Sometimes the best pictures are truly happenstance. I saw this beautiful hawk on a branch in a clearing on a dirt road and the big bird indulged me by waiting long enough to get the photo, flying off just after this.
Some people might wonder, with all of the important news going on this days, why I am spending time focusing my camera and thoughts on wild things? Why am I not spending time more produtively — like writing a screed on administration policies and actions (well, I did as part of my summer fun, see my piece on Dreamers in The Hill) or doing strategic planning for Trinity’s next life phase (no worries, I am planning all the time!)… But here’s the truth: aside from being relaxing, which is important, I learn quite a lot from watching the wild things. Here are some of the most important lessons:
Wildlife photography requires a great deal of patience — learning to observe, read the movements, not disturb the critters while they, too, are patiently watching their surroundings, usually waiting to pounce on lunch like the great blue heron in the photo above, hunting for fish. Cultivating patience is a great wildlife photography habit and also something I can bring back to the office!
Discerning this very tiny hummingbird on a branch against the backdrop of heavy foliage requires both patience (#1) and knowing how to pick out details from a very busy backdrop. Most wildlife blends into the forest colors for a reason — the coloring is protective. Learning to discern small shapes and various wild things in the midst of the deep forest is a trait that also is important for work — picking out what’s important from all the details, focusing on the right things, and realizing that the light is fleeting so you have to act once you know what you are seeing!
In the forest, along with patience and discernment a photographer needs acute listening skills — it’s often true that we can hear the wild thing before we see it. I heard the song of the yellow warbler, above, long before I saw it flitting among the tall yellow weeds. Of course, listening is one of the most important interpersonal as well as professional talents we must develop — just as I’ve learned the various calls and sounds of wildlife, and what the sounds mean for their location and likely activity, I have to pay even greater attention to listening to people!
One of the things I’ve learned during years of photographing wildlife: they’re watching the photographer as intently as I’m observing them! And when it comes to the big furry critters like the fox, above, and other mammals that have teeth and claws, a little caution and a healthy distance is crucial! I use a very long lens, and most often, I’m in the “blind” of my car which means I can get away from danger if need be. Assessing danger, knowing how to take risks and when to be very, very cautious are all skills I must use every day at work. Like leaders everywhere, I know that people watch me as much as I try to observe and care for them… and trying to avoid danger while enjoying the view is very important!
Most often, wonderful wildlife photos are a result of being prepared to seize the opportunity — like the beautiful wing extension of the duck, above, which I happened to observe while looking at a bog that didn’t seem to be anything special until this duck came into view. Being prepared to seize opportunities is one of the most important professional talents — so much of our success at Trinity over the years has been the result of taking advantage of opportunities that came our way while we were looking for something else!
Appreciating the beauty, vitality and complexity of the wilderness and wildlife is certainly an important aesthetic value for a balanced human life — and it also is the basis for a deep moral sense of our obligation to use our human intelligence for effective stewardship of the wild environment, to ensure that the precious and vital ecosystems are able to work well and in harmony for all of the generations to come.
Honestly, whenever I am out with the wild things for any length of time, I find myself wondering if the people who would “pave over paradise” have ever spent a minute beyond the walls of their offices, or off paved roads in their cars and, instead, traveled well down rocky dirt roads to discover hidden ponds and clearings alive with the myriad life forms of the wild universe. Anybody who dares to say that environmental protection is unimportant should have to spend a few nights alone in the woods! And anybody who says that climate science is a “hoax” should sit for a few hours beside a drowning forest, a poisoned river, a stretch of once-pristine forest destroyed by development to understand “on the ground” the human activities that change the balance of nature.
I come “down the mountain” refreshed and renewed in my respect for the necessary balance between human progress and wilderness protection. Through the wonders of modern technology — my digital images safely stored on my computer —- I can revisit the beautiful wild things all year. I’m pleased to share them with readers of this blog, and as you look at these photos please join me in renewing a pledge to do all that we can to ensure the health of planet earth.