Nature can feel cruel. Climate change, pollution, predators, accidents, and even genetics can all have an affect on nature. Seeing the results of these things can be disturbing and heartbreaking. My camera gives me a wonderful way to cope with the challenges of bipolar, but it can also be emotionally difficult for me. My camera has changed the way I look at the world and my place in it. I now pay closer attention to little things around me. I think more about how I impact the world and little things in it. This journey has given me a look at how fragile the circle of life can be. I occupy such a small place in this world.
A macro shot of a flower can show an entire ecosystems health. Aphids eating things on leaves, ladybugs keeping aphids under control. Bees and wasps helping with pollination. A predator like a mantis eating spiders and other insects, and birds feeding on them. All signs that the system is healthy. Where before I just saw a flower, now I see this entire living breathing ecosystem.
Birds of prey like eagles and hawks are beautiful. I’ve been fortunate enough to watch eagles fishing for salmon, and shocked by a hawk picking off songbirds and quail in my backyard. I am always heartbroken when I see a quail or songbird taken down. But I am also in awe at how beautiful these raptors are. Eagles have a success rate of only 30% while fishing. That’s a lot of missed trips and hungry bellies. In fact, nearly 80% of raptors die in their first year due to starvation. Loss of habitat to population or forest fires, pesticides, accidents, and climate change are just a few of the things affecting these birds. My backyard birds are beautiful but they’re also a small part in a bigger circle. I need to remember that every creature has an important part to play in the success of our planet.
Over the past two years I’ve taken pictures of some amazing things. Sometimes due to patience and planning. Often, they’re just happy accidents. Right place at the right time. I’ve spent months sitting in the same spot, at a respectful distance, observing nature. It’s felt intimate and personal. But the rawness of nature and the cruelty of people has been hard at times. My camera has captured birds with defects, broken beaks, and missing toes. A bird fighting to breathe during the wildfire season. Quail with chunks of missing feathers from surviving a failed attack. And bees under attack from predators or resting on the ground due to poor air quality. I’ve also seen tons of litter or senseless destruction of habitat. I typically don’t even keep the photos. They are hard for me to look at and I find them upsetting. However, I think I need to learn to reframe these experiences. I need to find a perspective that helps me deal with the sad parts of nature, along with the beautiful.
This weekend while bird watching we had a raccoon wander by us. It was still light out and it seemed a bit confused. It wasn’t aggressive and we were at a safe distance away. However, it didn’t seem to see us or smell us and generally acted a bit off. It walked up and down the same tree multiple times, wandered around, and walked directly over the marmot burrow after a very angry marmot warned his babies to hide. He even walked into the heron we were watching forcing it to move. When I got home and looked at the pictures, we took I could see how rough the poor thing was. Not only was he missing a toe, but his eye was also hurt, and his neck was bloody. I assume he survived, for now, an attack of some sort. I was extremely upset by the pictures. We called animal control and I spent the night heartbroken over what I had seen. Nature can feel cruel and unfair. I went to delete all the pictures but decided I needed to reframe the experience. Would I have even known this happened had I not captured it with my camera? It probably happens all the time. Ducklings get eaten, hawks and other animals invade nests. People destroy habitats for their own conveniences without stopping to think about the consequences for nature.
Things die. Sometimes in ways that can seem horribly cruel and unfair. Isn’t that true for life in general? We lose people and animals we love all the time. A car accident, cancer, sickness, etc. Death is a heartbreaking part of our reality. Maybe that’s why I was upset. It reminded me of how helpless I really am. It reminded me of how unfair life sometimes feels. But I also need to remember that how I react, deal with, or process these hard things is how I survive and grow. The finch with the broken beak has been around the yard for two years, he has adapted and survived. Our cat was almost killed by a dog bite as a kitten. She has one eye that’s messed up, but she survived and it’s part of what makes her special. The backyard quail survived whatever took a chunk out of his feathers, the bird resting in the smoke eventually flew off.
I’m not stupid. I know the raccoon will die of his injuries or will be trapped and put down. People will continue to do harmful things. Ducks in the local park will be stuffed with bread, yards soaked in pesticides and poisons, trees full of nests cut down, etc. All the while not making the connection to the bigger picture. I know, I was that person before my camera. All I can do is make some little changes to my own environment. Plant bee and hummingbird friendly wildflowers, plant trees, leave a patch of garden wild, plant bushes for quail and songbird cover. Make little sacrifices to save the little things.
Life and nature are about balance. You can’t appreciate the good without the acknowledgement of the bad. And the hard stuff always gets better, and nature finds a way. So, I need to look closer at each picture and appreciate the beautiful along with the heartbreaking. It’s part of my growth, and part of my journey. Maybe along the way someone will see the beauty I see and choose to protect it.