I am obviously not having second thoughts about driving to Delta in search of snow geese in the pouring rain. Because I’ve already rented a car and if I cancel the reservation I’ll still have to pay for it so I might as well drive somewhere and it might as well be to Delta. And I am obviously not thinking about starting too look for an Irish boy I met in an apple orchard nearly 20 years ago. Because I don’t even know his last name so it would be a total waste of time. So I am obviously not entertaining thoughts of doing that anymore than I am not entertaining thoughts of abandoning the drive to Delta in search of snow geese even though I don’t even know if the snow geese are still in Delta.
I find the lovely white Honda fit I’ve rented for the next four hours exactly where it should be and spend at least a full three minutes trying to figure out how to adjust the windshield wipers so that they are moving at fast enough intervals so that I can see. I wonder if it’s raining this hard in Delta and how I’m going to keep my camera dry. I’m already getting the feeling that this is going to be the best day ever.
Last winter I discovered one of Facebook’s best kept secrets. Facebook doesn’t notify you when messages from people that are not friends contact you, they are filtered and sent to a separate folder. I stumbled upon that folder last January to find a message an Australian boy had sent back in 2008. We’d met in 2001 at a party in North Vancouver the night before he was heading back to Australia for university. He still remembered me after all those years and during a ski trip to New Zealand he decided to try and get in touch. Seven and a half years after he sent that message I wrote him back.
I find myself on the shores of Boundary Bay wondering how to keep my camera dry while I attempt to capture images I know are far beyond the ability of either myself or my equipment. Thousands of migrating birds called dunlins have taken refuge in the shallow waters of the bay but they barely register as dots when I try to capture them. I surmise that greatness is rarely achieved by trying to accomplish things that are possible and most who embark on that journey often take side trips to the thriving metropolis of failure. Perhaps this is one of them.
The rain has let up, at least a little bit. I watch raptors fly low along the wetland shores. No doubt scanning the saturated landscape of dormant shrubs and driftwood for their next meal. One sits on large, dead tree trunk about half a football field away. He or she takes off when I make for the camera and it’s a few minutes before another swoops in to take his place. You can aim for greatness all you like, but if you really want to be limitless you need to understand your limitations.
I’ve kept journals throughout my life and when I reconnected with that Australian boy from fifteen years ago, I went back to have a peek at what I’d thought of him then. Most of the journal pages were filled with petty musings of an average twenty-something. I hadn’t written anything about an Australian boy I’d met at a party, but nearly every entry mentioned a resolve to find an Irish Boy called Brandon that I had met in an apple orchard three and a half years earlier.
After an intense month and a half of daily texts, skypes and emails, the Australian boy bowed out of my life as abruptly as he had entered. In the void that followed, I found myself thinking back to that Irish boy with the grey-blue eyes. When the opportunity came to explore Alaska for a week with a dear friend, I accepted without much hesitation because seemed like the perfect way to let go of lost loves from long ago.
And it was. The Alaskan landscape was seductive and under a midnight sun, I found it impossible not to get absorbed within it’s wild, vast embrace. For the first time I understood how much I craved the wilderness, and what I really wanted to find was someone to explore it with. Although it eventually became clear that my traveling partner wasn’t that person, that Irish boy hadn’t come to mind the entire trip. I felt like I was leaving the past behind and really looking towards the future.
Today what I really want to see are snow geese. I duck back into the white Honda fit and wipe the lens of my camera with the sleeve of my sweater. I pull away from the shores of Boundary Bay and head to Westham Island, where in the past I’ve seen snow geese by the thousands.
At the far end of Westham Island, near the last field before Riefel Bird Sanctuary and Alaksen National Wildlife Area, I find what I’m looking for. A lush green field besieged with thousands of plump, white geese. Immediately the birds take off and the field becomes a blizzard of frantic waterfowl. I’m so excited I almost drive into a ditch. By the time I have parked safely I’m so overwhelmed with excitement I take a point the camera towards the terrified birds and click the shutter. I check to see what I’ve captured to find that the camera memory is full, and I haven’t captured anything at all.
I climb back into the white Honda Fit and angrily start deleting old photos one by one. My irritable mood made worse by the feeling that this particular moment feels much like a metaphor for my entire life. My God, why don’t I ever think things through! The geese slowly return to the field as it begins to resemble a moving, winter wonderland. There is a fence blocking any shot of the geese, so I backtrack to find a better vantage point.
