I was 10 minutes down the trail when I heard the distinctive sound of wings disturbing the air above. I looked up to see an uneven “V” of maybe 20 Canada geese directly overhead. The early morning sun illuminated their port sides, giving them an almost luminescent, coppery glow.
Instinctively, I began to reach for my smartphone camera. The pragmatic part of my brain did the quick calculations of how long it would take to rip off my gloves, unzip the breast pocket of my coat, grab the phone, turn it on, flip to the camera .. . Fortunately, this is the one part of my brain that works quickly, and it rapidly deduced that I had no chance of recording the moment. I simply stood and watched the glowing flock continue south.
About a mile later there’s a spot where I depart the greenway for a few minutes of off-trail down a moderate slope of mature hardwoods. At the departure there’s a lip; when I crested it I noticed movement. At first, the distinctive bobbing of three whitetails hightailing it to the north. Then, skedaddling in the opposite direction, I spotted four wild turkeys. The camera calculation was quicker this time, aided by the rapidly growing distance between lense and subject, and the obstructionist trees. So again, I simply watched: the whitetails gracefully bounding in one direction, the wild turkeys doing their best Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks impression in the other. Hours later, I could still picture the geese flying overhead, the deer and turkeys making their unique — and very different — escapes.
Do I have a snapshot to remember these moments? No. Will I keep them in my memory forever? Probably not. The feeling of those moments, the feeling that keeps me wanting more outdoor time, is another matter.
Take the geese. I’ve seen V formations more times than I can count. Yet every time I stop and watch, marveling at the phenomenon that makes them fly that way. It’s a way of drafting, of conserving energy for the hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles they cover during migration. It’s like a rotating pace line in road cycling, where cyclists take turns in the lead, then drop to the back when they tire. Only geese make it work without colliding with one another — and without ego. The deer never cease to amaze, zigzagging through the woods at breakneck speed, never appearing to trip or stub a hoof on a downed limb; the wild turkeys never cease to amuse, sometimes forgetting to flee altogether: if you’re calm and aren’t aiming anything at them, they’ll sometimes hang with you for a while.
These are moments you won’t notice if your focus is on a viewfinder. These are moments lived, not deferred. And not even deferred, since the resulting image rarely captures the moment itself, especially the feeling of that moment.
Last week, I talked about seizing the moment. This week, a follow-up: once you seize that moment, remember to actually live it.
Sharing images of your adventures is great. But those images will never convey the true experience.