I’ve been reminded lately that photography and life operate best with the same instructions, which are simply…take the shot.
This came to mind just this morning as I was taking Lucky for a walk before leaving for work. It’s been two years since we moved from 14 acres of woods and fields surrounded by more woods and fields, to the city of Sheboygan on the shore of Lake Michigan, and Lucky and I are both still adjusting. I’ve never been a “dog walking” person, since for decades all I did was shoo whatever family dog we had outside to the yard and wait for him to get bored and ask to come back inside. Now, city living demands regular walks on a leash, along with good manners and not chasing rabbits. And the fact that Lucky is large and mostly black demands that I tailor our routes on hot sunny days to whatever set of streets offer the maximum shade cover for our exercise.
One of these shady streets has taken us past a tall fence of weathered vertical wooden slats cleverly spaced and staggered for a good amount of air flow. The fence was covered with vines of delicate ivy, and I delighted in stopping and pulling out my iPhone on a regular basis to grab photo after photo as the tendrils reached and the leaves grew from tiny things barely the size of the nail on my pinkie finger to robust works of natural art, and the panorama changed from day to day.
No more. I realized today that the entire fence had been given over this year to a carpet-thick creep of vines with gigantic leaves that remind me of T-Rex footprints preserved in museum exhibits. The leaves all look the same. And their prodigious multitude ensures that not only is there no ivy to be seen, the entire fence has disappeared within its depths, like something in a Gothic horror story. I miss seeing the ivy. I miss the anticipation I felt walking by the fence after a few days absent, to see what delightful turns of growth had occurred when I wasn’t looking. And I’m damn glad I took the shots when I could.
The fleeting glory of ivy became apparent last fall when I thought I’d replicate a photo I’d taken a year before on the spur of the moment (and a U-turn later) of blood red vines spread like fingers across the painted brown brick of an abandoned pool hall. Nope, last fall Mother Nature was giving me no such second opportunity. I drove past the abandoned building over and over again as fall turned to winter, and found that the vines had simply withered and gone away. I was glad I took the shot.
And the same thing held true for a treasured tranquility zone in the town I left. With the 14 acres in my rear-view mirror but family matters still requiring my regular return, I had developed the habit—after stressful visits—of stopping at a Culver’s custard shop, ordering a hot fudge sundae with pecans, and driving to a nearby park, where an isolated lagoon framed by tree-covered ridges formed in the Ice Age sat overseen by a giant weeping willow at water’s edge. Sometimes I’d sit in the delicate, weaving shade of the willow tree with my sundae, pondering the surface of the water. Other times I’d sit gazing at the entire tree from the shade of a skating shelter nearby. I took photos, of course, once I was done eating, and shared them on Facebook with friends and relatives. I was stunned when I showed up at the park a couple of months ago, radio playing, hot fudge sundae melting slightly, and pulled into my regular parking space only to find that the majestic willow tree had been cut to the ground. I have no idea why, and even if I did, it wouldn’t make me feel any less sad. I’m glad I took those shots when I did too.
I hung one of them in an art show recently, and the comments people made warmed my heart. “So peaceful!” “Like Monet!” “What a sense of tranquility!” But I think what will really matter most to me is when I take the print home, and hang it either in my living room or perhaps at my office, to remind me of the peace I found at that spot. And how important it is to take the shot.
But it’s not just about photography. Life is much the same. Opportunities are fleeting, like milkweed fluff on the wind, and are nothing to take for granted.
So…if you want something badly, take the shot.
If you love someone fiercely, take the shot.
If you believe in something deeply, take the shot.
And if there is an opportunity to do a kindness, take the shot.
Because too often we only get that one chance to take it…