Not For The Faint of Heart

One of the consequences of “Going Back, Digging Deeper” (last month’s blog entry), was getting attached to the wildlife I was photographing; in this case, a family of Canada geese. I discovered my growing attachment to the geese when I began to feel protective of them when dogs or children approached early on in my project. But witnessing a near fatal accident to one of the six-week-old geese nearly put me over the edge.

On the cloudy Memorial Day-eve before my trip to Central Oregon for a week, I photographed the geese about two hours before sunset. I was drawn to one of the young geese in particular as it twisted and contorted its neck to “clean” its feathers. Unbeknownst to me at the time, a large fishing hook had lodged in its lower neck/chest area and it was trying to get it out, but got it lodged in its lower beak effectively pinning it to its chest. It staggered and flopped in agony as its family watched with apparent helpless concern. It somehow managed to right itself and get in the water and paddle away with its family, but in a perpetual bent-over posture.

I figure I’d be a horrible photojournalist because I could not bring myself to shoot the most traumatic parts. But the shots I managed to get helped me to piece the story together afterward. These photos may be disturbing to some, as they are to me, and they are a sobering reminder of the realities of living in the wild – even a relatively urban wild where I was shooting.

I left feeling traumatized, but managed to speak with a local wildlife refuge group and was assured they would get someone over to help out. I don’t know if they did or not, but I returned five days later to find (and photograph) all six young geese alive and well.

I can’t even tell which one was hooked.  I heard that one had been seen bloody and skinny for two or three days, but somehow it recovered as the week progressed. I was elated.

What does this have to do with photography? For me, it’s that photography brings contact; repeated contact can bring awareness, profound appreciation, and emotional attachment to the subject. And sometimes the painful realities that photography brings us in contact with are not for the feint of heart.