For a time, I forgot what it was like to be out in God's creation, to simply be still and commune with nature. Somewhere along the line, I had grown up and become responsible, career-minded. I chose the hectic, stress-filled life of a manufacturing firm's IT manager who worked fifty to sixty hours a week, often tacking on eight to ten hours of evening or weekend classes to prepare for the next technology upgrade. I garnered much of my self-worth from achieving my work & education goals and from my ability to enable my coworkers to do their jobs on a reliable, secure network. I still took my camera with me on sporadic trips to the zoo, where I occasionally snapped a decent picture of a captive animal before hurrying to the next exhibit. But what I referred to as "my life" consisted predominantly of staring at dual screens and listening to the hum of computer servers' and routers' cooling fans.
Abruptly, a multiple sclerosis exacerbation interrupted all that. Unlike milder, more gradual exacerbations I had experienced in the years since my initial diagnosis, this one was rapid. And it didn't just interrupt my career. It brought what I thought of as "my life" to a complete stop. I found myself at a crossroads, except the road I was on didn't cross. I could turn right or left, but there was no way to proceed the direction I had been going. This attack left me with severely constrained mobility and only minimal use of my hands. I could no longer assemble and repair workstations, run cable, or accomplish any of the other tasks expected of a computer guy, and I couldn't do the typing necessary for webpage design, database creation, and spreadsheet scripting—let alone all the memos and correspondence that go along with managing a department within a corporation.
Whereas physical therapy had proven helpful in the past, both that and occupational therapy now proved unfruitful. I left the line of work I had obsessed over, feeling damaged and broken. After a time of mourning for what I had lost, I finally remembered the long-ago days of taking my 35mm Minolta SLR to beaches and parks, and I chose to turn right at my crossroads. I upgraded the little point-and-shoot digital camera I had purchased for convenience to the best digital single-lens reflex camera I could afford at the time, a Nikon D40X. I named it "Candace." Perhaps I couldn't type, but I could still press a shutter release button while saying, "Smile, you're on Candace Camera."
With the help of a power wheelchair and a lightweight monopod to support my new camera and heavy zoom lens, I got myself out of the house and back into nature. I did this as much as possible—even if that meant just rolling a mile to sit near a pond in a small neighborhood park. Most of the time, I watched dragonflies race the length of the pond, though they rarely paused long enough for me to focus on them. That's not to say I didn't try. The best days were the ones when a great blue heron, an egret, or an anhinga showed up.
One particularly memorable day, I was joined by Aaron, the great blue heron. He took his place on the eastern shore, watching minnows, and I took mine, watching him. Then he made a huge splash and came up with a minnow so small it seemed hardly worth the effort to me. But it satisfied him for the moment, so I turned my camera toward a woodpecker above. I also snapped shots of a raven and a squirrel that approached me, curious whether I was one of those humans who brought bread or nuts to the pond. I wasn't, so they went back to browsing for seeds.
When I looked for Aaron again, he had flown to the shadier western side of the pond, so I made my way to a good vantage point. He stood as still as a statue among the bald cypress knees that lined that shoreline, fixated on something I couldn't see beneath the glassy surface. I aimed Candace, zoomed, and waited. Having done this numerous times, I knew better than to expect much. His quarry might notice a shadow above and swim away, or he could just come up with a minnow the size of a cigarette butt again. I'd probably wind up with another photo of the splash, but nothing particularly special. I glanced over my shoulder to see who was talking behind me. A father and his little boy had entered the park, and I hoped they wouldn't spook the heron. I resumed watching through my camera.
Suddenly, Aaron launched himself beyond the shallow edge into deeper water, almost submerging before coming up with a much larger fish than I expected. I clicked away. With a flopping tilapia clamped in his beak, the heron turned around in the water and strode up onto the shore.
The little boy shouted, "Daddy, look at the big bird," and Aaron decided the intruder was getting too close. He flew to the east side of the pond, and I circled to the south as quickly as I could. When he dropped the fish on the grass, I thought he must have realized it was too big for him to swallow. I was wrong. He reared back and impaled the fish on his beak. I watched in amazement, clicking repeatedly as the fish tried to wrest itself free of the thing that had pierced it through. Nearly a minute passed before the bird dumped his catch on the lawn. The wounded fish flopped weakly until the heron flipped it into the air and caught it headfirst to swallow it.
I sat by "my" pond, amazed by what "my" heron had just done and overjoyed that I had captured most of his actions with my camera. As Aaron flew away, I smiled and whispered, "Thank you for having dinner with me. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit."
Rolling home, I realized that, even though I could no longer pursue the career I had derived so much of my identity from, I still had a lot of reasons to be thankful. Some of these were obvious—a home, a wheelchair, and a camera on a monopod. But many were things I had gone too long without noticing. Blue skies and puffy clouds, ponds and cypresses, dragonflies and herons—God had put these things in the world for my enjoyment. I just needed to be pried away from my corporate desk to notice them.