Sunday, March 14, 2010

From the Beginning

I don't know if I've ever gotten into this topic before (?), but it is something I relive occasionally when someone poses a question where I started; where it all began I guess.

First it was just unintentional small steps...parents who didn't protest the little things...frogs, toads and turtles "free ranging" in the basement; science summer school; teaching the neighborhood squirrels to eat out of my hand; wading and fishing in neighborhood streams.

I gained an appreciation for the beauty of this scheme of things. I was fascinated by the light shimmering off the membrane of an amphibian, the colors and design of a turtle's carapace and plastron, the shapes of trees, their leaves, the hillsides along the Des Moines River valley, the rocks and fossils along Lizard Creek, or lying on a pasture hillside staring at the sky...watching clouds and the birds that intersected my field of view.

One day I bought a book, I was eleven or twelve, the book was full of color illustrations by Louis Aggassiz Fuertes. They were awesome, beautiful...the slip cover of this 1917 edition book, for the lack of a better word, transported me. Two of my most favorite birds, a Cooper's and a Red-tailed Hawk, were perched on treetop branches above forested hillsides. The landscape and the birds were mesmerizing for a young impressionable me. I wanted to paint birds.

Birds in the yard would never seem to hold still long enough for me to draw; I got the idea I needed to photograph them, and then I could draw them from their photo; brilliant idea I thought.

I didn't have a camera, but my mother loaned me her old box camera. Ya, the old Ansco Shur-Shot Jr. at the top of this blog, was to be my first camera. I actually took quite a few pictures with this Ansco...all B& was a 120 film camera (2 1/4X2 3/4" or 6X7cm). You can kind of guess how useful it was as a bird camera though - not very.

One incident convinced me to get a "suitable" camera. I was walking the upper banks along Lizard Creek's south branch west of town one summer afternoon. It was a typical hot and humid day and the afternoon wasn't the best condition to find birds. By just dumb luck I came upon a Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree jutting out of the high bank below me. The bird was maybe 3 feet out from the bank on a branch about 8-10 feet above the water flowing beneath it. The bird was awake, looking across the creek into the woodland there. I dropped as fast as I could into the grass above the high bank and crawled very slowly on my stomach to the bank's edge and peered over - it hadn't seen or heard me, the noise of the creek had masked my presence. My heart was pounding so loud I was sure the bird would hear it!

The owl was sitting in deep shade. I pushed the box camera ahead of me and tried peering into the viewfinder without raising my head too much and giving myself away. I was no more than 6-8 feet away from the bird, yet I could not find the owl in my viewfinder, it just was not bright enough. I looked up again and tried to reference where the bird was, then looked back into the viewfinder - still no bird, I looked up again and the owl was no was gone.

Whether the bird spotted or heard me I really don't know, what I do remember is the rush from the experience and the needling anguish of blowing it! That was not going to happen again! I spent the next year saving money from about any odd job I could find, and bought myself an SLR and a 400mm lens. As best I can recollect, this was in 1962.

I became hooked on nature photography that way...birds eventually led to all flora and fauna and to the landscape. Painting nature eventually led the same direction.

I don't know why I didn't become a biologist or botanist? There was always an urge to paint, draw or photograph and that's all I can say.

We all gotta start somewhere!


Tim Morrison said...

Cool story Bruce...and you're right...We all do gotta start somewhere.

Prairie Painter said...

You know it Tim!

Anthony Vodraska and Anita Gilbert said...

What a great story. It is wonderful to read of the roots of your evident passion that I see in your life and work today.

Prairie Painter said...

Thank you Anthony and Anita!

Maki said...

I saw this camera first time.
I tried to imagine the story of this camara. Beautiful.

Prairie Painter said...

Thank you for your kind comment Makiko!