The height of mediocrity.

Sounds like a rant. But it’s not. However, there is height. And there is mediocrity.

It’s the story of a mediocre photo that I see every day in my home. Not a good photo, by today’s standards.

Bird photography has improved, thanks to digital camera scopes. Pros and amateurs have hit new levels of crispness, color, detail, composition, the whole package.

I don’t have a digi-scope. When I walk in the wild I carry old binoculars, and limit my record-keeping to memory alone.

Yet, one day long ago, I used an old 35 mm Pentax with a long lens to document a sighting. That camera’s cumbersome, and a 500 mm lens sees a shaky world.

But my Pentax took the photo that’s hanging in my home. I smile when I look at this blurred and very mediocre shot. Because I remember what I went through to get it…

I was in the woods near Lake Superior. Eagles live there, and I was looking. I spotted one overhead and followed him to a bonanza: a nest, with a second eagle.

I worked my 4-wheel truck up an old logging road, trying to get near without disturbing the birds. I shut off the motor about a quarter mile from the tall pine where the eagles were, and set the brake.

Treetops blocked a clear photo. I stood on my truck’s hood, needing a higher vantage point. Still no good. I climbed onto the roof. Almost, but not quite. I considered a nearby tree, but none had branches I could grab. I went into the truck, and got stuff to pile on the roof.

(Don’t try this at home.)

It was unsteady. But how often to you see eagles on a nest when you have a camera and lens? I stacked books, backpacks, jackets, a suitcase. I considered lugging my spare tire onto the roof, but didn’t need it.

The pyramid of junk got me high enough if I stood in the middle, got on my toes, and stretched to my full height of just under 6 feet in thick-soled hiking boots.

photoI wobbled and almost fell. I was atop a pile of stuff on the roof of a truck on a tilted, rutted road. About twelve feet high, I guess. Would’ve been a long way down, with nobody around, nobody even knowing where I was. I aimed, held steady, and got my shot:

Mediocre, I know. By today’s standards, even less than mediocre. Fuzzy, grainy, flat. There are a million better shots of eagles to be found.

But for me, it was a high point in the history of wildlife photography. A point about twelve feet high. And worth the risk. Sometimes a photo can be mediocre and still be fun to look at, every day. Especially if it’s your photo.

5 Responses to “The height of mediocrity.”

  1. Peg Callihan says:

    Been there, tried that. It is a magnificent photo.Your heart is on it.

  2. Bird Feeders says:

    Thanks for the great story. It goes to show that a, at least for the individual who took it, a photograph can capture a lot more than a single image; it can represent an entire moment, a trip, a feeling. It must have been quite exhilarating standing on a heap of stuff on a truck’s roof for that shot, and it’s no surprise that feeling is contained within that image for you. Thanks for sharing!

  3. amy says:

    As someone who takes lots of grainy photos and an occasional sharp one, I can really appreciate that story! I love the pic, and the memory that goes with it – and I’d have done the same…

  4. Jeff Mar says:

    Here’s a story about when we were in alaska and had seen bald eagles…

    well after seeing a bunch (because they are almost as plentiful as pigeons are in central park), we were talking about why you never see baby bald eagles…and that if you did you wouldn’t know because they don’t have the white heads.

    earlier I bought a tiny stuffed animal bald eagle toy…so when the time was right on one of our hikes, and i was a few turns in the path ahead of my wife, i put the little toy in a tree then stepped far back. when she came up to me i whispered that i found a baby bald eagle. she innocently whispers back that it’s not a baby because it has the white head, and then suddenly realizes it’s a toy.

    that’s our most memorable bald eagle story…aside from getting really close to a real one.

  5. Brian says:

    This is a great story- you’re the one who sees that shot every day, so who cares what anyone else has to say about it? That memory would probably almost never come back throughout the course of regular life if not for that photo- it’s a keeper.