I’ve been practicing photography for most of my adult life, sometimes as part of a professional undertaking and other times as a passionate pastime. For the most part, the taking of pictures was of a documentary nature, a visual note-taking of places visited and vistas seen. But this relationship to photography has shifted as I’ve spent more time on California’s Central Coast, trading culture for nature, and bird life has been a central element to that dynamic.
This past December I went out walking just after sunrise and came upon a Great Blue Heron sitting beside the shore, nestled in some reeds. The sun’s rays were making their way slowly across the water, and I could see it would be quite some time before they reached the bird.
The virtue of patience is not a strength of mine. Photographing birds has taught me to take the time to observe and be present. The small birds flit, but the large ones tend to perch and hover before moving on. Unfazed by my presence, the great bird and I settled in and waited for the sun. Twenty minutes is a long time to watch sunlight drift over the landscape. I noticed myself getting uncomfortable with the stillness. But as I watched the heron gazing over the water, I sensed that we were breathing in a slow harmony. The waiting was an intense dive into being present.
Finally, the sun slid out from behind the trees and its light spread onto the breast of the bird, now standing at her full four-foot height. The gray wings transformed with color, and the heron lifted off, flying into the sunlight. I snapped a series of images, freezing the grace of wing feathers pressing against the air. It was a breakthrough moment for me, not only as a photographer, but also as an observer who can wait and see how one’s present circumstance might re-form in the future. This portfolio comprises selections from the past two years of visual wandering, a time when the birds have offered patient company during my coastal rambles.
(Click on each image for a bigger view with more vibrant detail.)
Marcie Begleiter is a photographer, screenwriter, and filmmaker. Vasari21 interviewed her soon after the release of her documentary Eva Hesse. You can see more of her work at www.marciebegleiter.com and follow her on Instagram @mbegleiter.
Top: A great white egret contemplates her calm reflection at the Sweet Springs Audubon Preserve in Los Osos, CA