I have been visiting Bosque del Apache, National Wildlife Refuge for longer than many of you have been alive. Over the years it has been a great love affair. And like any love affair, it has both elated and frustrated me. At times I have been angry at Bosque and yet most of the time, Bosque gives me warm fuzzies all over. It’s a love/hate relationship that is so up and down because it is a place that reminds me (regularly and sometimes harshly) that as a bird photographer, I don’t have ANY control over the conditions I work in.
But one thing about Bosque del Apache is constant. Despite the ups and downs, I have never felt anything but actual serenity while in the field, on the flight deck, at the crane pools, spending time with the snow geese, Ross’s geese and sandhill cranes that inhabit Bosque and that make it so special.
The act of being serene – i.e., marked by or suggestive of utter calm and unruffled repose or quietude, has been hard to come by in my 65 years on this planet.
I have lived through some very tough times. Most people have tough times. Compound those tough times with a busy mind, and you have a recipe for anything BUT serenity.
Unfortunately, I have a great deal of trouble just “being.” It takes me a full month to be on “vacation.” I can’t unwind in a few days or even weeks. I am always busy. My wheels are always turning. I am always thinking about, planning or working on the next project. If you’ve followed me for a while you probably noticed that I am pretty prolific. I have lots of irons in the fire. I seem to even find a way to work when I am sleeping.
I probably haven’t had more than four or five hours sleep in a single night since I was a teenager. I get up every single day at 4:30 am and I quit working around 10 PM. I work six and a half days a week, taking a half day off on Sunday to watch sports or movies on TV.
I think by now you get the picture. I’m wound pretty tightly.
When I am at Bosque – all that fades away. I can get lost in time and space when surrounded by tens of thousands of birds. And I can actually slow myself down to more of a “normal” pace. Why? It’s always been about the birds for me. I really do love them. They are much more than mere photographic subjects to me. I feel in many ways like birds are the only creatures on this earth that actually understand me.
So every fall, when I go to Socorro, I know that I will have a good time one way or the other. Last year it was spectacular. I cannot wait for this year. I am only about seven weeks away from starting my trip south to New Mexico and this year I will drive. I will take my time and stop at a few places along the way to find more birds. I will be leading workshops and speaking at the Festival of the Cranes while at Bosque and yes, I have a busy schedule during the month that I will be there. But I won’t FEEL like it’s a busy schedule. To me it will be restful. Because Bosque is the one place where my busy mind can find a way to quiet itself.
All of this to say that the picture I am posting today is one of my personal favorites. It may not win any awards or ever be sold. I have never marketed this image. I never felt the urgency to do so. It is enough that I love it. It may not be YOUR favorite. But it is one of mine because I can remember (like it was just yesterday) the feeling of utter serenity I felt when I was making this picture. It’s important to note that as photographers, we are high priests and priestesses of memory protection. And sometimes the only memory we need to protect is our own. And that’s okay.
I made this photo on the last day of my trip in 2017. It was my last morning at the refuge. I was flying home that afternoon and went to my usual morning spot hoping for some nice sunrise action. The sky lit up with all sorts of purple and pink color and the birds seemed content to stay at the crane pools, waiting for a wind shift or a sign that it was time for them to fly north for the day’s foraging for food. Or maybe they were just waiting for me to get this shot.
I made this image just as a few birds were taking off. I was thinking how lucky I was to live a life where seeing something like this is commonplace.
Then it hit me. And all of a sudden it was as if I didn’t have a care in the world. I was at peace. And the reason I like this image so much has a lot less to do with the photographer in me than it does the human in me. It’s one of the only places/times when I get to feel serenity. So I named it Serenity At Bosque del Apache and I made the picture knowing I would turn it into one of my photo paintings. I know these sorts of images aren’t generally as popular as my straight photography, but I make them because I have to. My heart says to do it. It acts as my attempt to express my profound feeling of calmness, which only exists for me at Bosque.
I am giving myself a Christmas gift this year of a six foot long print (on canvas) featuring this image. I am going to put it in the great room of my new house so that every day I can be reminded that there is a place where even someone who is as high strung as me can find repose. And when I am too old to make the trek south or when my knees finally give out or when it just doesn’t make sense for me to go for whatever reason, I will always have the memory of that special day, right in front of me.
I realize that this is a long, ethereal post. And I appreciate everyone who stuck with me the whole way through. Whether you like this image or not. . . whether you are a bird photographer or not . . . whether you can make it to Bosque del Apache some day or not . . . I sincerely hope that your camera takes YOU to a place where you can feel serene too.
Thanks for reading.
(Technical details: Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK II, Olympus 40-15- f/2.8 Pro lens, ISO 1000, 1/80 second at f/4, hand held. Post processing in Luminar, then Topaz Labs Impression II.)
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