Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"POOF! There Go The Puffins!" Atlantic Puffins

An Atlantic Puffin, pouting on the rocks.
"Is anybody listening to me?"
     In 2008, I went to Machias Seal Island in the Bay Of Fundy to photograph the Atlantic Puffins. Though it feels as if it were decades ago, it wasn't long ago at all. One of the big reasons it seems so long ago is that I've become a much better photographer in that short span of time. I would like very much to go again one day to take better pictures by exercising what I've learned. My images would be sharper, better exposed and composed differently. When I was there, it was the end of the season, so there was very little feeding of young going on; I didn't capture them with mouth fulls of fish. Most of the birds had poop on them messing up their breasts from sliding in and out of the nesting cavities, too. I'd like pristine, white, poop-free birds next time. Machias Seal Island also boasts other types of birds, like Razorbills. I did get shots of one Razorbill, but they had mostly left the island for southern climates before I arrived. Until I had the chance to look back through a few hundred photos, I had forgotten that I had seen even a single Razorbill.
    I have a confession to make. Back then, I shot only in just Jpeg format. It's an admission which pegged me as a rank rooky, too. That's not the end of the world, but it does limit how fully I can develop them.  Jpeg images are comprised of compressed data, so there are limits to how much developing can be done. Crudely stated, Jpeg images are akin to hard copy photographs, versus  negatives. Each time you do something to a Jpeg, then save it, you must then make a copy of that copy to go any further with it. Each time you make a copy of anything, you lose a piece of what it was in the original form. This principle applies to copying anything whether it's photography, painting, or making cars. Ideally, you always work from an original. In the digital world, the negative would be a RAW image. RAW just means that the data has not been processed in any way. You must do everything to it to do anything with it at all, even print it. But, you can do plenty because, every bit of information is there to work with. Back in 2008, I didn't know that, so I only shot in Jpeg. Today, that means that when reviewing any of those images, I'm limited to what I can do to correct the flaws. Any of the photos I took then are what they are and can't be improved on much with post shoot editing. 
     Today, I shoot in RAW format and Jpeg. This way, I have the digital negative to work with and a quick, working copy, the Jpeg - to use as a reference. Shooting in both formats has several technical advantages, but mostly, it appeases my basest anxieties about not having enough versions of an image to work with. Additionally, double product for every shutter click handsomely fuels my compulsive tendencies. A major disadvantage to working this way, though, is that all of this stuff has to be stored. It's not uncommon for me to shoot thirty gigabytes of images in a day. For you point and shoot photographers, this would be equivalent to a 526 MB card (what most P&S rigs come with) sixty times. To store all of this, and have it accessible while I'm working, I have five external hard drives running and a sixth in a box. That's six terabytes of data. Photographically, this is equivalent to building a garage, putting all your junk in it, then  leaving your car in the driveway. Can you say HOARDER?
     Now that I've bared my soul on that matter, I'm going to put another one out there. I did not back up the data. You heard me. Now, before all of you smug, techie types jump out of the bushes with your finger wagging admonishments, I want you to know that I thought I had backed it all up. I had however,  been sloppy about where I did my back ups.  Suddenly, one morning a full terabyte drive quit. Within twenty-four hours, while I was trying to figure out what had happened, a second drive quit. And poof went all the puffins, once in a life time Bald eagle shots, mink, otters, my children.........shall I go on? Hands shaking, palms sweating, I started making phone calls to my techie friends. They all said two things. And, because I can read minds, I know there was a third thing they were thinking, but did not say. What they did say was, "Don't panic!" And, "Where are your back ups?" The unspoken thought, which to me was loud and clear, was "Phew! Glad it isn't me!"
   They each had words of useful advice and information which I followed. I was told that most likely, the drives themselves didn't fail, just the enclosures housing them with cooling fans and stuff to tell the computer how to read them. Following the advice of my friends, I did not smash open the boxes with a hammer. In the case of one drive it was true that only the enclosure had failed. That was a quick fix and I could easily recover all the data on the drive. In the case of the second drive, the bigger one with double the data, and naturally, all the stuff I thought I had to have,  the drive had failed. No fans in the world would give me back my pictures. And this is where me and my friends parted ways. They all said, while backing away slowly and not making eye contact, that data recovery was the twilight zone of computer geekdom. They could not help me; I was on my own.
     I, of all people, now know just how tedious this is, so I'll cut to the chase. It took weeks, and lots of money and cortisol-belly-fat-stress-producing hormones, but I got my pictures back. At least, most of them. After the drive manufacturer announced that it would cost $1,200.00 to recover the data, I set out on a mission to do it cheaper and I won. I downloaded a data recovery program that worked. As the files were resurrected from the busted drive, thousands of photographs swam up before me like drowning victims from the deep. I revisited my puffins, a Razorbill I didn't know I had, goofy photos of my husband at a wedding I didn't remember we had attended, and more. I have posted here more than necessary pictures of the Puffins, simply because I can. They aren't good, but I'm so happy to have them that doesn't matter. Each of them is a reminder of survival of our near death experience.
     What I learned from this harrowing event was to back up the data. I know that sounds cliche and so simple as to not be worth taking up air time, but that's just the very hazard of it. It's those things that we take for granted  that we fail to back up until they are gone. Often, we don't even know what we've lost until it's too late to recover. Tonight, call everyone you have ever loved and tell them that you love them and how much, before your drive fails.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"AUK! It's Raining Dovekies!" - Darling Dovekie