When I got back from Alaska I turned to online dating and after several dead ends, I finally met The Perfect Guy. I shared so many similar interests with The Perfect Guy – photography, travel, and a love for the great outdoors. It didn’t hurt that he was also very good looking. We drank dark beer and made out in a park under the stars. But I walked home that night wondering how I might track down someone I’d met in an orchard long ago.
Late in 2004 I woke up from a nightmare that made me feel very vividly as though I was being pulled underwater and was choking. I woke up with a very clear picture of that Irish Boy in my mind… it wasn’t the first time I had thought of him suddenly, for no apparent reason. Like the times before, I said a small prayer asking the powers that be to look after him before going back to sleep. That was Boxing Day, the same day a Tsunami struck southeast Asia killing nearly a quarter of a million people.
I maneuver the white Honda Fit into a little pull-out facing the field. The snow geese have settled again and most of the chaos is contained to the landscape mosaic of green and brown vegetation. Some take flight every now and then, but only in small groups, usually of ten or less. I try to capture images, but I’m struggling with the focus and without a zoom lens, I’m just not getting the shots I want from it. I want an image with snow geese covering the field and the sky, I want it to look exactly the way it feels: overwhelming, astounding, and miraculous.
It’s cold and wet outside and I have half an hour left before I need to start thinking about driving back to North Vancouver. I’ve found the snow geese, but I haven’t been able to get what I need out of the day. The action is picking up on the field. The honking is more frequent, and the birds are taking off in bigger numbers now, little mini-flocks of up to twenty that relocate at the other end of the field.
On a hunch I look up and to the left. Perched atop a large evergreen tree, an eagle looks over the flock of snow geese as their honking becomes more urgent and their flocks grow in number. I pick up my camera and delete more photos.
The story of how I got here, by the side of the road on Westham Island, hoping for an eagle to rouse a resting flock of waterfowl suddenly seems long and convoluted. Even though it’s really as simple as renting a car and driving myself here. I want to photograph snow geese. I don’t want to be contemplating life and trying to convince myself not to think of someone I’m never going to see again.
The thing is, against all odds, that Australian boy found me. Even though I gave him the wrong email address and it took 15 years, he still found me. We didn’t fit together in the end, but he brought back the memory of Brandon with a vengeance. Tracking him down had always seemed like this silly fantasy I thought about from time to time, but now it is something that seems silly to ignore. I may not have felt what that Australian boy felt back in 2001, but I felt something equally strong 15 years later.
In twelve minutes I have to drive back towards the city and so far all I have to show for my efforts are a handful of blurry photos. This is obviously in no way, shape or form related to finding someone who’s lingered in my thoughts for nearly half my life. It does however, seem to fit right in with my hilariously cataclysmic life. After The Perfect Guy I met a film producer who wanted me to be his little girl so that he could be my daddy. And after that I worked with a delusional religious fanatic who may or may not have been cyber-stalking me for the last three years.
It’s absurd. I might as well start searching for someone I have no hope of finding. I’ve obviously got nothing to loose.
I wonder what it would be like to be a snow goose. Not one in a million, but one of a million. To look at the world and see nothing but reflections of yourself in everyone around you.
Without warning the white birds take to the air in a massive, panicked flurry of white, beating wings and frantic honking. I panic, too. Flailing for my camera with one hand and fumbling with the door of the Honda Fit with the other. I glance back toward the tree to find it empty. My right hand finds the camera and I bring it towards me as push the door open with my shoulder. I click the shutter in a panic knowing nothing is in focus.
I dart across the road with my left hand covering the lens of my camera. I look behind me and above the field. The eagle glides over the panicked waterfowl as they take to the sky in orchestrated chaos. I jog towards the midpoint of the field and the flock as a large truck barrels between us. I put my eye to the camera and as the truck leaves my field of view, the eagle enters it. I hold steady and hammer out a few shots.
After about a minute, I let the camera hang loose around my neck and I take in the spectacle. Far across the field, the birds take off in patterns similar to leaves caught in a gust of wind, like little snowflake tornadoes. Graceful pandemonium. The eagle flies along the outer edge of the flock, finally retreating into a thicket of trees at the far end of the field.
By the time most of the geese settle down again I’m shivering. I head back to the white Honda Fit for the last time today. I wipe the lens with the sleeve of my shirt knowing I didn’t get the image I was looking for. It’s obvious to me though, that I got what I needed.