November isn’t the first month that comes to mind when contemplating the glories Mother Nature has wrought here on Earth — the perfection of a leaf, a tree, a stump, a snail, a swallowtail or a blue whale.
I think about nature’s gifts a lot. I took up photography almost 25 years ago, when my husband lent me his battered Nikon, the camera he had used in his journalism assignments for years. My attempts with his camera didn’t go well. But once I got my first digital camera and the cost of wasted film was no longer an issue, my avocation flourished. Later, when I got a macro lens for close-up photography, my interest and skills improved.
But what really got better over time was my ability to see. For this thought I owe the American documentarist and photojournalist Dorothea Lange, who said, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”
The art of seeing, though, is one that must be constantly practised. I realized last week that I had forgotten this lesson when I walked out my front door and saw that a young tree on our property line had exploded into botanical fireworks. While my thoughts were occupied elsewhere with work and school and family commitments, the maple had completely shed its summer robe of cadmium green. Now each of its leaves was an eye-shocking gold, rimmed with vermilion.
The transformation seemed to happen overnight, as if the furtive street artist Banksy had slipped by under the cover of darkness and spilled pots of poster paint on our tree. When had I stopped paying attention?
What else had I missed?
At my neighbourhood park, Ashbridge’s Bay, I found King Midas had already stopped by to spread his gold. There was nary a green leaf to be found on the old weeping willows that ring the park’s shoreline like stalwart sentinels. The trees’ dusky ochre shapes were reflected in the shallow waters of the park’s inner bay, silent doppelgangers of sylvan perfection.
In May and June, these giants had sheltered Baltimore orioles raising their families in nests that hung like reticules from their drooping branches. There was song in these willows, then, while the orioles were courting and mating. But the bright birds with operatic voices departed in midsummer, while the days were still as long as a promise. …….