January 11, Joe Jowers

Witnessing and Capturing

A year ago, I experienced a specific sort of thankfulness for a span of about five months. It was a period of enlightenment made possible by my unemployment. I wasn’t busy sending applications; I was taking long walks in the woods. I can tell, thanks to an app, how long it takes me to walk 10,000 steps and how much longer it takes to cover that distance with a camera in my hand.

Determined, I walked every day – in the heat and swelter of the fall, when it was 17 degrees on January the eleventh, in the rain, and in the snow. I recorded the time-lapsing dawn and the defrosting of wildflowers. I became acquainted with other walkers: couples holding hands, familiar faces attached to skateboards and strollers, those aided by bicycles and walking sticks, and humans being walked by dogs.

I looked and photographed. I began to see. Occasionally, the advice of other walkers directed me to events on the trails. Thrice I’ve photographed an albino deer. Constantly, I’m asked, “Did you get any good pictures?”

Once, as morning broke deeper in the woods, I saw a poacher drag a dead buck up a hill. Surprised, we watched each other from a distance.

The things I heard! The sounds I named! The Frog Opera; The evening Committee Meetings of the Order of Geese; The Duck Complaint Department; the cicada and cricket symphonies. Owls message and respond; blackbirds watch and “caw, caw”; falcons screech and steal; small squirrels crash the same dry leaves that heavy deer bound over noiselessly. I’m still thrilled by the memory of the whirring and whipping sound of geese on the wing, close overhead. I’ve learned to listen. I have heard the engines of dragonflies and the caustic complaint of fleeing herons.

I’m grateful for all that I have witnessed and captured, for the experience of sitting at the side of a creek in a dirty plastic chair watching the concentric circles respond to the prodding of the deep. The water returns to glassy stillness, and the flotsam mirrors a seeming limitless constellation of unknowns. Those moments lengthen into occasions as the distractions of thought subside.

This fall, thankfully, I am employed, and the season for long walks has diminished. Now, I’m grateful for the support of mi novia, my most significant other who waited patiently and provided.

–Joe Jowers

Greensboro, North Carolina


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