Knowing where you’re headed is merely the framework for an adventure that can take you anywhere. After a satisfactory visit with a doctor I was headed to Tendercrop Farm in Newbury because, well, my rabbits only like red peppers and the closest farm to my home only had green.
A fluttering backlit field of hundreds of American flags waved me closer. I pulled my car to the “Oh wait, stop here” poor parking angle for which I am famous when a photo op presents itself, and like the addict I am, grabbed my camera to shoot “just a couple” photos. I can stop any time. I left the car windows open, fooling only myself into believing that this time, I’ll only be here a couple of minutes. There were a bannered podium, a couple of booths and literally a field of flags in rows as straight as a marching battalion. The installation was the Field of Honor at Bartlet Mall Newburyport. A walk among the flags showed me that each flag had a tag identifying in whose honor or what organization made it possible for that particular flag to fly. Individuals and small family groups walked slowly from pole to pole some searching for their flag, their fluttering, temporary headstone recalling with heavy hearts that not just “some” but “their someone” gave all. My emotions shifted from “oh that’s pretty”, to “oh I love my country” to “oh that’s so sad” and I quickly lost interest in capturing it all on film because I felt like an insensitive intruder on sacred grounds.
Behind the flags a suspiciously green pond with a hundred sleeping ducks and a few shaded benches seemed like a good place to contemplate what I’d just experienced, and I did for a short while. But before long the ducks shook off their fatigue and gave up their moraine impersonation to amble over looking for some treats. I had none. They slept again in fairly close proximity, just in case I rustled up a little something that might be of interest. Since deciding I’d like to photograph ducks a couple years back, they have for the most part made that impossible. So I decided to let sleeping ducks lie and take advantage of their lethargy to shoot off a few pics of these unusually trusting “ducks in repose” as mosquitoes or something nibbled at my exposed ankles. Then my focus shifted to the interplay of a little sandpiper amid the ducks.
A man stood quietly about a quarter turn around the pond. He spent considerable slow moving time photographing Canadian geese that also were in no hurry to create distance between themselves and the camera lens. What was in that slime green pond that created such tame birds? I really wasn’t in a goose photographing mood, but the guy spent so much time with them and he had such a big camera lens, that I figured there must be some secret fabulousness amid the geese and competitively headed over to capture the images myself.
The man may have been watching me with the ducks and recognized a kindred spirit, because when I got close and saw nothing special with the geese, he said, “You know what’s interesting too” and for the first time I saw a great blue heron on the opposite bank. And I said almost dismissively “Oh that great blue heron” trying to cavalierly demonstrate that I did indeed have an observant eye and had seen that stunning bird decades ago. He said, “That heron, if you walk up to it slowly will let you get fairly close. It’s a great opportunity. I tried talking to it softly to keep it calm and I got really close.”
Now I wanted to rush over to the heron, but this man seemed so kind to me that I said, “I really had only stopped for a minute lured in by the flags, but now I was seeing what else the park had to offer.” He said he’d been to see the flags and bought one for $40 in memory of his father who had fought in World War Two. I said my dad fought in the war, too, and was fortunately still with us. He said it was almost his father’s birthday and it seemed a fitting tribute.
If you know me well, you will know that I can be suspicious of strangers, especially kind strangers after having spent too many decades as a single woman on her own and having instilled in my psyche the lessons learned from Ted Bundy’s deadly ruse. And there was a fleeting moment when I wondered if he was sending me deeper into the park so he could break into my car, but the vibe I got from this man was so kind, so generous, that though I stared at him intently, I could sense no ulterior motive. And with the knowledge that there was nothing of value in the car, I thanked him for his kindness and went to stalk the great blue heron.
This particular great blue heron was more an average blue heron in stature if not heart. The bird and I slowly strolled about the park for an hour or more maneuvering to let the late afternoon sun highlight its best side. Kind parents of well behaved children called them away from the bird and the woman trying to photograph it. And the children obeyed and stopped their shouting. Okay, what parallel universe was this where kids in a park didn’t run, shriek and scatter birds? What IS in that green water?
I studied the heron very closely with my 12x optical and 48x digital zoom. Sometimes I thought it might walk up to me and it came close but never committed. I think the bird studied me, too, and after a while we had quite a one-way conversation going.
At some point well into the first hour of our walk, it caught a fish and I zoomed in on its beak. And that’s when I saw the blood that I assumed was a remnant of the tiny fish. I watched for a half hour more and the blood continued to gather and drip slowly from the beak, even after the bird drank. I suspected a hook, but didn’t know. Perhaps foolishly, I tried to convey my willingness to help, but the bird never approached me. In the urgent hope that someone would help my new bird friend, I did what I could and returned home and emailed the Audubon Society of my concerns with the supporting photographs. Photographs I would not have known I could take without the help of a generous stranger.
©2013 by Alison Colby-Campbell
Honor Field http://www.healingfield.org/newburyport-ma-2013/
Massachusetts Audubon Society http://www.massaudubon.org/