Whenever we have a big weather event, there are those of us who look forward to the aftermath, as long as our properties have not been smashed to bits. Interesting things get blown to the ground from the trees and in from the ocean onto the shores. Big seas can turn over rubble and debris on the beaches revealing things that were previously buried. I found this pristine arrow head on Popham Beach in February 2009 after a brutal storm. It was on the sand just as you see it here, looking like a little Christmas tree. That storm produced devastating coastal erosion. Vast chunks of beach were lost when the ocean carved it's way into the land clawing sand away from the roots of trees. Near where I found this artifact is an ancient Pitch Pine Maritime Forest. I imagine that centuries ago, an Abanaki Indian pulled back his bow, then let his arrow fly at a rabbit, missing the rabbit, and losing his bow. This arrow head had probably been buried ever since, until that storm revealed it. 
    Though there was a lot of junk scattered on the sand, my eye caught the shape of the arrow head right away. I have developed a good eye for picking out shapes that are out of sync from their surroundings - birds sitting in trees or in the sky, foxes in the bushes, or deer dancing on a distant beach. "How do you see this stuff?!" My husband and friends often remark. "She doesn't miss anything," my husband likes to brag. The truth is, I miss plenty. But, apparently, I also see much more than most of the people I know. I see layers and details in the same scene that my friends completely miss. This talent can be annoying. My visual world is akin to looking at a painting and seeing all the pointillist's dots rather than the impressionistic scene, Seurat surreal. Sometimes, I'm rewarded though, as in this pointed find.

"Little Auk" is another name for Dovekie         

     A week ago, we had an enormous storm with sixty mile an hour wind gusts. For two days afterward, the seas were eight feet high in front of our pier. On the horizon line, we could see waves twenty to thirty feet high, towering like buildings. This Dovekie was blown in to our cove from off shore. Dovekies are the smallest of the Auks, or Puffin type birds. It's about 7 1/2 inches long, smaller than a Mourning Dove. It's hard for me to fathom a being this small living out on the Atlantic Ocean riding on those immense waves, but they do. Dovekies are chubby, adorable little birds with stumpy, Sparrow-like bills. I especially liked its feet which reminded me of a duckling. There was something very innocent and endearing about this bird, though it was dead.
     Dovekies breed and nest in Greenland. There are huge colonies there estimated at 30 million birds. In the winter, they come slightly south, sometimes along the New England coast. That's their idea of southern migration. They float in giant rafts out to sea feeding on small fish by diving. Storms that last for days, like the one we just had with sustained easterly winds, make feeding conditions unsuitable. Massive wrecks of starving birds can be driven landward. In the winter of 1932-33, the largest wreck recorded in North America saw Dovekies raining down on the streets of New York city. Large numbers washed up on the eastern seaboard from Florida to Nova Scotia. The visual of hundreds of the darling, diminutive Dovekies falling from the sky is a thing of nightmares! It has changed things for me forever. From now on, when we have torrential rains, I will declare "It's raining dogs and Dovekies out there!" Unlike "It's raining cats and dogs," raining Dovekies makes sense.
Thanks to wikipedia.com, allaboutbirds.com and whatbird.com for some of the information.
•Montevecchi, W. A., and I. J. Stenhouse. 2002. Dovekie (Alle alle). In The Birds of North America, No. 701 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Non Amuse Bouche - Red-bellied Woodpecker

