As I sit here on this Saturday morning, the last in July, after having spent a glorious chunk of time outside, I can recognize and feel thankful for my blessings. Sometimes it’s easy to see only the negative side of things, but days like today show me just how lucky I am. I love that I have total and complete freedom to spend my time exactly as I want, not having to check with someone or plan my schedule around another. On weekends I usually have no place to be, nothing I must do and hours to spend as I see fit, which almost always includes my favorite thing in all the world–nature photography. What freedom! How can I not love and be thankful for this!
Before the sun rose today, I lay in bed and contemplated how to spend my morning. Yesterday I rushed off to The Biltmore Estate, hoping to photograph a male hummingbird in the walled garden where 6 feet tall red flowers beckon like bells to the winged wonders. I saw plenty of hummingbirds, but none of them cooperative ones who wanted to be famous. I stood in the sun forever, waiting, waiting, waiting, with sweat pouring down every inch of skin. It was hot and crowded and though I enjoyed my time there and found plenty of beauty and things worth photographing, today I needed some solitude. So a little after sunrise, I headed out, walking the short distance to the wild spot of land beside my home.
The field there is unnoticed and for sure, unloved. (Except by me!) It is not one of these lovely meadows filled with wildflowers of every color. Instead, it is overgrown, teeming in spots with poison ivy and pricker bushes along with queen anne’s lace, clover, vetch, milkweed, thistle, and a mix of grasses and other plants. In some places the growth is nearly as tall as me–6 feet, which makes my progress slow. On my way to the far side which has become my favorite spot, I passed two round patches of matted-down grass where some animal slept recently. I smiled, thinking about the curled up bear or deer, spending the night under the stars. It is always a joy to read the tracks and traces that are present everywhere.
At a place where grasses were thick, weighted-down with tiny drops of dew, I stopped and proceeded to look closely, searching for possible photographic subjects. The water drops decorated everything, hanging silently like miniature ornaments. I set my tripod up and began closing in on some of the more interesting drops, loving the way the sunlight reflected in each one.
After I’d been working for a while, I heard breaking sticks in the forest and stopped to look there. Was it a bear or a deer? More noise came–enough to tell me it was a bear– and then, sure enough, a bear emerged from the thick wall of forest, entering the field at a slow pace and taking a dozen steps out before stopping. In this split second when I realized it was a bear, my only thought was, I have on the wrong lens! My macro with the 2x converter on the end was not going to work to photograph the bear!
Meanwhile, the bear sensed that something was amiss in the field, suddenly standing up and looking my way. The sun behind me on the horizon though was blinding and though I was only 30 feet away, it seemed unlikely he could make me out. By then I had switched lenses, but the camera was still screwed on the tripod which was low in the grass. I undid the screw as my heart threatened to beat right out of my chest. My hands shook, as I hurried to get ready to take at least one shot. It was an OMG moment! And I thought I would die right there of a heart attack, I was so excited. The bear by this time had moved away, to the edge of the field, where he promptly sat down, looking back my way. I had time to lift the camera and take two photos–both of them bad–before he disappeared into the trees…..
Woo hoo! I live in an amazing place! It is extraordinary for me to think that today I saw a bear–not in Great Smoky Mountain National Park or Pisgah Forest, but right here, steps away from my door. To some this would be alarming and cause for fear, but for me, it only reinforces what I have known since I moved here. I am in the right spot. I am where I want to be. I am surrounded by wildlife and wild land; my little slice of heaven. For me, witnessing a wild animal in its natural habitat is a HIGH that’s hard to beat.
After that I stood for a long time, switching to my 300mm lens and hoping with everything I have that the bear would step out again and I could get some decent shots. A second chance to photograph him when we were not so close and not so rushed. But of course, it was not to be–in my experience with nature photography, one rarely gets a second chance at wildlife.
Eventually I moved off and continued my photographic foray, finding much beauty to capture…. a perfect tiger swallowtail butterfly, a common buckeye, a spicebush swallowtail backlit, dragonflies with golden wings that shimmer in the sunlight and lots of “water art” waiting to be photographed. I love my life! I love the chance to find and capture these ordinary moments that recharge my spirit and bring me a joy that I can find no where else. Such a beautiful world we live in!
Have you had any exciting animal encounters lately?