Ponder this:

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Photo by John Yuill

About once every year I am graced with the sight of a scarlet tanager. Four days ago I saw a male in the full regalia of his breeding plumage.
I recognized him only as he vanished into the roadside brush, so that I had to examine my memory to see him. I can see him still, his body brighter than living blood, opaque black wings on the backsweep.

A dozen years ago I worked with Bill, an attorney whose office was lined with his photographs of animals he had seen on his worldwide travels. I asked him about the photo of a soulful-eyed mountain gorilla. He had gone on a Rwanda trek, had seen the gorillas. Bill took some pictures and as the guide led them onward, a young male gorilla rushed out of the leaves and brushed his knuckles against the back of Bill’s hand.
“Barely a touch,” Bill said. “It was his handshake. He was greeting me. It happens . . . so fast . . . that you have only the tactile memory.”

A few years ago in this season, I turned into my driveway and caught a glimpse of pink where there had been fresh green the day before.
I drove down to the house, parked, walked back, Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers in hand, to compare leaves and blossoms to photographs in the book. I judge it to be a mountain laurel.

Every year I forget that gentle surprise, until the next May when one day I enter the driveway and there it is again. Never one or two blossoms: the whole thing is green one day and the next covered with delicate pale flowers. As with most wild shrubs, the flowers won’t last long before the plant withdraws once again into green anonymity; that’s part of the blessing.

So many natural events are visible for just a moment. My photograph is not a good one; I took it through the rain, through the open window of the car. But it will recall to me one ephemeral vision of spring.

I don’t know what this is about.
Is it about the joy of a momentary contact with a wild creature through whatever sensory means, or about the wonder of the memory of such moments? Is it about the useful tool of photography to recall a memory?

Annie Dillard wrote the way you live your days is the way you live your life.
“If one day I forgot to notice my life, and be damned grateful for it, the blank cave would suck me up entire.”
~An American Childhood


threecollie said...

What a wonderful post! I like the thought.
Alan saw a scarlet tanager yesterday too, a life bird for him. He was thrilled!

Carolynn Anctil said...

Beautiful, haunting, and provocative. For me, any brush with nature is awe inspiring. I can't imagine how absolutely thrilling it must have been for your boss to have that encounter with the gorilla...my heart would have completely burst out of my chest.

I love it when I take the time to notice the macro things going on all around me. You've reminded me of a most interesting nest I spotted quite by accident on a walk I took through a busy city neighbourhood the other day. Nature going on about its business right underneath our noses...I'll have to go back & photograph it.

Wanda..... said...

Moments of memories are what makes for a wonderful life...I so relate to your post...discovering and remembering...living in the moment...taking the time to notice...At my site I state "Be Silent and Listen"...two of my favorite words.