I was given a chance to redeem my honor this morning: I found another weird tiny white basket levitating in my path. Vowing to vanquish fear and re-commit myself to science, I immediately switched to my close-up lens, though I kept a weather, non-viewfinder eye on the creature itself. Today’s basket was suspended from a very slender filament of some kind, visible in a number of photos I took, though not, as it happens, in this one, which I am posting because it shows clearly another signal difference: today the little white gondola had a passenger, a gray larva. At some point during photography, I noticed that I had transitioned to standing on my tiptoes; while I had been photographing, the gray passenger had gradually winched the gondola and itself upward. At some point, upon stepping back for a perspective view, I noticed an identical larva-in-gondola suspended just a foot or so away, a little lower in the air. My working theory now is that my encounter yesterday was with an empty gondola, still trailing the thread on which it had been suspended, which was serving it as a sail, and that when the thread caught on me and my camera, I got the mistaken impression that it was coming for me. Now that I have taken a calmer look, I do not find these creatures any less creepy. With what dark purpose do they lower themselves from the trees?
It’s been exactly a year since I started taking photos in the morning while walking the dog. I only posted them on Instagram at first, but my behavior looked suspicious to the algorithm (I can only post on Instagram by telling my laptop’s web browser to pretend to be a cell phone), and Instagram locked me out of my account after a few weeks, so I started putting the photos up here on my blog in August. The idea was to photograph time, the way the color and the feeling of everything changes. A friend sent me an email recently, after reading Overthrow, saying that he lived in California now and liked being reminded of seasons. This made me very happy, because almost the first thing I imagine about a story is when in the year it’s happening (and also, when in the liturgical calendar, even though I’m not a churchgoer any more).
My initial plan was to take a picture of the same vista every day, but even on day one, I could tell I didn’t have that much discipline. I just photographed what caught my eye. The first lens I had could do portraits, close-ups, and landscapes, but not long distance, so flowers and mushrooms were more likely subjects than birds or butterflies. It wasn’t until March that I got a second-hand telephoto lens, just in time for the spring migration season for warblers and their friends.
Almost my first impulse, when I see something that I want to take a picture of, is to be ashamed of wanting to photograph something so trite. Oh, that’s always there, I tell myself. Everyone sees that all the time. It’s not true. You may think, as a way of dismissing yourself, that there are going to be a lot of mornings when the sun slants through the grove of American sycamores, while its rays are being made visible by a mist, and that it isn’t special, but in a year, there was only one morning when that happened.
A dozen digital photos cost as much as one, so I take a lot, and sometimes, later, at home, while reviewing a series, I’ll discover that the moment that caught my eye was even briefer than I suspected while I was caught up in it—that the light was only at the necessary angle, and in the right hue, for a few seconds, for the first photo or two in the series.
There are two kinds of wild raspberries in Prospect Park—one with white flowers and compact berries, and one with pink flowers and dome-shaped, sweeter berries. I only figured this out a couple of days ago. Often, if a passerby asks me what I’m looking at, I mumble, because I don’t know. I aspire to being able to figure it out at home later, but I don’t even always manage this. Or they ask, “Are you looking at the hawk?” which I’m almost never looking at. For some reason, I almost never see a red-tailed hawk except in the evenings, when I don’t have my camera.
Is it peaceful to spend an hour in nature in the morning? I don’t know. There’s a lot of conflict in nature. Insects aren’t the friends of other insects. It occurred to me yesterday, while watching sparrows flitting about with the detritus of mostly-eaten insects sticking out of their beaks, Oh, they don’t have arms or hands, so they can’t wipe their mouths, and probably dinosaurs also went around with the gore of the last meal drooping from the sides of their maws. If I’m able to identify a flower, it often turns out to be invasive—to be a weed, basically, flourishing in large part thanks to human disruption of the landscape. But that’s the almost universal condition for flourishing, now; that’s what it is now to be alive.