I slide open the screen door and step into the cool of an early morning. Soon, the sun warms my back as the earth spins her body. With deliberate steps and a steady pace, I would leave the silence of the asphalt to meet shifting crushed gravel, my path bisecting a dense green landscape illuminated by foggy sunbeams piercing slivers of open space. The images of the woods are photographable, but I am reminded I have no means to record them through a lens.
I think of writer David King’s thoughts from his yet-to-be published book, America on Two Wheels – Biking Coast to Coast In Search of Human Stories.
“Which is more valuable: soaking everything up as it happens at the risk of forgetting it later, or taking attention away from the moment to photograph so I can later share a “best remembered” version? Experience it and have no record of it, or be able jog my memory as to what I didn’t fully experience?”
I wander into a world of spontaneity and surprise much like the previous morning when I met a turtle in my path. I slowed my pace while eyeing him. It would be some time before he meets the river ahead of him, trickling from north to south a few yards away. So, with his shell in my hands, I carried him a few feet away from pedestrian and bike traffic to the safety of soft tall grass under the shade of the honeysuckle, in the same direction he was going. He would make it to his destination safely, I concluded, and a little sooner than he might have expected.
Continuing on, white daisies sway in a breeze’s wake. Now in the woods, I spot a blue heron sitting on the crown of a tall tree like a lamp on a post. A few yards away, a fawn poses looking over her shoulder at the sound of my intrusion. I thought how unfortunate I was unable to photograph these spontaneous surprises. Thinking back to David’s dilemma, all I could do was to experience the sights as I saw them.
I see the tan dog first, his gait steady, confident, and focused ahead. At first I think the slender animal to be a stray, I wait for a human to emerge from the bend. And then she appears, dressed in a pale blue shirt and cropped pants, trying to keep pace with her best friend.
“He’s on a mission,” I smile and tell the petite woman. Her sandy long hair tailed from under her canvas hat.
“Yes, he is. He found a baby dear back there,” she says with wide blue eyes. “Here . . . I took a picture.” She pulls out her cellphone and swipes the screen to find a photo. Her companion stops ahead, offers a glance, and then trots back to us. His dark brown eyes and smile are gentle in greeting.
“What a beautiful photo. The fawn, so young, so little to see her nestled in all the green. I love those little white spots!” I say.
I smile at the thought of her ability to take photographs to capture her discovered surprises. And the only way she could have shared her discovery with me was through a photograph. I wondered as I walked away if I’ve made a mistake in not having my camera with me.
I think back to the heron, the fawn and to the daisies. And I recall seeing more to those images than what any photo of them could have revealed.
It wasn’t the big bird sitting atop a tree, but how it balanced on swaying, seemingly weak branches. It wasn’t a deer nestled in a bed of green looking over her shoulder, but how a fawn’s startled eyes were alerted with my presence. It wasn’t a patch of daisies growing along the river, but a fabric of white and yellow polka dots setting off the greenness of the forest bed.
Photos may enable us to share with others an exact moment of our experiences, like when we see a perched big bird, tell-tale white spots on a fawn, or a patch of wild daisies. But without a photograph, you rely on living the multiple moments, witnessing more than what a lens captures in a single moment from a single click.
I remember the turtle that slowed my pace and a woman with a camera who showed me her memory.
How about you? Was there a time when you wish you had a camera, but then realized there was much more to what you were seeing than a photo could never capture?