By Mary Bisciaio
I live in a rather large township in Michigan just north of Detroit. Thirty-seven years ago, we built our home in what would develop into a subdivision of ninety-two families. At that time there weren’t more than ten filled lots and a lot of trees and shrubs. We endured the dust and the endless caravan of work vehicles as our sub grew. The landscape changed to lush lawns that flowed naturally from one yard to another with immaculately trimmed flower beds. We don’t have fences. In fact, our homeowners association expressly prohibits them. The property lines are blurred from one neighbor to the other, and the green goes on and on.
One casualty of the expansion was the wildlife. We still have a variety of birds like robins, sparrows, cardinals, bluebirds, finches, and even hawks. We often see rabbits, ducks, squirrels, and small slithering things. I met my raccoon neighbors one night staring out a bedroom window. Four beady little eyes stared back at me. That window was on the second floor of our home, and the pair of raccoons were on the roof.
Oh, and the skunks. Hard to forget and harder to dodge sometimes.
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As the area grew for people, some animals were forced to give up their habitats and move farther north for their own safety from man and progress. Not all of them fled, though. Some adjusted and learned to adapt to their changing world. Deer, for example, can survive in just a small patch of trees and while, over the years, we had seen the tracks, we had never actually had a sighting till last Saturday.
I had hooked up our husky, Norma Jean, (yes, that’s really her name) to her leash line in the yard, because my crazy dog loves the mornings outside regardless of the temperatures. I parked myself in our sunroom so I could keep an eye on her while enjoying my first coffee of the day while reading on my Kindle. Reaching for my cup, I looked up to see a doe a few feet away staring back at me through the window. Norma was as stunned as I for she didn’t move from her spot, laying on the grass, and the doe moved closer. Other than to call for my husband, I watched, taking mental pictures. Of course, my cell phone/camera was upstairs. She was thin, walking on delicate tapered legs on a warm brown body. Square jaw, steady brown eyes, she wasn’t afraid. A little tentative, maybe, but she wasn’t afraid of people or the dog. She had adapted to her new environment. As she made her way across my line of vision, out of nowhere came two fawns, wobbly legs, white markings on their sides, and playfully following mom.
I watched the three strangers for a long minute till she loped down my neighbor’s driveway and crossed the court to a small patch of trees behind another neighbor’s house.
I will never forget them even without a photograph.
That made me wonder how much I’ve missed behind the lens. What can the human mind see that a camera might miss? I’ve seen some amazing pictures taken by professional and amateur photographers that evoked an emotion, a gasp, or a sigh, but I wonder if there are moments when our brain is by far the better cameraman.
After my mother died, I found boxes of photos of family from her youth. I didn’t know most of the people captured in those moments, but she had pictures of me as well growing up—graduation, my wedding, and all of her grandchildren. Did my father miss the fear in my eyes as he snapped me in cap and gown? Would anyone know from the photos how scared I was of college in the fall; the first generation to attend. Would I be successful? Would I disappoint my family? I stare at the picture, a reminder of that warm day in June.
I have albums and boxes of my own photos, documenting my family’s journey. I rarely look at them anymore. They are tucked away in a closet, waiting for me to find a reason to pull them out, but the camera in my head sometimes remembers a time, triggered by a smell or a sound. Vivid and clear the pictures come back to me. I remember the joy in a little boy’s face when he let go of the sofa and took tentative steps toward my husband. I remember my father’s touch around my hand when he closed his eyes for the last time.
I wonder how much we miss behind the lens.
I wonder if we need to stop documenting and start living in the moment.
I wonder if the perfect shot is worth it.
I wonder if we should have cameras on our phones, making the picture more important than the people.
I wonder if documenting on social media is different than documenting for the next generation.
Have we forgotten how to see and connect with the essence of the moment? Or can we only hide behind the lens?
I’ll remember the doe and her babies. I hope she is safe and returns, and for now I’ll put down my camera and see what I’ve been missing all along.
This article was originally published on July 31, 2019.