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker
    I had recently made an appointment to see a dermatologist to look at my aging, spotty face which seems to be growing barnacles. Though I had been referred by my primary care physician, the dermatologist could not see me until June of next year. So, yesterday, when the dermatologist's office called with a cancellation, I dropped everything and flew there like the witch on a broom my face says I've become. The good news is that I don't have anything malignant growing on my face, though my disposition could be said to be malignant. I do have a slew of patches that are pre-cancerous, however.
     Six places needed to be blasted with liquid nitrogen. I had this done once before, which is why my physician sent me to the face expert. It hadn't been a big deal then, and time had faded my recall of the depth of the experience. Plus, my more current frame of reference for liquid nitrogen is cooking, not cancer treatment. The coolest, nouvelle cuisine chefs use "L2," as those in the know call it, when fashioning "amuse bouche" or mouth amusements. Fruits are flash frozen and soups carved into table ready, frozen sculptures when prepared with L2, also known as "dry ice." Ice cream freezes so quickly with L2 that the ice crystals are super small. When the ice cream hits the tongue, instead of melting, it evaporates filling the mouth with a blast of delightful, gaseous essence - amuse bouche!
     I can tell you that when the L2 hit my face six times, I was not amused. And, from this Cupid's pucker of a sweet bouche rolled more than delightful, gaseous essence; I swore like a pirate! I come by the inclination to swear honestly. Both of my parents were quick to launch vulgarities of the most hair curling order and didn't hesitate to do so in front of us children. My father, with an undisguised hint of pride and peculiar affection, often said of my mother that she had "a mouth like a sewer rat." They reasoned that exposing us to world class profanity at home would render swearing a blase' form of communication. Our language choices, when wanting to impress upon someone the intensity of our feelings, would evolve more highly than to just jump quickly to profanity. They were wrong. I for one, love a good, choking mouthful of the F word in times of trouble, though I did withhold that in the doctor's office.
     When I left, my face felt like I had walked face-first into a wasps' nest! Having thought that this wouldn't be a big deal, I had planned to meet my husband for lunch afterward and to do a dozen errands. I could have begged off dining in a public place with my beloved, but the errands had to be done, no matter what. Christmas is coming, whether my face looks like I took a load of bird shot or not. So, I sucked it up and went to lunch at a local diner. I held my head high and dared any customers or the waitresses whizzing by with plate loads of meatloaf and mashed to stare at my wrecked face. My prince of a husband treated me to a lobster roll, thanked me for taking care of myself and told me repeatedly that I was beautiful.
     After lunch, I had nearly forgotten the whole thing by the time I got to my car. When I saw this Red-bellied woodpecker in the trees, my amuse bouche came back completely.
     Red-bellied woodpeckers are no longer uncommon in Maine, though they used to be. Like Northern Cardinals and Mockingbirds, their population has crept northward over the past decade. Five or six years ago, a Red-bellied woodpecker reported in Maine was are rarity worth twitching, or chasing after to see.  Then, in 2004, the most wide-spread invasion of Red-bellied woodpeckers ever recorded occurred in Maine, Upstate New York and Maritime Canada. So many of them were suddenly reported on the birding list serves that it was clear the sightings were not those of simply a few, fall migratory wanderers. Why the birds came this far north remains uncertain. Possibly, breeding had been so successful in the spring of 2004 that the first year birds expanded into northern, un-occupied spaces to set up new breeding territories. It may also be that a food source, like acorns, declined, forcing the birds to look elsewhere.
     Red-bellied woodpeckers eat fruit and berries and insects. In the south, they hang on hummingbird feeders occasionally. In these photos, the bird had banged on the cracks in the maple tree several times. Their tongues extend two inches beyond the end of the bill. Twice, I saw her pull out the brown lumps you see here. I'm not sure what it was, but she liked it enough to try several times for more.
     Red-bellied woodpeckers are about nine and half inches long, the size of a Hairy woodpecker. They have a rolling 'R' call and an undulating flight pattern, both very recognizable. The bird in these images is female. Her red head patch does not extend all the way to her bill. Males have a red patch from the nape of the neck to the bill. The "red belly," is an inconspicuous patch that's barely visible for field identification. So, why are they called "Red-bellied?" I'm guessing because "Red-headed" was a name already taken. We get Red-headed woodpeckers here, but they are very rare. A siting would be twitch-worthy. Maybe next year, Red-headed woodpeckers will be as common here as Red-bellied woodpeckers have recently become. And perhaps by then, my bee-stung looking face will have calmed down enough that no one will notice that anymore, either.  

