When John Janovy talks about love and joy (see June 17 post), he’s talking about working and teaching. Does your job give you joy? Do you love your work? I did.
Though I didn’t realize at the time that it was a luxury, I always had work that made me feel useful, work that allowed me moments of sheer, ecstatic joy. The kind of joy I’m talking about is not the squealing, jumping around kind of joy, but rather a quiet sense of being right with the universe.
Those moments have almost always involved an animal or maybe a flower. One of them that’s as clear in my mind today as when it happened more than thirty years ago, happened at the “Four Corners” where Nebraska 14 meets Nebraska 20.The road ditches there were marshy and, as I reached the corner, I was headed somewhere else. I glanced at the ditch and spotted a small flock of shorebirds, stalking around on their spindly little legs.
Part of my job those days, working for the Game and Parks Commission, was to take wildlife photographs for NEBRASKAland magazine and other publications. So, opportunist that I am, I parked the car as far off the road as I could get, grabbed the camera that always rode with me, snapped on the longest lens I had—a 200 mm—and stepped out of the car, gently shoving the door shut.
The birds were mostly phalaropes and they were very busy birds, spinning around and sort of stirring the mud on the bottom of the puddle, gobbling up grubs and insects they dislodged. As I crouched and scuttled across the roadbed, the birds barely reacted, although they definitely had their boundary. When I reached its edge, they fluttered a little farther away.
I had no shade, but the temperature remained springlike, so I found a dry place and I sat, camera in my lap, to watch. I shot a couple of rolls, taking my time to see if the birds would forget me and come closer. They didn’t. At last, with a grin and a “thanks,” to the phalaropes, I went on about my errand and they went on with theirs.
Another of those moments lasted several days—and nights. At Lake McConaughy, I shot 16mm movie film to document the Commission’s attempt to cross striped bass with white bass so that they could add the resulting “wipers” to anglers’ alternatives. We were out on the lake at night and my equipment did not include portable lights, so we (the fisheries biologist, Doug Kapke, and I) rigged a heat lamp, direct current, to a car battery, clamped the light to my camera and I moved in close.
We pulled nets and found not a white bass, so we finally went home about dawn. We agreed to meet next morning at ten. I walked in the house, threw a quilt on the floor and fell asleep in my clothes.
Next morning at nine-thirty, Doug phoned. I picked up the receiver and held it to my ear, but I couldn’t remember what you say when you answer the phone. After a long silence, Doug said, “Hello,” and I remembered. He said he’d pick me up in a half hour, so I took a quick shower, shook out my hair like a dog, dressed, and grabbed my camera bag in time to answer the door. And we did it all again.