A week ago, at near dusk, Pete and I were walking back up to the main cabin. It was then that I heard geese. I looked up for the source of sound, and saw them. They were heading north in three ragged V formations. We stopped and watched them pass overhead. The V’s fell apart and repeatedly came back together. It was mesmerizing.
There was perhaps a logic behind this pattern, but I could not, and really did not want to know what it was. Some things are best left unknown. I mean, if we knew everything, we’d lack curiosity. And if we lacked curiosity, we’d be shells of our former selves.
Then on Monday, Laurie Jo Green called and said the geese were passing through the area and asked me if I’d like to go and take photos with her. I readily agreed, and met her in town. I followed her over to the Palmer Airport.
We parked by the side of the road, and got out of our vehicles simultaneously. I noticed that were about 50 or so Canada geese foraging in the field – and about five or so people taking photos of them. Some had point and shoot cameras, and others had more complex SLRs.
Laurie Jo quickly set up her camera and 200 mm lens on her tripod. It was a very large, very heavy, very intimidating piece of equipment. It inspired envy, in fact so much so that the guy standing next to us couldn’t take his eyes off it. Laurie Jo then invited me to take photos. I peered through the viewfinder, and saw the geese, enlarged.
I was quite content to watch the birds mill about in a seemingly aimless fashion. Again, I suspected that there was a logic to their behavior, but I did not need to know what it was. Upon Laurie Jo’s urging, I took a few photos.
We next went to see if there were any birds near Springer Loop Road. I was, as we drove around, struck by the fact that even here in Alaska, that the geese habitat areas are shrinking. It made me sad to think that we humans often fail to take the migratory habits of wildlife into consideration when pursuing our develop related plans. Why is this?
I was pondering this very question as we again set up Laurie Jo’s tripod – this time putting her lens on my camera. It was then that I saw at the distance, three V’s coming in for a landing. I watched, open mouthed – it did not occur to me to try and take photos. There’s a fine line between being an observer and a photographer, and at that moment, it felt right to me to err on the side of observer.
The birds landed, and I told Laurie Jo I had to go. Otherwise, I’d be late for photography class.
Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese” follows. I considered writing a poem about my experience, but felt that this poem best contained my sentiments.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You have only to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Next: 139. 4/26/12: The Wheels on the Bus