Saturday, November 17, 2007

You Otter Be In Pictures

There is no heron in the picture above but there is an otter. The heron was what made me stop and fumble out the camera. By the time the camera powered up, the bird was gone. When I shut off the camera, I saw the otter. As I snapped the camera back on, the otter slid under the water.

There is an otter in the picture above, but there are quite a few gallons of Issaquah Creek on top of the slippery beast so you'll have to take my word that there is an otter there.

I can tell you that otters like playing hide and seek. Until this morning I didn't know that there were otters living around here, but this otter seemed to enjoy tempting me to follow.

The otter drew me downstream, silent and slick, popping its head up from the water just often enough to keep me following, never long enough for the camera to catch up.

A second otter joined the first, right before they both slipped into a tiny gap in the blackberry thicket on the opposite side of the creek.

I lingered by the creek, exploring on foot and wheel. I saw ducks feeding on the rotten carcasses of salmon, felt the November damp brush up against my legs, heard the water rhythmically pull and release a branch that had fallen in the swift current.

I thought about what Gary Thorp had written in his lovely book, Caught in Fading Light. Gary quotes Paul Theroux who once wrote, "It is my good fortune that I've never owned a camera." Gary goes on to write:

Many times in my own experience I'd missed a good look at a hawk or squandered a coyote sighting by reaching for binoculars when I didn't need them. It was purely a reflex action, and now I didn't want to spoil my chances of seeing a mountain lion by fumbling with a camera case. If I saw a cougar, I would always have the memory, and I wanted to prolong the experience as much as I could, without interruption.

One can develop the art of looking just as certainly as one can master the art of playing the violin. Theroux compared the freedom of traveling without a camera to the adroitness of riding a bicycle without using one's hands. And even after all these years, it still seemed like good advice.

While I see the point that both Gary and Paul are trying to make, which is basically another reminder of the Zen precept to "be here now". I also have to note that I, as a human being, relate to and move through the world with tools. As a near-sighted person, I almost always see the world through lenses. I stopped by the creek today because I was on my bicycle and because I had a camera. I go farther awheel than I do afoot, but I seem to see more the slower I go. This is definitely one reason I prefer the bicycle to the automobile.

The camera is often a good excuse for stopping. Even if the heron has flown off or the otter is completely camera shy, I can't complain.

I can ride a bicycle without using my hands, but I still have handlebars on my bike.


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