I WALKED to the lake to photograph the brilliant autumn color. The landscape was on fire with color and I could smell it in the air. The air was clear, crisp, and the sun was yet to rise. I anticipated the revelation to come as the sun rose to begin the illumination. What color would the light be? Would clouds form? How would the leaves reflect the light? What reflections would be revealed? I love the quiet anticipation and the solitude.
It was extraordinary. The sun began to light the northeastern edge of the lake. It spread an exquisite light, which crept across the tree line. The leaves became a luminous paint palette. And there in the reflection of the lake surface was a very unusual shade of salmon. The lake surface was glass. It mirrored the color of the trees hundreds of feet away. I noticed a spent lotus pad and stem bent in an arc on the water’s surface. I focused my lens and composed the shot. How could the beauty have been even more extraordinary in the viewfinder?
I thought about what I had just viewed. I contemplated the question and began to realize the answer was that within the rectangular viewfinder, I was able to hold and, yes, possess that magnificent scene. The ephemeral beauty was mine. It would not last. It was fleeting. The color. The light. The stillness. The serenity. I could visually touch it through the viewfinder. It was my form of intimacy with beauty.
I encountered another person. He was also present to photograph the autumn. We quietly spoke of lenses, tripods, and geese that flew back and forth across the lake. I do not know if he was aware of the remarkable color and scenes in the middle of the lake inlet. I pointed out several birds to him—the grebes, the red-breasted nuthatch call—and the clouds. However, I did not share the single lotus plant or the deep salmon light. These moments are sacred and they cannot be placed into words. The extraordinary cannot be explained by the ordinary.
Soon the dialogue ceased. We enjoyed talking and sharing the same passion, but the solitude took over again. After all, that is why we had come here. We were both drawn to the quiet and the beauty. Enough said.
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Today's guest, Joni James, comes to us from just outside Martinsville, Indiana, and is a naturalist, nature photographer, and environmental educator. Her "essay" is an excerpt from her book, Dancing With Herons: Bearing Witness to Local Natural History. You can find her at Joni L. James Photography and Bearing Witness. Thank you, Joni, for joining us today.