Catching Light for the New Year

What We’ve Lost: The Species Declared Extinct.

                        —Scientific American

elk near cabin

I’ve learned some are so lost that there is no common name to list for them, like the beautifully named have, like Dusty Sea Snake or Long-Spine Bream or Lily-of-the-Valley-Tree. I walked out one morning into the sodden grass, name-less to me still and heavy from the night’s rain, the golden light I’d come with my camera to shoot fractured and paling. All summer, before my half-stepping there, through the fields, the grasshopper sparrows darted white-tailed in front of me, floating just beneath my hand’s reach, just out of the dark canopies of grass I draped back, what I learned to do so carefully, fearful for their newly-born, their freckled eggs broken into frog-mouthed nestlings, yellow-beaked and gone now, but for these words.

Golden Mole or Sheetweb Weaver or Tall Thimbleweed:  what have I mourned that’s lost? A mother’s life? A child’s love? 

The roar and whistle of a bull elk zippered over the spiraling trees through the golden light. Somewhere, my hunting neighbors were haunting their little acres of woods as if the gods had turned them from men to trees, to camouflage and coyote urine, to blue metal rifles and muzzle-loaders. Again and again, I heard the bull elk calling, and so I blew, as I once had as a child, past a blade of grass I held tightly between my thumbs, the sound like broken glass when it silences the squalling jays or sometimes like yearning. 

I kept holding my eye against the camera’s eye, waiting, crouched there I don’t know how long beneath the long-limbed aprons of these trees. But then, the bull elk wandered in from the east, what I wanted to save, and it gazed to the north, all lazy torpor amid the sun spill, its rack of years I could count and count lit up.

So beautiful and named is this elk I am finding again in the heartbreak of firing leaves, in this list of the lost I keep carrying—Flame Tetra and Golden Toad, Mystic Leaf-Roller. Cold and metal-smooth was the air the elk and I breathed that day and then I opened the camera’s shutter to fix the shadows, the “most transitory of things,” Talbot said, with light.

A NOTE:

from Henry Fox Talbot (1839) who invented ‘photogenic drawings’ in which nitrate of silver is brushed over paper and the paper is then placed in sunlight, with the shadow of an object cast over it. The light blackens the paper except for where it is shadowed:

“Now, since nothing prevents him from simultaneously disposing, in different positions, any number of these little camerae, it is evident that their collective results, when examined afterwards, may furnish him with a large body of interesting memorials, and with numerous details which he had not had himself time either to note down or delineate.”

2 thoughts on “Catching Light for the New Year

  1. This lovely piece captures fleeting beauty “gone now, bur for these words.” And here we are in the age of man, an age of mass extinction, so much leaving us. We must hope for words like yours to keep at least remembrances.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s