very familiar… planning and organizing ferry schedules, a long ocean ride....until I saw the harbor.  Nantucket Harbor is the site of the largest whaling fleet in history… its hay day was in the early 1800’s… so it’s like stepping back in time…walking down narrow, winding cobble streets and alleys…looking at fine old colonial houses, each with a widow’s walk.  The people at the restaurants told us how you have to be so sturdy and everything because there are only 15 restaurants open on the island at this time of year.  So Mimi and I got to act like we had just come back from the wilds of Alaska and explain how it is on Block Island. 

The harbor in the rain.

In any case, I was only there for two nights.  We had an excellent time, with wonderful, long-time friendship and good food.  It rained most of the time, but we did get out to take pictures.  We saw a white egret.

When I came home and told Malcolm Greenaway about the egret, he said, "Then why aren't they here on Block Island?  I said, "Maybe they are on their way."  And it was just as I prophesied.  I saw one arriving last night.

We also took many pictures of the Nantucket Shoals.  I have heard about these waters all my life, in every maritime weather report.  The shoals are a series of shifting sandbars, in waters sometimes as shallow as 3 feet.  They stretch out to the south and east of the island.  Waves “feel the bottom”, peak up and crash when they encounter the shoals.  Ships driven through the shoals because of wind or errors in navigation are almost certainly lost.

Scary water.

See how the sand darkens the water and how close the waves are breaking to the shore?

It was something to stand there in wind that was only 25 knots and coming from the other direction, looking at water that was so dark with churning sand.  I’ve only seen it like that on Block Island in a hurricane. 

Another dark wave.

 

When I left the island, it was a little bumpy for the first half hour of the two-hour ride, and I got to listen to the familiar sound of a steel hull slamming against the water.  But the wind was from the north, and the seas continued to calm as we got closer to the mainland.  I was content to lie down and eves drop while Nantucket islanders talked about things that reminded me very much of ferry conversations on the way from Block Island… there was talk of getting ready for the summer and of someone getting all bent out of shape about something…and people talked about where they were going and what they would buy on the mainland and when they were coming back.

Back home.  See the deer?

It was snowing (!) when I got back to the mainland and the huge ferry terminal.  I drove to Moosup.  Went to the fish hatchery, of course.  Got some pictures of blue heron, of course.  And then I came home to Block Island. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Block Islanders.

The dogs were hysterically happy to see me and I was equally happy to see them.  I took them out to take pictures that night and then again yesterday morning. Then they waited in the car all day, in case I tried to make another escape.  We went out again last night.  The weather has changed at last.  There were moments of blue sky and good light and we went to many familiar places.  I realized how much I love it here.  All the years and the emptiness in winter and the freedom of movement and the thousands of walks and pictures have given me a sense of place.  It’s like even more than our house, our physical building, which is rented out in the summer, the island itself is home.   I know how the waves are likely to be under given conditions, at different parts of the island.  I call the people by name and they call me.  I have an idea where I might find ducks and deer and piping plovers and possibly now, even owls.  I’ve now been lucky enough to go to Nantucket but luckier still because I am so happy to come home.  I would love to go again when I have more time, and I'd also like to see Martha's Vineyard.  But right now I have egrets to find on Block Island and I need to say goodbye to the snowy owls, and actually I have to get down to the ferry because our son and his wife and new baby will be here in about 15 minutes.  I promised to go out on the breakwater and take the baby's first Block Island picture as the boat comes into the harbor.

A fortuitous welcome from a snowy owl.  I happened to find him, the first morning home.

PS.  I want you to see the difference light makes in a photograph.  This is the same egret I took up above, except in afternoon, overcast light.  The three pictures were taken almost at sunrise.  The sky was overcast then also, but the difference is that in so little light, the contrast was so much greater.

Same egret.  Different light.



The Snowy Owl

A nice picture of seagulls, as well as North Light, which I normally would have appreciated.

I went out first thing in the morning to find the snowy owl.  I knew when I found her that I’d have the best chance of getting close if I was alone, so I left the dogs at home, which I never do, which made us all a little sad.  I went down the dump road and began the long walk up the west side of the island to North Light.  I was ready to see the snowy owl at any moment.  I made myself patient, silent, perceptive and benign, like Marybeth or Pocahontas, someone an owl would like to be with. 

