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Speaking of Nature

Looking back at 2012

It wasn’t a great year, but it had some great moments

When I asked around about the general feelings people had toward 2012, I was surprised. There are always a few people who are fairly neutral about such questions and there are always people who fill out the pro and con sides fairly evenly, but not so this year. Without exception, the general feeling was negative: 2012 had been a difficult year and it was time for it to go.

When I inquired further, I came up against an odd obstacle, however. People were quite adamant that 2012 had worn out its welcome, but when pushed for details no one seemed to be able to articulate why. So I sat back and tried to think about how I felt about 2012. I was not one of the people who would be chasing 2012 out of town with torches and pitchforks, but I suppose I, too, had little positive to say about this past year. Perhaps if I look through my journals ...

Well, this is interesting. It seems as though there were plenty of beautiful evenings this year, but in reading through my own record, I do seem to detect a bit of a negative tone. Bits of bad news here and there; nothing too devastating but enough to leave an impression when they are all added up. It seems as though I am also no particular fan of the current year, but there definitely were moments that stand out as being wonderful.

One such day was July 20 — a Friday. In the meaty part of the summer, this was one of those days that was warm, humid and cloudy. You could actually see the sun at times, but it was never more than a white disk in a white sky. This is just the sort of day we nature photographers dream of. The light is bright, but not direct, which means no shadows or harsh contrast to contend with. On a day such as this, the colors seem to glow with an internal light.

Such was the case when I happened upon a patch of echinacea that was growing wild next to a quiet country road. This was an odd discovery because there wasn’t a house nearby. In fact, I’d have had to walk for almost a mile before I saw a mailbox so I have no idea how this particular patch of flowers got started. Did the flower fairy come flitting down the road sprinkling seeds behind her? Did a gardener with a pickup truck accidentally lose a packet of seeds off the back when the tailgate was left down? Who knows? All I did know was that a day that starts with such beauty usually turns out pretty well.

After soaking up the color, I decided to go walking along a favorite trail and the trend was supported. This day ended up being a particularly nice one. The topper had to be the encounter I had with a female white-tailed deer. Even without seeing a lack of antlers, I would have been able to tell she was a she by her behavior alone. She had this skulking way about her as though she was trying to keep a secret and I kept bumping into her in the same basic place time and time again.

The reason for this was obvious to me — fawns. Somewhere in the thickets of brush off to the side of the trail she must have had fawns hiding and waiting for her. I myself was doing my share of skulking as I crept from place to place as quietly as I could manage. At one point, I even managed to sneak up on the doe and, as she peered back at me over her shoulder, I was able to capture a photo that says it all. If Homer Simpson were to do the soundtrack he would simply say, “DOE!”

Fortunately, I was in an area that was heavily traveled by people. The deer had probably seen hundreds of people walking these trails by the time mid-summer had rolled around and this particular deer seemed to be fairly nonchalant about the idea. I was given a good long look and then the doe casually disappeared back into the brush. It is astounding how quickly a large animal can simply melt into the background, but thankfully she couldn’t take the evidence of her presence with her. That was a good day.

Another good day occurred less than a month later when Susan and I were up in Canada. We had traveled to Prince Edward Island for a long-awaited vacation and I had great plans for photography. I had selected PEI for its bird life and I was eager to see if reality would in some way bend to my desires. Trips to exotic destinations are always fun, but the pressure of needing things to work out can add some undesirable stress. As it turned out, I got stress in spades.

On our first full day on PEI, after months of planning and all manner of excitement and anticipation, Susan and I set off to explore the northeastern end of the island. We ate breakfast in an old lighthouse, we stood at the tops of rocky cliffs and watched the waves come crashing in, and I quickly realized I had a problem. My camera wasn’t working.

Fortunately there was a chance to fix this problem and Susan and I returned to the world of nature photography a couple days later. This time, I was in a kayak headed out to explore a tidal lake, but it actually turned out better than the cliffs with the waves because of an amazing opportunity to get up close to some of PEI’s bird life unfolded that day.

It was Aug. 15 (a Wednesday) and the sun was shining brightly. Unlike the humid, cloudy day that had produced such wonderful lighting for the flower and the deer earlier in the year, a sunny day with a clear sky was exactly what was needed for shorebird photography, especially since it was early in the morning and the sun was at a low angle. This would provide outstanding side lighting and would also help create the glint of light in the eye of each bird that makes a photo really pop.

Like the deer, the birds that I eventually encountered did not seem to mind my presence a great deal. I am not sure how many kayaks they had encountered that summer, but they clearly didn’t see a human floating on a kayak as any kind of particular threat. At one point, I was able to float up to within 20 feet of some plovers and I captured some amazing photos.

Various species of sandpipers and plovers crisscrossed the tops of sandbars that had been exposed by the falling tide. Gulls, terns, bald eagles and even a northern harrier flew overhead while the little birds scampered about in front of me. It was the singularly most successful shorebird photo trip I have ever been on and, though I spent over four hours hunched over my camera and roasting in the sun, I didn’t even get a burn. Things just worked out that day.

So not every day was a failure in 2012. I have records of many a lovely evening spent on my porch listening to the birds as they would wind down for the night. There is ample evidence in the pages of my journals to suggest that at least some of the year was in fact quite delightful. Yet as I sit here on a cold, snowy morning, with news of an impending storm that is about to hit, I can say that I am definitely looking forward to 2013.

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