We were to flip a coin. Heads we drive around the lake to a favored restaurant on the South Dakota side, or tails for the Italian place in Morris? When the quarter landed in my palm, I hid it from Rebecca.
“So, when it was in the air, how did you want it to land?”
She smiled. “Bello Cucina.”
As we piled into the car after changing clothes, I considered running back for my camera. Nope, we were just going for dinner and would likely be home before the good light descends on the countryside. Take a deep breath and leave with thoughts of “no regrets.”
After a great dinner of some excellent pasta dishes — mine a wild mushroom and shrimp affair — we took a stroll around the block before starting home. A stop was also made to fill the tank. All of which pushed us into several miles of squinting into the lowering sun. What a relief it was when we turned south toward the “Clinton Road” just before reaching Chokio. When we turned back toward the west, an intense and colorful light graced the prairie. This is a favored beautiful and interesting stretch of highway hosting several restored patches of prairie, WMAs, a two-section wide federal waterfowl management area, and perhaps even some remnants of native prairie. When we passed a grassy wetland with a perfectly calm, mirror-like surface, my groan was audible. “Wow!” came the grouse. “That would have made a great picture.”
“It fell under the seat and I can’t reach it.”
Just a few more miles further down the highway it happened again. There in a “ghost of prairie” wetland in a flooded corn field, a doe and her fawn waded in knee deep water lit by a perfectly intense glow of soft reddish purple light. Not a single ripple disturbed the surface as the doe nuzzled her fawn, and my moan was no doubt sickening.
“Hey,” Rebecca said, instantly recognizing my angst and trying to soothe my obvious disappointment, “we got to see it. It was a beautiful moment and we got to see it with our own eyes. We and no one else.”
Yes, but as a photographer, and especially as a recent nature photographing junkie, it was a missed image that will haunt me for several months if not years. Photographers who have missed such moments can identify with Hall of Fame pitchers like Bert Blyleven and the late Warren Spahn, the latter who told me (minus his frequent f-bombs) during an after-game interview when he was managing a Triple A team in the 1970s, “You remember the losses. The homers the jerks hit off you. Straight curves. That’s what you remember.” Blyleven has admitted as much during broadcasts of Minnesota Twins’ baseball games.
Ah, the losses … those missed opportunities. Wild turkey toms facing off right after dawn just down the road. The trio of white-tails who were in ballet-like sync rounding the edge of a hill in the late afternoon light … also just down the road. And, now, the doe and fawn. All while “driving naked.” Each time my camera was back at the house. In fact, I still remember cresting a hill somewhere northwest of Dubuque in 1968 just as a farmer driving his tractor was silhouetted in a huge, bright red “sun ball” that was perfect for a 300 mm lens. I was speeding to a grass fire and didn’t stop. The next day I told my managing editor, Jim Galedis, about the near miss. “And you didn’t stop? Always shoot the picture. Always. Fires either get better or they’re nothing but ash. Always shoot the picture.”
Key to his advice, of course, is to never leave home without your camera.
After all these years I should know better.
And, there is this: A photographer never forgets, nor is there self forgiveness. You live, and will most likely die, remembering the misses, all of those “perfect” latent images.