Lesson Learned

by Erv Nichols

I think anyone who has a passion about something can relate to the fact that at times it can be all consuming, blocking out other concerns both good and bad focusing all your being on that one thing. My passion is and has been, since I was 18, (I was 18 once) photography. Creating beautiful pictures, admiring others who did the same and especially, sharing the wonders of nature with anyone who would look at it through my eyes. Usually my rewards were “Hey, that’s a great picture!” Although I eked out a living for many years taking pictures for others, my heart was always in the woods. Or the desert. Or the mountains. Wherever there was open space. Since meeting Sandra at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge seven years ago, we have developed together a new passion, that of watching birds. For me it was secondary to my photography, even though getting good, sometimes great bird photos was rewarding. It has never been “The Bird”; it’s still the photo.

Sandra went in a slightly different direction. She has developed into an excellent photographer-in no small part, I must say, with guidance from yours truly-but her passion is “The Bird” with photography somewhere down the line. She cares not for F stops, shutter speeds, zones or any of the other details I spent 52 years developing (photographer’s pun). But we have found a good part of our lives together revolve around these two things and we are happy with it.

This past winter found us on a trip through as many of southern Arizona’s birding spots as we could cover. This day brought us to Ramsey Canyon one of the Sky Islands that rise 8000 feet out from the desert floor. With hopes of some good pictures of the beautiful riparian scenery armed with my iPhone, mini iPad, and a brand new camera with an outrageously long zoom lens and computerized features that could have landed astronauts on the moon. I could almost hear my hero Ansel Adams groaning with envy or disgust, I’m not sure which. Sandra however, was focused on one thing: finding the Elegant Trogon, a bird rarity that might top anyone’s life list.

We always start these hikes together, but I soon am drifting off to investigate an unusual tree or rock to shoot and she is scanning the skies in search of birds. Any bird will raise her spirits, but this was Trogon country and for five days at half a dozen places luck was not with her. Well, today luck was not with me.

We stumbled on a herd of deer, handsome does, gangly first years and proud alert bucks. All set against an early morning sun. I quickly clicked off 15 pictures and my computer with a lens said “time to change the batteries.” Frustrating but no problem really. Amongst the first aid kit, warm hat and gloves, water bottle, snacks and lunch in my pack there are ALWAYS four to eight AA spares. Not today. I found 3 AAA’s, useless for anything I own…what were they doing there? And where the hell were my backups? As Sandra continued to take pictures, (some I am most jealous of!) I hoofed it back to the Visitor Center to buy some, my mood deteriorating rapidly. Why me? I’m ALWAYS prepared, I AWAYS have what I need on a hike from first aid to fresh fruit. Lessons I learned in my Search and Rescue days.

Before I reached there I was feeling morbidly sorry for myself and I was getting strong vibrations that they would not have what I needed and I’d have to face the day without my toys. There would be no pictures to show and have everyone tell me how great I was. Sure enough, “I’m sorry we do not carry batteries” was the answer I got. I thought there must be a lesson to learn here. I then made the decision to just enjoy the day in my head. I locked all my gear in the car and headed out lighter in load and heart.

Walking back up canyon new feelings came over me like yes, this is the lesson, forget all your toys and enjoy the sun on your face, the brisk air, the wonderful sycamores over the gently flowing creek, the deer cautiously watching my every move, the gift of being alive in a magical place called Nature. And I did.

Soon I saw a bigger than usual smile on Sandra’s face as she stood on the little bridge over the creek. She gave me a thumbs up and as I approached I said “You must have got some great shots to be smiling like that.” She quietly put her finger to her lips and said, “Look,” pointing to a nearby tree. There, sitting on a branch among the thousands of acres of forest with tens of thousands of trees in it, looking back at me was an Elegant Trogon. No photos for me today but lesson learned.