Light Rain, 35 Degrees, East Winds 5 – 10 mpg.
The rain made today’s walk challenging, though interesting. Heading out, I knew I would get soaked. My jeans slowly get soggy, stretching out until they are dragging under my heels as I walk. 35 Degrees must sound frigid to people from warm climates, but it’s not that big a deal to us northern peoples. I wore no gloves or hat, just a rain jacket.
I carried my precious camera in a bag to protect it from the rain, expecting to take it out just briefly for a few shots and call it a day. I did carry a cloth to drape over the camera to keep the rain off and that worked pretty well. I was able to keep the camera out for most of the walk without getting it wet. It made shooting a little awkward, but not a big deal.
As always, the minute I stepped into the woods, I began seeing interesting compositions, beautiful color or texture and I was off to shooting. Because of the rain, I did not linger, but I did take a few shots in the brushy areas and a few in the woods that I think will be nice, if not great. The rain brings out the color in the brush and darkens branches and tree trunks so everything looks quite different. That’s a big plus when you’re looking at the same things every day.
Today’s walk was a meditation on change. It is the key lesson I’ve gotten thus far in this project. Things change almost every single day in the outdoors. The light changes with the weather and the time of day and time of year. The look of the woods changes with rain and fog, as well as the light. And of course, though I have not yet passed through a big seasonal change, the woods will change dramatically with the seasons.
When I began this project I had serious doubt about my ability to find enough material to shoot each day, but I am finding instead that things change so continuously that, if anything, I need to take advantage of each day’s shooting for fear of missing an opportunity that won’t return.
Take today’s rain, for example. It had only been raining lightly for an hour or two at most, so many things were wet, but not all of the tree trunks were darkened yet. So today looked different than the last time it rained. The rain had changed the woods enough that the vines and brush were in rich color and dripping with raindrops. The woods themselves had some trunks that had darkened, while others had not. The ground was wet, so instead of being light dry leaves, it was darker. That changes the balance of light and dark with the trees.
On the other hand, the light was flat and dim, so the pine trees that looked gorgeous yesterday were flat and boring today. The sparkle of the raindrops on branches created a subject unto themselves. I walked by a few things that I thought might be nice shots because I had put the camera away. Then I thought that I might not get the chance to take that shot again.
Maybe the next time it rains, it will be heavier or longer and all the trees will be dark or I won’t be able to shoot effectively. Maybe by then, the buds will be swelling on the trees and bushes and they will look different. Soon there will be leaves popping out that will transform everything. And not long after that, the trees will start leafing out and change things even further.
Of course, I look forward to all of those changes, but today I am conscious of the speed with which the seasons cycle by. Spring and Fall are the seasons of rapid change, so I will need to shoot a lot every day because the next day will be very different from today. I want to catch every aspect of those changes and it makes me really excited for the year ahead.
I have always been particularly conscious of these changes, but this year will be extra special. What a gift to be given. I guess you could call it presence. Maybe awareness. But whatever you call it, it is living in the world, not just existing, and you can’t ask for much more than that. Unless perhaps it’s to capture that experience and share it through photographs.
I want to touch on Jamie a little today. He gets ignored a little too much in this project. He was always meant to be a part of it, but he gets neglected a little as I stop to take picture and my eye scans the woods for potential photographs. I’m often a little impatient on my way out to the woods because I want to capture the morning light, or the fog, or get in and out of the rain quickly.
He wants to sniff and pee on everything along our walk and I try to let him, but I don’t want to spend half an hour just getting to the woods. I figure he can sniff and pee to his heart’s content out there, but in fact, because there are few if any other dogs out there, he doesn’t pee on things so much. What he does do is track animals. His nose is to the ground all the time and you can see him pick up the scent of animals that have passed.
It amazes me that he can smell that an animal has walked by a place maybe a few hours ago. Just walked by! He can smell that their feet touched the leaves hours ago. That’s unbelievable to me. I will sometimes see game run off that Jamie does not and then watch him as he approaches where they were. He invariably turns immediately and follows their trail. Hunters that use dogs call this a hook. The dog is moving in one direction and then makes a sudden turn back to follow a trail.
Normally when I walk Jamie I let him wander at the end of a 20 foot retractable leash. He uses this freedom to smell and pee on everything in his path, often keeping me waiting while he does so. When I don’t want Jamie sniffing and peeing on every mailbox post and tree, I reel him in and snap the lock on the leash to keep him within six feet or so.
He immediately understands that I want him to walk with me and doesn’t resist or pull on the leash. I love that he does that. It’s a part of the understanding and connection that we have. He gets that we’re walking now and not sniffing so much. He might turn his head at something particularly attractive, but he comes with me if I just touch the leash.
He’s both smart and eager to please, which you can’t say for every dog. Part of that is his nature, some of it his his age (almost 10 years old), and part of it is my training. I’ve watched every episode of the Dog Whisperer and follow his methods. One of the big ones is that you never keep tension on a leash. You correct the dog briefly, let him know what you want, and then release the leash and expect them to walk with you.
I see so many dog walkers who are being dragged behind their dogs as if they are a sled team. There’s tension on the leash all the time, which just encourages the dogs to pull. Often, you see the same people with chest harnesses on their dogs. These harnesses are derived from harnesses designed for dogs to pull sleds. These owners think they are being kind to their dogs by not pulling on their necks. What they are really doing is turning their dogs into pulling machines.
It took quite a while to teach Jamie not to pull. He was never terrible about it, but he would tend to go to the end of the leash and pull gently, trying to make you walk faster than is humanly possible. I spent months teaching him to walk on a six foot leash. I leave the leash completely slack when he walks with me. If he moves ahead and starts pulling, even gently, I give him a little tug on the leash to let him know I want him to slow down. He immediately turns his head and looks at me, then slows down. If he accelerates again, which he did for months, I give him a little check again and ask him to walk next to me again.
At first, it took a firm tug on the leash to get him to slow down, but eventually he got so sensitive to my touch that all I need to do is curl my fingers and he gets the message. Now, he even responds to my voice easily. When we come to where I take him off the leash, all I have to do is to gently say “Whoa.” This is a holdover from my horse riding days. He stops almost immediately as if he were frozen in his tracks.
When we come out of the woods onto the dirt road, he knows to stop immediately at the side of the road and wait for me to put the leash on him. He holds his nose up and lets me slip the chain over his head. It’s so cute and so nice. Once again, I’ll say it: I love this dog.