What is it about encountering animals in the wild that so allures the nature-rambler in us all? Whatever it is, nothing beats the sudden rush of coming face-to-face with a hoped-for but unexpected citizen of the fields or forest.
I have many fond recollection of such meetings… the fox who stared at me, and I at him, for almost a full minute before he dashed away over the fields on Sims Road so many years ago; the koala taking respite from the summer heat in our own lilli pilli tree; the python who slithered right through our gathering at the campfire in northern New South Wales; the cassowary family, warily regarding us from the roadside on the Bloomfield track…. And countless others…
I love coming to a new place and discovering who lives there. Here at Wildflowers we often see kangaroos, koalas, rabbits and the odd fox or reptile, as well as a wonderful array of birds, but it has been the deer who have caused the most excitement. One can only guess that they are venison farm escapees, carving out a brave new life for themselves in the semi-wild of the Adelaide Hills. At dawn or dusk and even sometimes in broad daylight, deer are almost always guaranteed.
Not long ago we rushed off to an appointment in the city in the middle of a sunny autumn day. As we rounded a bend in the road not far from here, a magnificent stag came into view. With enormous antlers, but still young enough to sport a spotted coat, he stood alone on the grassy roadside. When we pulled up he gracefully leapt over the fence into a field, but instead of bounding away he commenced to graze, only a few metres from where we were.
My initially exultant heart sank.
In the rush to leave I had left my camera behind. One of those futile moments ensued (the sort I’m sure some of you are familiar with) I opened the boot and began to rummage for the camera-I-knew-I-had-left-at-home, hopefully but without any real hope. Every now and then I would glance over at the stag who was nonchalantly grazing, then continue my desperate search. In the end I finished up muttering something about how I never left home without it (obviously not entirely true), got back into the car, and with great regret at having to go (already late for our appointment), drove away, with many a backward look.
I couldn’t believe I didn’t have my camera!
As I drove on I consoled myself.
There would be other deer photo-opportunities.
(Hardly! They all run away the moment they sniff anything even resembling a camera!)
At least it wasn’t Loch Ness
(“Yeah? You saw a stag? Right by the road? And he just stood there? Sure you did…hmmm”)
As you can imagine however there was no real consolation.
I set out one morning in the following week, camera in hand, hopeful and expectant. I had no reason to think I would see deer at close range- they are too clever and swift for that. A distant glimpse was the best I could probably hope for. I crunched along as quietly as possible, wishing I had spent my childhood scouting like an Indian instead of labouring over academia so I would at least stand a sneaking chance…
As the bush track came into view they were there, standing about 50 metres off, under the big pine tree- two young deer, their coats spotted white. They stood still while I triumphantly snapped a shot, knowing all the while that it would be substandard compared to what I could have taken the other day and could probably take if I had the camera with the better zoom.
Then they were off, downhill through the forest, barking a warning to any other deer who might happen to be nearby. I walked on, comparing the quality of the photograph with the quality of the experience and eventually concluding that more often than not my disappointment in a lousy photograph spoiled what would otherwise have been a beautiful moment.
I wondered if I could bring myself to go walking without my camera- and risk missing “the perfect shot” in order to more fully enjoy the incredible experience. I wished I had fully immersed myself in that moment I stood watching the stag, rather than fussing and fuming about my camera…
…Because there is something about a memory that a photograph cannot capture, however brilliant it might be. Perhaps it’s the way a memory becomes larger than life over time as you savour the moment and turn it over in your mind. It becomes a jewel among your recollections, beautiful and bright. It gathers its own story to it, a story worth retelling, somehow all the more special for not having any tangible reminder….
Sometimes I might “get the photograph”, but that is all I get, and I miss the moment. Of course it is possible to have both, but one will always distract from the other (for an amateur photographer like me anyway! Oh to be someone whose camera is handled with grace and ease, like an extension of themselves!)
So… note to self: If faced with a choice between a mediocre photograph and a magnificent memory, choose the memory. Because what we see is just one small part of the whole experience. Moments are not only made of sights, but of scents and sounds and of feelings unnameable, things that even the best photographer in the world is unable to capture.
(Do I feel a little better now?… Maybe…!)