June 18, 2020
Very early in my career--not this bird photography thing but the lifetime profession that put food on our table and film in my camera--I learned a few weeks after the unexpected death of a client that she had committed suicide and that I was likely the last person with whom she had spoken face to face.  This had a profound impact on my life, and I vowed I would always do three things in my workspace:  I would strive to connect with people on a more personal level, not an easy thing for an introvert; I would always relate to people with empathy; and I would try to bring joy to people’s lives.

This summer marks the fourth anniversary of my retirement.  I knew all the stories about the downside of this stage in life.  I was psychologically and emotionally prepared, but still I dithered a bit.  I missed the fulfillment of the three vows I had made those many years before, so . . . maybe I should try to “keep my hand in,” I knew some people, maybe I would make a few phone calls.  And then the pandemic intervened.

Truth be told, I never sequestered in place, even during the so-called lockdowns or the subsequent protest induced curfews.  Most every day I have been out with the camera seeking nature’s beauty.  As you might suspect, though, one prerequisite for obtaining images of birds, really good images of less common birds, their portraits, and their lifestyle, is social distancing, and I’m not talking about six feet.  Six miles suits this introvert just fine.  Last week I spent three days camped six miles from the end of the pavement and saw only two hikers whom I avoided as if they were carrying the Black Plague.

And lots of birds.  Less common birds.  Fascinating birds.  Beautiful birds.  Birds doing what they do when people aren’t around.  The camera was busy.  At a water hole where I spent two hours one morning, I was surprised at lunch to find I had taken over 500 images.  So, after lunch I went back to the same place.  It’s an addiction, but there are many worse addictions than reveling in nature.  Why not pursue beauty, walk in beauty, live in beauty.  It’s just outside your door as many new to birding are finally discovering these days.

On the drive home I thought about the three vows and realized, though I might be missing out on the fulfillment of the first two, the third, bringing joy to others, was still part of my psychological blueprint and was still literally in my hands whenever I carried the camera.  The pandemic, as it has and will in the ensuing months to many of my species, irrevocably severed any ties to my past life.  Three days in the wilderness brought me to an awareness that I really don’t want to make those phone calls.

The consensus, still and always will be, that social distancing is the surest safety measure in this or any pandemic.  Assuredly, I miss social interactions, intimate personal connections, bringing people together, playing hero to clients, but time erodes the foundations of all our past lives, leaving something new and different in the residue.  And I still have “this bird photography thing.”  It has taken four years and a global tragedy, but now I get it and have discovered I’m fine with it.

Driving south, down out of the Mazatzals, I watched in awe as the full moon crept up over Mt Ord, at first just a silver sliver behind the massive foredrop of evergreens.  Funny, but the first thing that came to mind was my favorite CCR song, Bad Moon Rising, released in the summer of ’68 amidst Vietnam, assassinations, and culture wars, its lyrics possibly more apropos now than they were then.  Funny, though, because my mind segued at once to substitute “full” moon rising, and my thoughts ran immediately to the images I had seen on the back of my camera and the peace I now felt in this cocoon of my retirement, mandated by this pandemic.

May this column’s images bring you joy and peace amidst these troubled times.
Black-headed Grosbeak Black-chinned Sparrow Yellow-breasted Chat Western Tanager
Click on image for the link to each species' page