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Drop your camera to find serendipity and your great blue heron


I love my camera. It’s just a basic point-and-shoot and I’d love to get a nicer, more professional one, but for now, I love what I have. It goes everywhere with me. Recently it came on a walk through Whatcom Falls Park with me. On my way to the park, I was driving past Bloedel Donovan Park, right on Lake Whatcom, and couldn’t help but pull over to take a photo (ok, more than one…) of the sunrise over the lake. Beautiful. I thought it’d be the highlight of my day since the color of the sky was getting more… well… Washington-y… cloudy but not rainy… overcast. It was just typical Washington weather that changes the light to make photos not quite as nice as those with the beautiful colors of sunrises and sunsets here, so I thought this was the end of my picture-taking day.

After attempting to capture the sunrise, I headed over to Whatcom Falls Park, my favorite park in Bellingham. I usually park at one end and walk to the other (maybe 2 miles on the meandering trails I take). Since this was my first visit back to the park since returning to Bellingham, I decided to go straight to the heart of it- literally. In the center of the park, there is a beautiful stone bridge crossing over the falls. It’s right near one of the parking lots and a good entry point to the trails, so a lot of dog walkers cross there in the mornings. I was greeted by a loud collie as I began crossing the bridge, followed by her sweet owner assuring me she was harmless and I should just yell back at the dog.

After the dog and owner pass back to their car, I decided it would be a nice shot of the bridge since no one else was there at the moment. I walked back to the beginning of the bridge, camera in hand. Just as I turned around, my jaw dropped as gorgeous great blue heron flew by. This thing was huge. I stood awestruck for a few seconds before rushing halfway across the bridge, hoping to see where it had gone and kicking myself I had missed my million-dollar shot by mere seconds. I found the heron perched on a branch about 40 feet over the river. It looked so small sitting there, nothing like what it had looked like with wings outstretched to 5 feet.

I stood on the cold bridge, camera poised, ready for the moment it took off again and I could get a beautiful photo of the bird. Well, after about 10 minutes and several people passing (I pointed out the heron with great pride to each person), it finally swooped down to a small inlet. Of course, I couldn’t get the zoom and focus right, so it’s just a big flying blob on my camera. This made me more frustrated and I thought of waiting the heron out until I got a good shot of it. I deserved a good shot, right? I was awake at 5.30a and already had a productive day and it wasn’t even 8a yet!

Whatcom Falls Park bridge

I realized quite quickly that the heron wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I put my camera in my pocket (band around my wrist and finger on the trigger) and hesitantly walked to the trail (looking back as if the heron would fly off just after I was out of sight). I spent the rest of my walk looking back to see if it was sneaking up on me.

Along my walk, I realized that I shouldn’t be upset that I didn’t get that shot. Quite the opposite. I should be happy that I didn’t have the camera to my face in the split second when the heron was majestically flying over the bridge. I should be even happier that that dog slowed me down, that I didn’t decide to just take the photo on my way back and many other factors that could have made me miss that moment. I had seen a beautiful thing when so many things could have made me miss it.

Now, I still love my camera and love taking photos, but this moment re-taught me that sometimes we just need to set down the camera and actually look at things around us. If you’re busy taking a photo of sweets in a shop, you’re missing the person behind the counter offering you a sample. Maybe you’re taking a photo of a mosque, but you’re so focused on getting it right, you don’t hear the muezzin singing the call to prayer. With a camera in your face all the time, you can’t take in all your senses. You won’t be as observant to the sounds, smells and sights around you. Traveling through a camera lens isn’t good to do- all the time.

I am so glad to have pictures of my travels, but I know I need to cut back. Sometimes, I take too much time figuring out how to get the best angle, the best light or capturing the best facial expressions. Instead of trying to snap your camera just as the old man in the market is smiling his beautiful tooth-less smile, why not find out what he is selling and have a conversation with him? Tell him (with words or actions) that he has a beautiful smile. He’ll give you a genuine one that you can bring back in your mind rather than a smile meant for someone else that you happened to catch on film.

Seeing your trip through a lens changes it. Your perception of the culture is distorted and distance between you and the culture is greater. By putting down your camera a bit, you can see things you never knew were there. And if you come back and still really want a picture of an old man smiling in a market, trust me- you can find one on the web! 🙂

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