And then I saw her, the snowy owl, in the far distance.  I raised my camera and took a picture.  The snowy owl flew.  She came toward me and away at an angle, and disappeared off to the east.  I can usually focus on birds in flight.  Why couldn’t I do it this time?  Damn.  Plus, my feelings were hurt.  The owl had stayed for Marybeth and not for me.

I kept on walking because Marybeth said there had been two owls, one very skittish and one not so much.  I went all the way to North Light.  I didn’t see anything.  Well, I did see a lot of sea glass, but I didn’t care.  Stupid sea glass.  And I did see many sea gulls and even got some good pictures but I didn’t care about those either.  I began to walk back.  I saw a man with his dog about a mile away.  How was I supposed to get a picture of the snowy owl with people everywhere?  Then he cut into the dunes at the middle path that led back up around near the back of Sachem Pond.  I thought there might still be a chance if he hadn’t been at the far part, near where I had come in.  Then, I saw four more people.  I said, “This is how the snowy owl must feel.”  I went all the way back, fuming, missing my dogs because I didn’t know how to go for a walk without them.  At one point, I turned and a brown lab was there without his person.  I talked to him quietly, “Well, hello.”  And, “Who are you?”  And, “Are you lost?”  He looked at me with slightly uncertain and with soulful, serious eyes.  He followed me for a little while.  That made me feel a tiny bit better.   I called my husband.  I said, “I’m so upset I feel like I need to take a pill, or something.”  He said, “There will be more chances.”  I said, “No, there won’t.  There really won’t.  She is going back to the Arctic and I’ll never see her again.” I got to the people.  They were actually OK.  I showed them where to look for sea glass and found a particularly interesting piece and let the woman have it, which I thought was very nice of me, under the circumstances.  I got back to my car and saw they had parked next to me, and were from Delaware.  Stupid Delaware.

A nice picture of a wave.  Looking over the Old Harbor breakwater to Clay Head.

I went out again and took many more pictures of things that would normally make me happy, including some very nice waves but I couldn’t appreciate them at the time because I was being such a head case. 

Another perfectly good picture.

Then I ran into Malcolm Greenaway, a great Block Island photographer.  He had been out traipsing in the vicinity of North Light, looking for the snowy owl also.  We commiserated.  He showed me his equipment and the snowy owl picture he had gotten after trying for almost three hours, but the owl was in the far distance.  I told him that Edie had said to look near Cuttings Cottages and I went home to walk the dogs.  I was out with them, trying to make it up to them for my neglectful ways, when my husband called.   He had just spoken to Malcolm who had called to say that he found an owl exactly where I suggested.  So the dogs and I got back in the car and arrived just in time to see the owl flying away.  Malcolm had gotten some good pictures and that was something, at least. 

The beach on the West Side with no snowy owl.

When I woke up in the night, still inexpressibly sad, I said, “Enough.”  And I began to deconstruct my feelings.  I asked, “What is it about the snowy owl?”  I saw that this was different from all the other times that I have taken pictures.  It wasn’t like scores of chances with blue heron or thousands of chances with waves.  It wasn’t about being a grateful witness to the myriad beauties and surprises of the natural world.  This was about wanting.  One particular thing.  And having to have it. 

I asked myself what having a picture would get me.  I remembered that one of my teachers once said, “You can never have enough of something you don’t need.” I saw that this way of wanting was just confirming my lack of something, pushing it farther away.  I said, “If I really want the mystery that I feel in a snowy owl, wouldn’t it be just as good not to fix her in time in a picture, to let her remain alive and un-possessed? I thought, “Is there anything here that I don’t have already?”   I said, “I claim my sight, my birthright, my ancient and ancestral eyes.  I claim my wildish ways.”  That calmed me down completely.

