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Picturing this: the sly, extraordinary of area nature

Caleb Alberghene was the winner in the youth Wildlife Portrait category with this photo titled “Fox Pup.”

Audubon Community Nature Center recently announced the winners of the 2020 photo contest. More than 700 photos were submitted from all over the world. The winners can be viewed at www.acncphotocontest.com/2020-winners.html and soon will be on display at the nature center. They are remarkable photos of beautiful landscapes, detailed close-ups and extraordinary happenings in the natural world.

In each photo, just a moment – perhaps less than a second – is captured. In viewing these photos, as well as all amazing photos, I wonder what the story is behind that moment. What was happening just before, just after? How did the photographer arrive at that spot, at that particular time? How long did they wait to witness and record?

I also wonder, if, in comparison to these amazing photographs, our own wanderings in the natural world don’t seem as special. Award-winning photos, nature documentaries, videos and adventure stories of all kinds lay at our fingertips in this digitally accessible world. What is a squirrel or deer compared to an octopus or cheetah? Do we see and hear of other’s experiences and walk away feeling disappointed in our ordinary walks in the woods. Do we expect to go out for a mid-day hike and see a family of bear, or a rare bird just around the corner?

Sometimes witnessing extraordinary moments is easy and happens in our everyday comings and goings. In a trip to the grocery store, you glance up and there’s a rainbow. Or you look out of the car window at the exact second a hawk is flying down to catch something in the field. And sometimes you can capture that moment on camera in a decent image.

For the most part you have to get out there, into the world, often, to see these things. But amazing doesn’t happen every time. I remember a walk where we just happened upon a litter of Red Fox kits playing among the leaves, rock and logs. But this is an area that I walk at least twice a week. There are countless walks in which I did not return with a good nature story (and slightly blurry, far-away cell phone video) to share.

In addition, to witness and capture those remarkable moments, hard work is often required. A great deal of time goes into taking those photos, videos and recording those stories. And that’s what we don’t see in a photo. We see the snapshot of a moment, the best video footage, the cleaned up, edited story. Not the effort to learn the skills needed to capture the moment. We do not see all the unexciting time spent waiting for the moment.

However, just because we do not want to or are not able to develop the skills and put in the time to be in those places to capture fox kits appearing from the bushes or a Mountain Lion walking the ridgeline in our view, it does not mean our experiences are any less “worth it”. Witnessing the sunset from our backyard, the just-right light on the maple tree next to the garage or documenting how our garden grows and changes is just as special because they happen to us. They are real experiences that grow in our mind, our bodies, our souls. They deepen our connection to the natural world directly around us. Whether we capture it on camera and share it or not.

Life is made up of a bunch of ordinary, everyday moments. And these ordinary moments can become extraordinary based on our perspective. We can approach the world with an attitude where nothing is new, where only the unusual and rare have value, and the everyday is boring. Or we can approach the world with a sense of curiosity and wonder in everyday, ordinary moments. What are all the things that had to happen for this seed to fall in this place to grow into this tree? How exactly did we arrive in this place to be able to watch this sunset?

Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I think we, as humans, are compelled to capture moments in nature to tell the story of this amazing world and to share it with others. And I’m glad that so many people choose to. As award winning photographers and as everyday snapshots and stories told to friends. As viewers we can use them, not as a set of expectations about what we “should” see but as inspiration to go out and have our own experiences too. Wherever we are. Close to home or far away. Ordinary or extraordinary. Captured on a camera or in our memory.

Katie Finch is a Senior Nature Educator at Audubon. Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is partially open, including restrooms, the Blue Heron Gift Shop, and some exhibits. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.

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