One morning, I was sitting by a lake, alone, enjoying my tranquil surroundings. Looking up at the beautiful sky, I saw that the wispy clouds were surrounding a patch of blue that was shaped – almost perfectly – Like a heart! It was truly amazing. It was my most favorite shade of sky blue. I reached for my camera. But, the clouds were moving and I missed the shot. In the few seconds it took me to look away to release the lens cap and turn the camera on, the heart had morphed into an unrecognizable form.
Disappointed to have lost a great opportunity, I consoled myself with having witnessed such an unusual and ethereal vision. The experience is what really mattered, but it brought to mind some other great shots that I’ve missed and lived to regret. Unlike the millions of photographs that I have taken over the past few decades, I most vividly recall some of the ones I failed to take.
For example, there was the time I was visiting the Grand Canyon and got up at 5:00am to photograph the sunrise. Creeping carefully along the rim, in the predawn mist, we drove right thru a herd of about about 40 elk. Holding my breath, I pressed the button to lower the window. I raised my camera and focused. The elk got spooked and fled. All I managed to capture was some blurry images of elk butts retreating into the fog. I cherish the memory of the sight of those wild creatures staring at me in the morning mist (But, oh, how I wish I had a photo!)
A very close friend once told me the story of how she visited her childhood home for the final time after her mother had passed away. The personal touches and sentimental objects had been removed and distributed among family members and charities. The house had been sold. She wandered from room to room, stopping to snap a photo of each one. When she got home, she took the roll of film and placed in on a little shelf in her kitchen. There was no plan to develop the pictures. The scenes were stored in her mind, she said, and that was enough. The experience left her with what she needed.
Sometimes, a memory is all we need. It can be far more powerful than a snapshot. And infinitely more intimate. We can pull it out and reflect on it whenever we want, no matter where we are. No photoshop required – no frame, no nail. The ‘lens’ in our mind has capacities no regular camera has. My memories, for example, often include sounds, scents and emotions that would never be captured by a 4 X 6 print or a digital image. On my last visit to the beach of the season, last September, I closed my eyes and took in the sounds of waves crashing and seagulls squawking. I Inhaled the salty air. Then I opened my eyes and took in the sky, the water, the sand, the rocky jetty and the faraway outline of Block Island. I committed it all to memory – One that I could pull out during the cold, grey winter ahead. (And I did – many times!)
What precious memories live in the recesses of your mind? Perhaps the face of a loved one who has passed on? Can you hear his or her voice? Feel their touch? Or is it the view from a favorite vacation day, overlooking a distant mountain or skyline? Can you close your eyes and return, just for a moment?
Perhaps one day I’ll look up and see another perfect sky-blue heart. Rather than squander the precious moment fidgeting with my camera, I think I’ll just breathe it in and create a memory, instead.