Fellow birder, Don Reimer  has an article on Red-bellied woodpeckers in a local paper. If you want more detail about these beautiful birds, click here: Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1939)

Wordless Wednesday

Elm Street Baptist Church, Bath, Maine

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

No Regrets - Great Egret

Great Egrets are elegant birds, standing almost four feet tall. They are migratory in Maine. I only see one or two each year.
Great Egret, Center Pond - Phippsburg
     Though I'm a wildlife photographer, I've never been on a safari. I'm not waiting for big game on an African savanna. I'm mostly just in my living room wearing my bathrobe, very much in the little leagues of the ball game. Just the same, I have to be prepared for whatever presents itself, even if it's unlikely to be a tigress slurping water from a pool at sundown, warm light filling her deep brown eyes. The birds and animals here in my home town are all the big game I have and generally, all the big game I need.
     To be ready for them, one of the first things I do every day even before I brush my teeth, is adjust my camera's exposure settings for the light of the day. I pick the film speed, shutter speed and aperture that will give me the best advantage if suddenly, something appears. I intend to be at least minimally ready by hedging my exposure bets as best as I can. Frequently, when a bird or or animal has turned up, had I spent time fumbling with the camera settings, I would have missed the shot. I always have the camera with me, because I don't ever want to be looking for it in the golden moment a subject pops out of the bushes. Preparedness has served me well. Nonetheless, I often don't get the shots I hope for and find something wrong with nearly every photograph I take.
     Sometimes, when a subject shows up, I have to take the shot even though I know the conditions aren't good, because the beast may not come back. That aside, I also have a merciless inner critic crabbing at me constantly. "Those feathers should be sharper," "there's too much background business behind the bird," "I wish I'd used a flash." Frequently, I wish I could take them over. Invariably, I look at an image and think "Oh, if only my aperture had been smaller! I would have had more depth of field!" Or, "What the hell was I thinking? ISO-schmiso! I should have had a faster film speed." And so it goes, leaving me like an exhausted race horse, flogged nearly to death by a rider it can't shake. About the only regret that I never have is not taking the photo at all. I haven't quit and I keep trying. I've learned something from every photograph I've taken, regardless of how frustrating or disappointing its outcome. Each time I press the shutter, I'm hopeful that this time, I'll nail it.
      There have been a lot of things in my life that I wish I could do over. Many people asked, even assumed that I would have photographed  those hunters that terrorized me a few weeks ago. Had I photographed their boat, the warden could have tracked the registration and caught them. But, alas, I wasn't thinking about my camera when that happened. The gun fire, yelling, and barbaric threatening dumped me back to a horrible place I had not been in a long time.
     Having nothing to do with demonic duck hunters, I already had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a neuro-chemical problem some people acquire after experiencing traumatic events. The "flight or fight" brain chemistry gets turned on as it should, but then never completely shuts off. My brain simmers in a brew of fear all the time. Something as innocuous as a slammed door or backfiring engine can send me diving under a bed or running for the nearest exit. Though my thinking self knows that all is okay in my world, my primal protective mechanisms over react. My heart races, my breathing quickens, chest pain pushes on my heart and often, I cry. I take medications that help. I've also lived with my quick-to-startle jumpiness for fifteen years, and I've learned to manage it, to some extent. But, every once in a while, something happens like the duck hunting episode, that suddenly sends me overboard, awash in chemical messages that I'm in danger.
    My PTSD is the legacy of a violent marriage. For nearly two decades, I lived with a sick man in an even sicker relationship. After all, there were two of us to make it that way. I knew the day that I married him that I had made a terrible mistake. It was a mistake that would cost me for the rest of my life, long after he was gone. Those dark, ugly times crash in on me when a here-and-now event busts open my flood gates. I ask myself, "If there was a do-over, would I do it again?" The obvious answer is "Of course not," but, it's not that simple. Like a failed photograph, I don't always know what I should have done differently, only that the end result wasn't what I had imagined. From that marriage, I have two of the most incredible children a mother could ever have dreamed of; I wouldn't trade them for anything. And, now, with David, I have the fairy tale life I had wished for with their father. Had I kept my heart in my pocket way back then, I wouldn't have any of these things now. It's for all the bad photographs I've taken that I'm a decent photographer today.
     In the midst of the scary, stressful times before I escaped my children's father and took them into hiding, our lives behind closed doors were living hell. On the outside, though, we looked Hallmark good. I kept up such exhaustive pretenses of health and happiness that neither friend nor family knew what was really going on. To this end, I hosted elaborate holiday dinners every year. When I bought groceries for Thanksgiving, I always filled two carts. As I shopped, I arranged my purchases carefully so that there would be room and things didn't get crushed. One year, toward the end of the marriage when things were at their worst and my organizational skills were rapidly eroding, I had a shopping disaster.
     While pulling one full cart behind me and pushing a second ahead, they were becoming too much to maneuver around the aisles. So, I left them, sought out items, then came back to the carts and tossed them in. On one of these forays, while trying to choose vanilla extract, I became aware of an odd sound. Over the tinny Christmas carols issuing from the supermarket ceiling, I heared a shooshing noise. It was coming from one of my carts at the end of the aisle. Thinking I imagined it, I turned back to the vanilla extract, but the noise got louder.
    At the very bottom of the fullest cart, under a ton of carelessly piled groceries was a can of whipped cream. The weight of the groceries crushed the cover then forced the nozzle through the wire grid of the cart bottom. Whipped cream was discharging full throttle from my cart! Panicking, I tried to get to it, but there were just too many things piled on top. A mountain of whipped cream was building as if tectonic plates had collided under my cart! Helplessly, I watched Mount Everest grow. I tried to move the cart, but the cream kept coming! The loud, shooshing sound was building as the pressurized can spewed forth.
     When I started laughing uncontrollably, customers stared nervously. A lady ventured near, keeping her back to the opposite wall, as far away as she could get but still pass by me and snatch a bottle of vanilla extract. Her husband scurried after her, both of them staring at me and the mounting, suspicious looking mess on the floor. "It's just whipped cream, folks!" Tears streamed down my cheeks as I laughed. I could hardly breathe! I laid my head onto the groceries and squeezed my legs together trying not to pee myself (I always have to pee when I'm in the supermarket). Between bouts of hysteria, I babbled to the nervous shoppers "REALLY! It's just whipped cream!"
     Eventually, the can was emptied and I stopped laughing. A store clerk appeared with an inadequate roll of paper towelling and an orange 'wet floor' hazard cone. I apologized profusely and tried to help her clean up the mess. "Oh, don't worry about this," she explained. "It happens more than you know. Out in the warehouse, those cans are going off all the time. We call them 'cream bombs!'" Good to know, I thought. I felt like a cream bomb myself. A passing customer surveyed the two of us just as the clerk asked if I'd like for her to get me a replacement can. Eyeing me, he said "Lady, if I were you, I'd stick to Cool Whip in a tub."
     If, one day there are do-overs for these things, this is what I've learned for the next time around:
1. I'll be ready with the camera if the hunters return. I'll shoot back in the way that I know how.
2. I'll always take photographs, good ones and bad ones. You don't get any of them, unless you commit to the shutter.
3. I won't ever hide my heart in my pocket and,
4. I'll always choose real, whipped cream, no matter what the risks.