So next morning I went out early to look for the snowy owl, but I brought my dogs, at least for the ride.  I passed Marybeth’s house and her car wasn’t in the driveway so I thought she might be out looking also.  I made up my mind that if I saw Marybeth or Malcolm in the distance I would leave and not screw up their chances, because you know, there are things more important than a snowy owl picture, such as my snowy owl support group, my photography friends. I did scan for the owl, but when I didn’t see her, I found myself picking things up on the beach, not sea glass… well, just a few specimens… but mostly pieces of plastic…a holder for a six-pack of beer, plastic bags and plastic flags and deflated balloons.  And here is something strange.  I felt a lot of snowy owl-ness all around me or even in me.  I just had snowy owl on the brain. 

I went out that afternoon and I bumped into Malcolm again…and then again the next day, when again I went out looking.  (I was not finding the snowy owl, but I was getting pretty good at finding Malcolm Greenaway.)  I told him I would be leaving this weekend to go to Nantucket with my friend Mimi.  He offered to help me clean the sensor on my camera.  He smiled.  He said, “Are you going to look for the snowy owl?”  “Of course”, I said, “it’s an illness.”  But I knew I'd be fine if I found her and fine if I didn't. 

I told Marybeth all about it, including my lust and jealousy.  She said she had just been lucky.  (That was true.  Well, partly true.  That woman has superpowers.)  She chuckled kindly.  She said, “Maybe the universe will reward your good deeds with a snowy owl picture.”  I chuckled in return, “You know it never works that way.” 

You know, it doesn’t… you can never get the recipe, or the equation or the way to get the soul of nature to buckle under pressure.  It is too powerful, wild and wily for containment, but you can learn and work with its wonders.  It’s generous and intimate in any case.

PS.

I went out yesterday...just for a short walk with the dogs.  I didn’t have much time because a friend was coming to dinner.  I'd given up on the snowy owl.  I went down by the back of Sachem Pond, not expecting or looking for anything.  And guess who was perched on the last house before the ocean?  I walked up to the stonewall and took her picture, knowing it wouldn’t be anything special from such a far distance.  She was the skittish owl but stayed much longer than I would have expected, leaving only when Molly started to bark.  I walked down the path to the water, and there she was in the grasses. 

The snowy owl turning her head to look at a crow.

I began to talk.  “I know you’re not that happy to see me, especially with the dogs, but if you let me take your picture, I’ll be very grateful.”  The dogs started walking toward her and still, she stayed.  I called them back and I got a little closer.   And closer still.  I took her picture again and again, and once again Molly and Wilson wanted to check her out.  I called them back.  And they came again, and I got a little closer.  By then my heart had melted.  I said, “Thank you.  Thank you.”  And, “I hope you have a good trip to the Arctic Circle.” 

The snowy owl staying and staying.


The snowy owl flying away.  I think that little bird in front of her must have been glad the snowy had better things to do than have a snack.

Wilson went about ten feet more.  I called him and he sat down and looked at that owl and the owl looked back at all of us and considered for a moment and then calmly flew away.  I called Malcolm and Bill and Marybeth to tell them.  Marybeth said, “I knew you would get a picture!”  I said, “I love that owl.  I love her so much, I want to come back as a snowy owl in my next life.”  She said, “Maybe you’ve already been one.”  I said, “I don’t think so.  Dead seagull is not really my favorite food.”  She said, “Lemmings then.”  I said, “That wouldn't be so bad.  I could come back and eat lemmings.” 

I went home and made dinner and my friend came and we had a wonderful time.  But then I was done.  Personal growth can be very tiring.

The same picture as the one above... with a little more perspective.



Many Birds

No Snowy Owls but lots of Blue Heron at the fish hatchery.

I was off island last week, in Moosup with my family, and the first thing I did go out to look for snowy owls.  The thing is… snowy owls have not been in Southern New England since the 1920’s.  They may not come again in my lifetime.  I’ve been tracking their flight patterns through Project Snowstorm.  Here is the site.

The owls I’ve been following are still around, but have moved from where they’ve been all winter and are making long daily flights.  They are expected to head north at any time.  The fish hatchery should have been a perfect place with big open fields and lots of prey, but I've gone every day and I haven't seen them there, nor in any of the other places where my brother Nick and I have been searching.

Another Blue Heron at the hatchery.

