I can never capture on film the beauty of light in a forest, shining through the canopy onto a single fern, a pebble, a droplet falling through air from a waterfall. I like to tell myself it’s not that I lack the skill (I do), but because the beauty is bigger than the light, more encompassing than a visual scene trapped within the borders of a photograph. The allure is in the sunbeam, yes, but it’s also in the feel of cool forest air on the back of your neck, the damp scent of brown earth and green moss and red mushrooms, the dappled light that shines on one thing or another, on leaves lifting their faces to the sun, giving themselves to God.
I once had great books: a guide to photographing nature; Stephen King On Writing; Brenda Ueland’s If you want to write. I got rid of them all during one purge or another. During a great de-cluttering when I thought photography and writing were just another phase. Now I wish I had them. That’s a problem with a butterfly mind. You never know where it might alight again and stay.
Our daughter likes to collect things from nature. Seashells, fallen flowers, acorn caps, butterfly wings. While I will only keep perfect ones – unchipped, unfaded – our daughter doesn’t mind blemishes. She’ll take a Venus clam with a hole or a worm tunnel in it, a rhododendron flower with bruised petals, a washed-out, nicked swallowtail wing. Unlike my tokens, which are beautiful but lack dimension, hers have depth. Their scars inspire scenarios – a moon snail drilling with its raspy radula, a single flower falling, a butterfly in frantic flight from a bird that’s closing in on it – and make me wonder. Like people, the broken ones have stories.