If you would like to see more photographs of Great Egrets, click here: Great egret    

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Scenic Sunday - Popham Beach

Popham Beach, Pond Island Light Early Spring

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Duck Hunting Gone Wrong - The Meaning Of Life

New Meadows River at sunset
     A few days ago, I had a mammogram which prompted maudlin, pouty feelings about getting older. The list of things one must seemingly do to keep the old carcass going feels endless. No sooner have I completed the "crush-o-gram," as I call it, than I must present for a bone density scan. I could say no to this and just wait until I fall down, then crumble to the ground, a pile of dust and broken bones. But, Sally Field, whom I'll always remember as The Flying Nun, says I must, so submit I will. After all, who would argue with The Flying Nun? I've also had to make an appointment with a dermatologist for assorted "skin things," though they can't see me until June of next year. My face may fall off in the mean time, but I'll just have to get in line with the rest of the apparently flourishing dermatology market. There are a lot of us out there. Thankfully, I'm not due for a colonoscopy until next year. Like the Christmas shopping days count down pounded into us every day lately, I'll be counting down for next year. Soon, you'll hear me on the TV and the radio,  "Three hundred and sixteen days until my colonoscopy!" "Only two months until my colonoscopy!" "It's not too late all you Midnight shoppers! Tomorrow is my colonoscopy!" You'll think to yourself, maybe even say out loud, "Shut up already!" And so I should, because I'm lucky to be alive. I'm lucky that I don't yet have any of the maladies these tests are intended to detect. I'm just advanced enough in age to have learned to fear that I might. So a-testing I will go.
     Besides fear of disease, age has also taught me a few other things. Most importantly, I've learned that I really don't know much of anything at all. The more I learn about things, the less I seem to know in general about the big stuff, like the meaning of life. I've also learned that I no longer have to explain nor rationalize my values. I gave that up in my forties. Now, I simply embrace when I feel something is good or wrong; that's all that is required. I need not debate the logic with anyone and especially not with myself. I've also learned that the life 'firsts' are getting further and further apart, so I'd better pay attention.
    On my way home from my mammogram while deeply engrossed in a self absorbed pout, I saw this sunset. I didn't hesitate to stop and photograph the stunning scene. Millions of sunset photographs have been taken before, but each sunset is unique - a life first for the viewer. It will only happen in that moment and never exactly the same again. At the second of it's greatest brilliance it will be suddenly gone.
     There's nothing special about these birds, either, though each one is a living being, as unique as a sunset. Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Hermit Thrushes have been photographed gazillions of times, also. When I see them, or hear their calls in the trees, I get a shivery thrill. I've rescued them after window strikes then held them in my hands. To feel a live bird in the palm of my hand is inexplicably magical. The essence of its life infused my skin and travelled up my arm to my own heart every time, a tiny pulse of understanding of the meaning of life.
Ruby-crowned kinglet

