“[The] shadows of late afternoon are very different from those of early morning; the mood, the mode of awareness, the qualities imparted are richly different…. The silence is deeper, fuller…. The trunks and the cliffs are darkening, the needles losing their distinctness…. The myriad flows between insects and grass, between soil and stone, hawk and water and cliff, seem to be dissipating — the reciprocities and negotiations between neighbors all gradually subsiding….
“We participate in this encompassing awareness with the whole of our body, as other animals participate in it with theirs, the snow leopard with its tensed muscles and the hawk with its splayed wing feathers. Every creature here inhabits and moves through the same field of mountains and melting ice, imbibing the same air, the same boulder-strewn awareness. Yet each animal filters this awareness with its particular senses, its access to the whole limited by the arrangement of its limbs and the specific style of its pleasures, by the way it obtains nourishment and the way it avoids becoming food for others. Each creature — two-leggeds included — has only a restricted access to the mystery of the real….“
“If hawks are circling around us, does that mean they think one of us might be good to hunt?”
Just before the sun went down a couple of days ago, I had let my dog in the house from his afternoon squirrel-chasing session when I saw my second hawk this winter. The first one — see Dog in Ivy, Hawk in Tree — was at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens, high up in an oak tree — but this time was different. While it won’t be apparent from the photos below, the branch on which this red-tailed hawk perched is only about five feet from the ground. I took the photos from various distances with a zoom lens; by the time I got the closest, the hawk stayed put while I continued shooting from about ten feet away.
I puzzled for a while about why it stayed so still and so close to the ground, then heard a lot of rustling from the tops of the tall pine trees that border the northwest side of my back yard. Fluttering atop the pines I saw an enormous owl, flying from branch to branch, eyeing the hawk. I never could get a clear shot of the owl, yet my wandering around the yard to try didn’t concern the hawk — who apparently concluded (correctly!) that I was less of a threat than the owl; plus, I don’t have wings. The owl — owls hunt hawks, but opportunistically, perhaps somewhat lazily — gave up after about thirty minutes, yet still the hawk didn’t move, only turning its head occasionally to see what I was doing. Cautious about its predator, this hawk.
Encounters with wildlife are fascinating: I kept wondering what it was thinking, how close it would let me get, and what it might do when it decided I was invading its personal hawk-space. Check the look in its eyes in the last two images: when I realized I might be pushing my luck, I backed off a little lest I ended out with talons in my scalp. Still it stayed for a long time — until the sun had set — after the owl had gone, while I put down the camera and just strolled nearby and watched.
I could have kept watching until darkness fell fully, but thought it was time to end our encounter and keep the hawk and my dog from crossing paths… so I pretended to be a fox… and it (laughed hysterically and) flew away.
“Domestic dogs do not generally hunt. Most are not born into the family unit in which they will live: with humans the predominant members…. Even feral dogs — those who may never have lived in a human family — usually do not form traditional social packs, although they may travel in parallel.
“Neither are we the dog’s pack. Our lives are so much more stable than that of a wolf pack: the size and membership of a wolf pack is always in flux, changing with the seasons, with the rates of offspring, with young adult wolves growing up and leaving in their first years, with the availability of prey. Typically, dogs adopted by humans live out their lives with us; no one is pushed out of the house in spring or joins us just for the big winter moose hunt….
“What domestic dogs do seem to have inherited from wolves is the sociality of a pack: an interest in being around others. Indeed, dogs are social opportunists. They are attuned to the actions of others, and humans turned out to be very good animals to attune to.”
“Methinks the hawk that soars so loftily and circles so steadily and apparently without effort has earned this power by faithfully creeping on the ground as a reptile in a former state of existence. You must creep before you can run; you must run before you can fly.”
“We may cast our gaze downward to watch the field mice and the insects that creep along the bending grasses, or to glimpse the snakes that slither into hollows deep underfoot, yet, at the same moment, hawks soaring on great winds gaze down upon our endeavors. Melodious feathered beings flit like phantoms among the high branches of the trees, while other animate powers, known only by their traces, move within the hidden depths of the forest.”
