I was recently asked to speak about my nature photography at a Unitarian church. It was easy to decide to talk about the 7th UU principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. I’m not an expert photographer, but people say I have a special connection to nature, and I guess it’s true. So I’d like to share parts of that talk, and secrets to getting good pictures, in this blog.
Do you remember when scientists used to say only humans had real thoughts and emotions? That animals (or as I prefer to say – other animals) act only on instinct? It’s taken a long time, but scientific studies are now proving what animal lovers have always known – that each species has a range of abilities – and feelings – that we are just beginning to understand. As we point powerful antennae into space, we need to also consider the antennae of our little neighbors.
Some moths, like this cecropia with its feathery antennae, can smell one molecule of a female’s pheromones from a mile away! Dogs have gone beyond bomb-sniffing to detect and warn us of seizures and changes in blood sugar. Have you heard that pigeons and fruit flies have been trained to detect cancer cells? My last colonoscopy was really fun… not! So when I’m due for another test, I’m counting on some friendly dog to just sniff my butt!
No wonder fawns are born with no odor at all- a great protection from predators with their super-noses. In a few days, the doe will start moving the nest around. This one must have trusted me. She watched me taking lots of picture as the little one frolicked and asked “Who’s that lady in the window, Mama?” But then she lay down, and was completely motionless, until her baby took the hint, found a sheltered spot a few feet away, and settled in. When Mama was certain her baby was still, she walked off into the woods, to forage before returning that night to nurse her little one.
Her message, to be still, is also they key to drawing in critters. Photography can be uncomfortable, standing on one foot, holding the camera up, and resisting swatting mosquitoes. Do I feed the deer? No – except for the flowers they help themselves to. That’s frustrating, but I’ve accepted it, saying that nearly anyone can grow flowers. Not everyone can grow fawns. I have one or more born here every year, and often wonder if the does come back because they were born here and feel safe. Or maybe they figure I am less of of a threat than the coyotes in the park behind us.
I’m used to swimming with beavers and having them slap their tails if I come too close to their lodge. But I was truly surprised when this one spent a whole winter right outside my bedroom. It had a burrow in the shore and would break through the ice whenever a warm spell allowed.
An even more surprising visitor was this mink, marking the same spot later by dropping his scat on the log. He was clearly watching me, and accommodated my silent wish that he stay while I got my camera. I came back with it and he posed for this shot.
I have Carol Gillen to thank for this shot of me swimming with a loon. I’ve noticed the deer are rarely afraid of me when I am “just a head” in the lake, and I can’t help but wonder if my daily swims are why the beaver and mink see me as less of a foreigner in their world.
I suspect that’s why the loons let me swim near them, and sometimes even follow me. Getting close to these stunning birds always thrills me to my core.
Have you seen them wave? I’ve read theories that the “foot waggle” is a way of cooling off while others say it’s a social move. Well, I’ve seen them do it when it’s really cold out, so I’m going with the “wave” theory and I always wave back – with my foot, of course.
Great egrets migrate through in the spring, but are shy, so I took this lucky shot from inside my bedroom. I always enjoy watching a bird preen its feathers. That tells me they are relaxed, and I think it makes a more interesting and intimate picture.
You may have read my blogs about the osprey I met in Florida, the great blue heron, and the birds who have wrapped their tiny feet around my finger or sat on my shoulder. All are examples of spiritual lessons happening in the natural world. Part of their magic is that we can’t explain them. But what’s important is the gift – the change that takes place in our souls, whether a momentary peace or an epiphany that changes the course of a life. It makes me sad that so many kids are growing up indoors these days, and others only get outside for organized sports, and never alone.
But some of our deepest relationships are with the animals who live in our homes or pastures. Several have been so special to me that they are in my book and will get their own posts one of these days. Sometimes it takes me years to be able to share a story of a special animal without tears. If you know me, you probably know that I feel things deeply, that I’m often caught with my emotions close to the surface or leaking out, whether in sadness or joy. But I suspect that this trait – the physical expression of emotion, might be one of the reasons I connect with nature. I believe that animals do have their own languages. But because they are not spoken like ours, they become super-sensitive to the body language, chemistry, feelings, and intentions of others – of all species. Their survival and evolution has depended on knowing what that other being is thinking and feeling – whether it is friend or foe, aggressive, afraid, amused, or irritated. Perhaps my transparency makes it even easier for them to read me and know that I’m not afraid, nor am I a threat. That I am in awe of them and, yes, that I love them.
Stay tuned for part two – the animals we love to hate.