    At the end of this past duck hunting season, while hundreds of water fowl were having their last moments on earth, I had a life first. I had picked up a pile of yard debris and was about to toss it  into the ocean on the cliff-side of our property when a boat with hunters arrived in front of our pier. Every year, hunters come into the cove. I don't like it, but I had accepted it. The gunfire riles up both my dog and I, but presumably, the hunters have licences and it's legal, so that's the breaks. Up until now, whenever hunters appeared, if I made my presence in the yard known, they left. None of them wanted to discharge a weapon within sight of a human being. I know some really nice people, people I would call my friends, who hunt. I've tried to tell myself that hunting is okay; that it serves some greater purpose that I haven't understood. I've tried to convince myself that hunting is a humane means of herd control and "migratory bird population control," as a game warden would later tell me. But the truth is, killing for sport has never sat right with me, so I've never been totally okay with hunting. Until now. Now, I know unequivocally what my position is.
     There were five hunters in the boat about three hundred feet away when I threw my armload of sticks over the cliff. They looked right at me, but instead of moving on, they commenced to blast away! Bird shot scampered across the water surface as my dog ran for the door, tail between his legs. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I screamed so loudly that I was hoarse for hours. "No! No! Stop!" I yelled, waving my arms frantically. One of the hunters waved to me in mock greeting. "Ha ha ha ha ha!" I could hear them jeering as they waved at me from the boat. "Go! Go, get the hell out of here!" I screeched waving them out of the cove. Still screaming, I had started to cry when a hunter standing in the bow of the boat shouldered his weapon and aimed at me. "She looks like a duck; let's shoot her!" He yelled while pointing his gun at my head. Peels of laughter rolled from the other hunters. Two of them waved, taunting and laughing. Suddenly, one of them bellowed, "Look! There's one!" Roughly a hundred feet off the bow, a lone eider at the end of its molt, unable to fly, bobbed on the water. Hardly looking, a man swung his gun around and blew the duck out of the water in a puff of feathers. Quickly, the helmsman spun the boat around. The shooter yanked the decimated duck from the drink, passing it off to the hunter that had threatened to shoot me. He flailed the eider like a ragged flag back and forth in the air at me while the hyenas waved and hooted beside him.
     Howling like a wounded animal myself, I ran into the house and dialed 911. To the credit of law enforcement, my report was taken very seriously. Dispatch notified the game warden who was an hour away. Though he came as quickly as he could, the hunters were long gone when he arrived. I gave additional details, filled out forms, showed him where they fired from and where I had stood. He took evidentiary photographs. But, to date, the hunters have not been caught.
    Eventually, I found my dog cowering under my bed and with him, I found a truth. In the emotional aftermath I discovered a conviction I didn't know I had. Hunting is wrong. Sport hunting is optional, not life sustaining. There is no justification for killing for entertainment. I've had rough things happen to me in my life. Sadly, some of them have involved violence. But this was the first time anyone pointed a loaded gun at me and threatened to shoot. The fleeting moment, when I thought I might be shot and my life taken, showed me another glimmer of the meaning of life. Some things are simply better understood in their absence, like a sunset after the sun goes down or a still, flightless bird.
"The Tree Of Life," photographed in the safety of my kitchen.

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