Learning to Pay Attention

Since I vowed to do so a few months ago, I have been spending about half an hour per day living in the moment — focused, getting outside my head (and away from the PC), learning to pay attention. Some of that time is spent in meditation. Some of it is spent sitting in our indoor hot tub a few feet (through the picture window) from our bird feeders. Some of it is spent at night with Chelsea the dog, out on the back hill, just listening, sniffing, in the dark. And sometimes, as I did yesterday, I take my camera and look carefully, closely, for something to capture on film.

The North Pond connects our back yard to the Albion Hills Conservation Area, and since it is sheltered by trees on all sides it is a popular hangout for shyer wildlife — deer, foxes, birds that shun the feeder, and even occasionally wolves and coyotes. You can pull up a deck chair and peer through the trees unobserved, and if you look closely, and if you are patient, you will often be rewarded. It took a while staring at the scene in the first picture below before I noticed the motionless creature right in the middle of the frame. If you don’t see it, look at the second picture. It was accompanied by a set of three creaking sounds, a song I’d heard before. But it was white! Not a great blue heron, which we’d seen before, but an immature little blue heron, before it gets its remarkable slate-blue feathers and red-brown neck. The full neck extension indicated high alert, and I tried desperately but vainly to catch it on film as it rose magnificently into the air, flapped its enormous, graceful wings, and disappeared into the curve of the pond.


Frustrated by my inability to catch the heron in flight, I started paying attention to other bird movements around the pond. I learned that catching a bird in flight on film is a bit like playing hockey — you need to anticipate when they’re going to fly and also guess correctly where they are going and position your camera there, not where they are currently perched. It took several failures before I finally figured this out — and caught a common tern in flight, below:
Pumped by my success, I then tried to capture an insect — ideally a dragonfly — in flight. I’d posted my photo of a dragonfly at rest before:
But I learned to my chagrin that insects don’t fly at one speed or in one direction — they stop, and veer, on a dime. So finally I had to settle for another insect that had landed, a paper wasp:

More on my Flickr page.

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8 Responses to Learning to Pay Attention

  1. lavonne says:

    Dave, I just came across this story and thought of you right away.http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/08/0817_050817_animal_park.htmlWow.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Lavonne. This is at once fascinating and a bit scary. I can just imagine the ‘businessmen’ selling tickets to big game hunts where fat bored men pay money to slaughter fenced-in elephants. I know that’s not the intent of this program, but I see it as an almost inevitable perversion of it in an economy that values land, life and everything else only for the amount of money that can be made from it.

  3. Great photos, Dave.

  4. Pearl says:

    Catching insects or birds in flight is a challenge. I think that’s why I prefer making macro images of inanimate objects. :-) I suppose, stretch or atrophy, so pushing oneself is the better course tho. The layout of links done at http://www.followthatstar.com/ might interest you.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Pearl — thanks for the link — that *is* an intriguing layout and a pretty simple change what I have now.

  6. Zephyr says:

    It’s interesting – that’s one thing we need to work on as well, in ourwhite north american society: an appreciation for nature. Last year at an art fair, I saw some sandblasted sculptures created by a native american woman – they resembled natural stone arches, created by erosion in the Southwestern USA.Her art told how she saw motion in rocks. That was the levelshe was on in her conception of what nature was. She sawthe beautiful motions of the elements which created thoserocks over the eons – and the motifs in those things.I think we have to get deeper than just photography. I recentlyheard a radio recording of some speeches of a recent bioneers conference, in my community. I was very impressed – thatis a movement which borders on spirituality, in how theyuse metaphors.

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Zephyr: Absolutely. I’m in touch with Kenny Ausubel, leader of the Bioneers, from time to time, and I greatly admire what they’re doing (and Kenny’s writing about it). Some of the art I use in my blog is by Native Americans, and it does add a right-brain dimension that nature photography can’t do as well.

  8. Zephyr says:

    He’s your inspiration, isn’t he? I just found his essay you posted which you found in the Orion journal: “The Empire Strikes Out” – It’s sublime, all the ideas sound in the ears like different musical notes.

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