Posted by: morrowsl | September 4, 2014

Sometimes, you get lucky.

Less than an hour south of us, there’s a stretch of US 67 between Midlothian and Alvarado, where progress has yet to disrupt the long band of two-lane blacktop and farmers still plow huge tracts of land every spring and fall alongside the highway.  When I was a child, this was the first major leg of the hour-long journey that took us from the “city” to the “country” and our grandparents’ home on the Brazos River.  It is the jumping-off point for my own personal “Trip to Bountiful” escapes that are as much a requirement for peace as earplugs and power outages.  And it is the one remaining area I know of that’s guaranteed to be populated by hawks on any given day.

As a kid, I never cared to look for hunting birds as we flew down this road.  My mind was more likely filled with anxious dark thoughts of having to spend yet another weekend in an area where snakes and cattle, two of the bigger fears in a young life pockmarked with trepidation like Swiss cheese, way out-numbered little barefooted girls.  And too, that Hitchcock film probably hadn’t yet made it to Sunday Night at the Movies, so I didn’t have a frame of reference for birds really.

Years later, that same stretch of road became a hunting ground of sorts for my dad, who would always spot hawks on the high lines and swaying in the treetops.  I was less of a scaredy-cat by then, although had I ever seen a bird catch a mouse or rabbit at that point, I would most certainly have puked on the spot.  My childhood fears mostly morphed into an extreme sensitivity to anything wiggly and bloody before I had kids.  Afterward there wasn’t much of anything I couldn’t look at directly that truly grossed me out.  Score one for motherhood!

I’ve always been told that hawks are good omens or messengers.  Having one appear nearby is a sign that you are protected.  Or that someone gone from you is reaching out.  If this is true, then my personal experiences lead me to believe that whoever wants to reach me only wants to have the last laugh.

Until the major construction began outside our back door, the hillsides leading down to the interstate were covered in tall grass and wildflowers, perfect for sheltering field mice and rats, feral cats and snakes, and the occasional possum or raccoon family.  And equally well-suited for hunting by the mating pair of hawks who kept a highrise in the woods on the college grounds in the next block.  Our house was in the flight path of their morning outings, so I would see a dark shadow pass by the window above my desk and know they were on the move.  Sometimes they’d rest in the trees across the street, and once I even spotted one on the ground with a squirrel or mouse trapped in its talons.  I scrambled to get the camera set up so I could fire off at least one shot before she carried her prize back home.

My attempt was almost indiscernible, which also describes how things appear to someone who’s been near-sighted most of her life – there’s a big object and it has a shape and color, but it could be anything from a tree stump to Sasquatch.  I have no idea where those images ended up but I suspect I deleted them in disgust.  I came to photography much the same as everything else in my life – I’ve always berated myself for not being the best at something, even when I’m trying to learn, and usually refuse to see the unsuccessful as anything more than simply my failure.

But the next time that shadow crossed the window, I was out the door and into the car and off to find that hawk, determined to get a great photo no matter how far I had to drive or how long I had to search.  It was a short trip.  The bird landed on a light pole near the bridge that takes me over the interstate and into the next neighborhood.  I remember getting out of the car thinking this was going to be so easy!!  But, once I got home and downloaded the images, I was once again filled with doubt and so disappointed in myself.  I went out thinking National Geographic and ended up with so much less.

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But that is the greatest gift I’ve been given by my time with a camera.  If you set the dial to “auto” and just let the thing go to work, you will get some good pictures.  This was a good picture, compared to the one I’d gotten before.  But it still wasn’t what I had expected to get.  It fell very short of what my eye had seen, even as near-sighted as I am.
I just assumed that the elephant in the room was me.  I wasn’t smart enough or talented enough or whatever enough to be any good with a camera.

I didn’t go out the next time the shadow moved across my window.  And, eventually, the construction came to be so destructive that the hawks moved on.  For me, at that point, the message was more about my inability to do the thing well and less about my willingness to try.

I was taking the easy route and trying to convince myself that refusing to stretch out and learn anything at all was ok since I had a good camera and a great subject.  Eventually I’d either figure it out or be fortunate enough to have a hawk land in my lap and refuse to leave until I had an award-winning photo of it!!
The lesson I needed most to learn was that anything worth doing is worth doing well, of course, but there’s effort in learning to do a thing well.  And sometimes it takes years to be rewarded no matter how hard you try.  You just have to keep trying.

My sister has been telling me about a family of hawks in the trees behind her house.  She hears them screaming in the mornings and sees them in the top of one dead tree that pokes up higher than the rest of the woods.  They’ve raised a juvenile and are now teaching it to fly.  Soon they’ll be gone.
So, in a last-ditch attempt and somewhat halfheartedly, I grabbed my camera bag when I left this week for my cleaning day at Mom’s.  I needed to drop off a couple of things at B’s, so maybe I’d get lucky and the hawk family would still be there.
I admit to being almost relieved that someone was mowing near the creek and the birds were nowhere to be seen.  The distance for getting even a mediocre shot was beyond my longest-range lens and since knocking my camera bag out of the car in May I’ve had issues with the focus being off-center and the motor is struggling.  It needs to go back to the shop and I’m delaying the inevitable for no really good reason.  Not having to pull it out and even go through the process of trying to shoot it fit right in with my already not-so-great mood.  Oh well, better luck next time.

Maybe my trips down Hwy 67 with Daddy had more impact than I realized.  I’ve become somewhat of a hawk-stalker.  I always watch for them along the roadways and love to see just how many I can spot.  It’s somewhat amazing to me that there are so many, although it’s also sad to think they’ve been pushed to hunting so near each other.  The strain on the rodents must be tough as well.  Nobody is getting much of a break there.

I pulled through the gate leading into the complex where my mom and sister live and rounded the first corner with my mind on so many other things I almost missed him.  But out of the corner of my eye I caught something pretty big sitting on the fence and there he was!  I figured the best chance I’d get was using my phone as I pulled into an empty parking spot and rolled down the window, but he was busy looking for breakfast and wasn’t the least bit concerned about a car moving so near his table.  I parked and reached back for the camera bag, fitted the zoom lens and never gave a thought to how I’d left the settings when I’d put it away last time.  My first photo was way over-exposed.  But, once I realized he didn’t see me as a direct threat and would continue to hunt until something tasty popped up or another threat appeared, I reset the camera and made myself calm down enough to get something worth being proud of.
Well…  a couple of somethings, actually.

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