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Exerpt from Wildlife Chapter
Just as Monsieur Gilroy had promised at breakfast, Miranda made it to the
edge of western meadowlark habitat in just under two hours. Paying her
camping fee at the entrance to the Deschutes State Recreation Area, she found
herself a site on the first loop, slipped her name into the clip on the site
marker, and began unloading her gear.
Pitching her small tent took only a few minutes, and she knew she'd be
glad to come back to it after a long trek. Her one concession to the
comforts of home was the full-size pillow she'd brought. Placing it, and her
battery-driven lantern inside the tent, she zipped it shut, and walked the
few paces back to her rental car.
The perfection of Spring had descended on the park, and the breezes of
the seventy degree day caressed grasses and leaves, resonated under the
beating of wings, and tugged at Miranda's loose strands of hair. Wildflowers
dotted the hills with vivid colors, and in the grasses she knew hatchlings
hid in tiny eggs, ready to peck open their shells.
Her plan was to find the right nest, and shoot it twice: by afternoon
light today and then shortly after dawn tomorrow. She'd worn a wheat-colored
cotton shirt and khaki pants, and she checked the tall grasses, smiling at
how she'd blend in.
Having eaten a lunch of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich at the
homiest roadside restaurant she could find en route, she was ready now for a
long walk through the park.
With a growing sense of excitement, she shouldered into her backpack full
of camera gear, locked the trunk, took another glance at her map, and headed
toward the undisturbed open grasslands nearby. It was fields with brushy
borders she was looking for, where she'd find the nests of the bright
This was where she left logical, linear thought behind and let intuition
take over, synchronizing with her environment, moving into a total awareness
as though mind were in every molecule of body. Birds would still startle and
fly away, but her capacity for quiet increased in proportion to the
acceptance she felt for all the unseen creatures now surrounding her.
An observer might have described Miranda as being alone in the field. By
now, she was keenly aware she was, instead, outnumbered. Though there was
meadowlark habitat within two hundred yards of her tent, she wanted to walk
for a while, and liked the idea of distancing herself from remnants of
civilization. Coming into a field that seemed remote, and fit the
description perfectly, she slowed her pace and took her bearings.
Slowly, with the stealth of a cat, she moved toward a grass outcropping
where she'd caught a flicker of yellow. A warning song sounded: loud,
melodious, flutelike phrases, repeating patterns with clear meaning. Miranda
paused, steady and still as a tiger stalking its prey.
Now advancing again, she lifted her camera and captured a few preliminary
frames as the bird rose from its hiding place, singing its victorious chant
which she could only describe as "Hip, hip, hurrah!" This brave robin-sized
creature with its bright colors, fearless behavior and loud, cheerful song
captured her heart and explained its own popularity in the west, where it was
the official bird for six states.
Miranda moved forward again now, her stealth a mere formality after
having been announced so ardently. Continuing to advance, she heard the
harsh, distinctive chuck the bird made, and then saw exactly why: fifteen
feet to her right, ankle-high in a grassy tussock, was the nest, partially
domed, with its entrance tunnel on the side facing her.
Checking the position of the sun, she made sure to place its arc at
ninety degrees to the angle of her shots, knelt, carefully unshouldered her
pack, and began to set up equipment. With her small ground tripod in place,
she attached a 400mm lens to her 35mm Nikon N90, and fastened the camera to
its perch. Her movements disturbed the bird now, but soon she'd have her own
nest built, a makeshift Hide, behind which she'd camouflage herself.
Unfurling a large piece of wheat-colored burlap, she placed it carefully
over her camera and tripod, creating a small awning. Rolling to one side,
her legs bent beside her, she put her head under the burlap like an
old-fashioned wet-plate photographer, and looked through the viewfinder.
Zooming in, she pressed the cable release and captured three spotted white
eggs as the female resituated herself, both parent birds still flustered by
their new visitor.
The dance of observer and observed began, Miranda shooting through the
entire roll, angle after angle of yellow breast and mottled brown wings
revealing themselves, and captured, she hoped, by the magic of technology.
Having loaded a fresh roll of 50 ASA 35mm slide film, she found a
position she could hold indefinitely with little variation, and her movements
were reduced to the imperceptible depression of the shutter control. Between
her stillness and the camouflage fabrics, she soon seemed to have been
forgotten by her feathered companions, and their own movements returned to
These were the beauty shots - the birds in their element, the light
shifting to a red-gold, and the shadows deepening to dark greens. Lost in
the moment, she had no idea how long she'd lain by the nest clicking
pictures. Nor did she have a clear sense of how long she'd been on her foray
into Meadowlark land. Sweaty with exertion, she rolled off her numb legs,
capped her camera lens, and smiled at the reddening sky.
After a few moments, she carefully stood, stowed all her gear but the
tripod, and left it draped with burlap for tomorrow's session, when the light
would be lemon-yellow, and the shadows blue and lavender. As she turned to
leave the tiny companions, her male bird friend rose once more from the nest,
chucking his dismissal, but in the recesses of her mind, she thought she
heard a barely audible sigh of relief.
Taking the long way back to her campsite, Miranda walked along the
Deschutes River, the leafy green alder trees near its banks offering shade.
Fifteen miles down river on the Columbia were The Dalles - the French name
for rapids, or a collection of many little chutes, named by the early French
explorers. Here in the park it was quieter at the confluence of the
Deschutes and the Columbia, and Miranda nodded at the occasional fishermen
trying for some early steelhead trout.
Tired when she reached her rental car and small tent, she had a deep
sense of contentment as she set up her single-burner Coleman stove on the
picnic table and boiled water. The pre-fabricated camp dinner wasn't bad as
far as camp fare went, and she finished off her meal with a crisp delicious
apple and some sharp New York cheddar.
After rinsing her pot at the public water faucet, she packed up her
kitchenware, and sat at her table doing sketches in the last red light of the
day. Drawing quickly, her pencil caught the quick impressions of the darting
bird and the nest he protected so fearlessly.
Barely finishing when the light failed, she closed her notebook, locked
the car for the night, and climbed into her tent. Taking off her hiking
boots and jeans, she pulled on long johns, snapped off her lantern, and
wriggled down into her sleeping bag, where she lay on her back listening to
the night sounds of the park. Crickets sang, wind rustled through the trees,
and in the distance, a father's voice admonished a child to settle down.
This was her special haven - the stars overhead almost bright enough to
penetrate the tent, the ground underneath cushioned with the fragrant fallen
blossoms of Black Locust trees. Someday she'd like to share all this with
someone who understood. But for now, it was hers alone.
Lying against the breast of Mother Earth, Miranda felt again the peace of
a little child. As though rocked to sleep in a womb, she felt the vast
heartbeat of the planet pulsing around her, soothing her till every fiber was
synchronized in slumber.