This week we were given individualized Show Your Work assignments, based upon our responses to last week’s questions. For me, my professor targeted this quote, I believe that for a photographer, inspiration is the perfect balance between curiosity and wonder, striking with very little input or control on our behalf. My assignment is to discuss, and illustrate with any of my images, how wonder impacts my photography. Again, I’d like to share a portion of my paper with you:
It seems to me that wonder is an ambiguous virtue because it is experienced, and thus defined, differently by each of us, differently again in each season of our lives. I hope and believe that our wisdom burgeons — not through traditional learning, but as a byproduct of our wonder.
For a wildlife photographer, I am a bit of an anomaly, never having travelled to the Arctic to photograph Polar Bears, nor to the Antarctic to shoot Emperor Penguins. I’ve never been to the Amazon Rain Forest to capture Anacondas, nor to the Serengeti to photograph big cats. I cannot share tales and pictures of my travels to exotic locations where I was overwhelmed by curiosity and wonder.
Instead, let me tell you a little about how I live. Nature is very much my church making my life a holy simple existence, composed of a few simple repetitions; I observe and shoot many of the same creatures over and over again in many of the same locations. My life has become the sacredly prosaic compilation of visiting, studying, learning and shooting at marshes, woods, and waterfronts. On those rambles, I see wonder everywhere. Some examples of those experiences are:
The Energy Of Trees
My increased interest in trees, their brains (really!) and the power they generate began with the reading of Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life Of Trees. I have since read studies published by respected universities (including MIT), documenting that trees generate electrical power. Up to 200 millivolts using one electrode. Very small amounts, true, but astonishing to me. The halos surrounding these trees form, in large part, due to the energy flowing from the trees. Wonder!
That many birds and animals rely upon fish as their main source of nutrition was not a surprise to me, of course. The surprise was at the amazing efficiency of two creatures that allowed me to watch, photograph and record notes about in super-close proximity.
My first such experience was with this young mink in the marsh at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. He was only about eight feet away from me; I was stood on the Camp Office deck and he was immediately below me. I know he heard me walk out onto the deck, I know he heard the camera’s clicking and whirring, but he continued unphased by my presence, activity and noise. The pictures are not stellar by any means; the debris field is messy and distracting. However, the intimate experience was my takeaway; this wee lad would dive into the water and, not more than ten seconds later, emerge with another small fish (Sunfish?) in his mouth. A couple of times, I swear, he deliberately paused so I could see (admire?) his catch. As soon as he finished eating one fish, he’d be off to find another. Quick. Efficient. No waste. Wonder!
This summer I enjoyed another such experience, this time with a Great Blue. She was stood atop a small waterfall in the Ouse River. Quiet, still, patient and oh-so-efficient. Every thirty seconds or so she would quickly bend and snatch a small fish from the water flowing over the rock. She was brave, too; she allowed me to (very slowly and quietly) walk up to a rock not more than ten feet away from her. I was able to sit there, make notes, take pictures and admire her terrific skill with no apparent fear on her part. No matter how closely I watched (even when she stooped to grab a fish) I could never see one until it was clamped in her beak. The water was flowing from behind her, so her timing needed to be impeccable, and it was. Beautiful efficiency. Wonder!
One of the most amazing characteristics of Ecosystems is their ability to self-heal; they are efficient, powerful and valuable. On 3rd July 2017 (when the water levels were their highest) I took the image above, wondering how on earth something so pretty could thrive in such horrible conditions. With the flood waters came bacteria, pollution, algae and all manner of floating detritus. The water smelled awful and you couldn’t see to the bottom of the marsh, could barely see below the water’s surface.
Two shots, both taken at the same location, three weeks apart. Amazing, yes? The marsh ecosystem took care of business in a spectacular manner with an all-natural cleanse. True that it cannot combat garbage chucked into the water by humans, there were still water bottles, and other trash floating in the marsh, but clearly the bacteria, algae and pollution have all been eliminated. Three weeks. No chemicals. Wonder!
Winter Survival Skills
Every winter I find myself concerned about the birds, who not only endure, but thrive in the harshest winter weather. The enormity and rigour of their survival skills leave me feeling incredulous.
All through the park, Sparrows and Chickadees flutter about, seemingly undaunted by weather that, even dressed in parka and snow pants, leaves me shivering. I smile every time I see fresh seeds laid for them (despite the stern warning signs cautioning visitors not to feed the wildlife). Just look at those tiny feet… However do they not freeze? How do those tiny hearts keep beating when the temperatures drop so far below zero? Wonder!
The Swans are another matter altogether. They sleep on the ice, they swim and forage in water that is barely unfrozen. They are frisky, active, busy and – I imagine – happy exactly as they are. Why do they not succumb to the cold. Why do they not, like humans, experience Hypothermia from spending so much time in the frigid lake water? Wonder!
Having spent so much time outdoors the past eight years, I have come to realize that nature, Mother Earth, our world — vocabulary is irrelevant — is not merely where I am, it is what I am. Nature is my great teacher and the source of my wonder.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post and for any comments you may wish to make about Wonder.