column By: Tom Carney | July, 20
Henry David Thoreau loved to deliver aphorisms, those little, “Hey, I’m a smart guy, get this” observations meant to illuminate others on some aspect of life he felt he had discovered. One of the things that makes Walden; Or Life in the Woods so difficult to read is the aphorisms. As I recall, you can’t make it through two consecutive pages without having to stop to try to figure out what newly discovered truth he is expounding upon rather than just blowing through the story of some guy who lived in the woods and liked to watch ants battle each other.
Recently, one of his sayings popped to the surface of my thoughts: “Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.”
I was reminded of this by, of all things, my new camera.
A few months ago, I talked myself into needing a new waterproof compact camera to carry in the field or when fishing. As it turns out, a bigger camera, one you can change lenses on, was also available for an unbelievably good price. So, after talking myself into also needing the bigger camera, I sold the perfectly fine camera and lenses I had owned for ages and upgraded.
This new camera dizzies me. After reading the owner’s manual, I still only understood the three basic commands I had always used. I signed up for an online “introduction to the camera” course. It contained 36 lessons, and I dedicated two hours each workday for three weeks to get through it. Not only have I failed to master dozens more commands, but I also cannot find the spiral-bound pad in which I wrote my notes.
I resigned myself to the probability that I would just be turning the dial to “Program” mode and letting the expensive camera figure out the specifics on its own. Instead, though, for some reason I walked down to water’s edge at our cabin, fiddled with and tried to decipher the functions, envisioned the desired images and just took my time.
That’s the point at which I recalled Thoreau’s quote, and it occurred to me that he was actually telling people, “Too often we just trudge through life on Program mode focused mainly on ‘what’s next’; try taking the time to learn to control the camera in other modes and capturing each special instant and see what you end up with. What’s the rush?”
I guess we see that when Nature performs a slow, easy sunrise. Or when, in early evening, she’ll lay down the wind after thinking about it a while and deciding, “Enough, for now.” She holds her cards close to her vest, and then one day each spring she decrees, “Time!” and the sandhill cranes commence Ka-rroaking like a rusty gate overhead as they return to their summer haunts and, one night, the woodcock works to attract the ladies with the season’s first sky dance.
And the calendar be damned! Nature decides when to start her annual tease and engage the color-changing ignition on the bracken ferns in grouse country.
For some people, Labor Day means “last weekend of the summer.” For me, even though the heat in recent years has kept me out of the woods until the first week of October, it carries the connotation “first weekend of fall.” That’s because I generally pack my Suburban for the entire season then. Because I handle, ponder, think about and deliberate over every item that goes into the vehicle, this wonderful activity takes up the bulk of two days.
First items packed: the dog kennels. Everything else comes in second.
Then, as the days slowly pass, come the thinking, the planning and the scheming, and, if I may be so bold as to admit … the dreaming. Or to put it in any-mode-but-Program terms, “capturing each special instant.”
Following the lead of Nature, who treats her common, everyday occurrences as moments of patient, matter-of-fact crescendos and immersing myself in my own common moments, I snap away in full Manual mode, each photo’s quality dependent upon my adjusting every setting myself: rolling up the shirtsleeves, two folds per arm; wiping the lenses of the shooting glasses; double-checking my shirt pocket for my license; speaking to the dogs in a calm voice while strapping them into their bells and GPS collars bells; topping off their water bottle; double-checking to make sure the two backup shells are in that one side pocket of my hunting pants; tilting my cap to “that” special angle; stashing the keys in the special zipped pants pocket; dropping the shells into the tubes before donning my shooting gloves; keeping the gun broken open until the moment
I step into the woods.