We did find other worthy birds - blue heron, and geese and ducks and a few hawks.  So I learned again the lesson I always learn as a nature photographer:  I’m not in control of my subject.  I’ve taken enough pictures so I can make a general plan, but then I get what I get.  It's good to be flexible because I can easily miss some amazing things, and I might as well accept that it is going to take some time.  But how bad is that?  Behind every picture are many hours of happy walking, searching, watching, waiting…expecting and planning and being drawn to certain things and waiting some more and being surprised. 

I ask myself why I love birds so much.  It could be their feathers… each one a different shape, perfect to its task, perfect in itself and then perfect all together.  And it could be how they wear their wings like coats to keep themselves warm… or how when big birds come down to rest, their outstretched wings fold to their compact bodies like origami paper.  It could also be their antiquity… they are living descendants of dinosaurs. 

 

 

 

 

 

This hawk was perched along route 14A, near a swamp in Moosup.  He looked over his shoulder to glare at me and then he took off.

But it’s not just that… it’s the way they act.  They are so damned good at everything they do.  A flock of geese were flying in “V formation” and then coming down, honking wildly, cupping their wings, falling from the sky like paratroopers. 

A crow, and this just amazed me…was flying in a high wind… and the wind got under his wing and pushed it open… it looked like the wind would dislocate his shoulder… but the crow went limp… the wind took that wing and hurled that bird across the sky.  And the bird rolled and turned and got control and stretched and flew away. 

Here are the geese coming down.

Heron stand in one spot… they wait for hours.  I wonder what they think about during all that time… Are they quiet and empty, or hungry for the next snack to swim by?  Or do they consider… you know… plan what they will do each night…figure out what movie to watch? Whatever it is… to be in their zone… to see the world their way… to be so perfectly made and possessed of such perfect behavior… well…that must be something. 

Seeing all this has made me want a more instinctive life.  I probably don’t use that word correctly from a scientific point of view… what I mean is...I want to live from these questions:  How do I trust the way things are? What do I know without knowing why?  What am I drawn to?  What do I do without even trying? What gives me life and energy?

Photography, this gift of our very technological age, has given me ways to connect more deeply with ancient human behaviors - seeing, searching, hunting, making things from what I find, bringing them back for my tribe. 

Barbara Carr is a new friend I’ve made by having this blog.  She’s a wonderful artist and a poet and I hope to send you more information about her work soon.  She showed me a beautiful painting that she made of a snowy owl.  She also told me what Andrew Wyeth said: “One’s art goes as deep as one’s love.”  That’s good.  Love is an instinct also.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds live every moment of their lives in danger.  Maybe that’s what makes them so smart and perfect.  They have to use their every capacity and that fulfills their lives.  I don’t live that way and I hope I never will but perhaps I have other ways…instinctive ways…to remember mortality...to clarify my life...to pay closer attention… to trust who I am…to lose myself in a process…to give it what I have…to love what I do and the people for whom I do it. 

 

This duck and the one above were taken on one of my brother's and my road trips down to Charleston, RI.  It's the same duck just before and in the process of landing.  His mate is making the wake just above him.

Wilson is on the right... he's almost 10.  And Molly is almost 5.

Yesterday morning I was packing the car and three hawks flew directly over my mother and brother’s house.  They circled around and one called to the others and by the time I got the camera they were gone.  I thought they had flown in the direction of the hatchery so I went there as soon as I could.  I left the dogs in the car, which offended them greatly. 

I went back and let the dogs out for what I thought would be a little break.  Wilson walked a few feet looking back at me over his shoulder and then he came back for me and did it again.  He's older now, and he wasn't like a puppy jumping around.  It was more dignified than that... more of an invitation:  “Come on… come on...”  So we did the circuit again, together. 

We’re home since last night, and I’m in the process of rebooting myself into my island life.  I don’t feel home quite yet but I know I will by tomorrow when I get out with my camera. 

PS.  Marybeth Jarrosak just wrote to show me her new snowy owl pictures.  They are fantastic.  You can see Marybeth's images here.  Marybeth very kindly told me exactly where and when to go looking.  I'll be out first thing in the morning.

Hawk at the fish hatchery.