As the first week of 2022 approaches its end, all my shiny baubles and tiny trinkets have been boxed and packed away, with the wreaths snuggling nearby in their storage bags. The tree — undecorated, dismantled, squashed, tied up and crammed in a closet — fought back and screamed a little (it may have been me screaming), but has now gone quiet. The floors and shelves, the tables and windows have all been de-glittered (though my eye still catches a shiny dot now and then), and, visually, my house appears to be about thirty percent more spacious. So the holidays are officially over and it’s time for some things new.
The galleries below feature some photos I took while experimenting with one of two used Minolta lenses I bought in December. One of them — a 50mm f/2.8 macro lens — got a workout with this year’s “Days to Christmas” series; its ability to achieve focus as close as seven inches from a subject (and produce excellent color and good background blur) made it ideal for those photos. I have a Sony 100mm macro lens that has similar characteristics (and has a Minolta predecessor that I will probably buy at some point); but the older 50mm gave me a wider angle of view to work with while still allowing my subjects to loom large in the images.
Most of the Minolta lenses were manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s, originally of course for film cameras. I didn’t realize until about a year ago that there was a vibrant market for these lenses, many of which can be acquired inexpensively; and all of which provided part of the technology basis for Sony’s entry into the digital camera and interchangeable lens market when Sony acquired Minolta’s assets in 2006. My first film camera was a Minolta (I still have it, though it’s not functional) and my first DSLR was also Sony’s first: the a100, designed from Minolta’s tech and capable of using many of Minolta’s lenses, as well as those built and marketed by Sony as “A-mount” lenses. I eventually sold the a100 and replaced it with an a55; then, in 2018, replaced the a55 with the last of Sony’s A-mount cameras: the a99 II full-frame DSLR — which is freaking awesome. So apparently I have a good bit of nostalgia for the Minolta-Sony history and how it aligned with cameras and lenses I’ve owned, and it really is fun to take one of the lenses from the 1980s, slap it on the nearly-new camera, and get results that remind me of the film camera I originally started photography with.
(If you would like to learn more about the history of Minolta and Sony, Tony and Chelsea Northrup discuss it here: Sony Alpha and Minolta Camera History. If you are interested in acquiring some used photo gear from a great source, I can certainly recommend KEH Camera, from whom I’ve bought five used lenses that arrived in a few days and in like-new condition.)
I didn’t try the second lens — a Minolta 100-300mm zoom lens — until the Christmas photo project was behind me. It’s now the zoomiest lens I own; so of course one of the first things I did was try to use it for not-its-intended-purpose: some 300mm closeup-zoom photos of flowers. All of the photos in my New Year’s Day post were taken with this lens, and while there were plenty of rejected photos because I was experimenting with the lens’s capabilities… I was quite happy with how well the lens captured color and detail, even though I was twenty feet or more from the subjects and the lens was extended to its 300mm maximum.
Before heading out to take the white flower photos, though, I just took it into my back yard with my little companion, where I managed to snag a few decent photos of him doing what he does so often: hunting the English ivy for choice sticks — the longer, the better. A couple of the photos aren’t as well focused as I would have liked; but the rest are surprisingly sharp — which helps me understand more about using the zoom lens and what settings work best. Lobo is about thirty feet from me in these photos, something that works out well because if he’s too close when I try to take his picture, he turns away like he’s camera shy. For these photos I just stood still and waited for him to check in with me (dogs do that, you know, check in by making eye contact with you at least every few minutes; you just have to be ready for it) and it looks like he’s posing for the shots.
While I was wandering through Oakland Cemetery’s gardens for some white flowers to photograph, a little drama started playing out in the old oak trees between a tiny finch and this hawk — which I believe is a red-tailed hawk — as the two seemed to chase each other among the highest tree branches for about thirty minutes. The finch was way too small to photograph at this distance — but I did manage to capture some decent shots of the hawk… who eventually gave up on the escape-artist finch as it flitted among the twisted branches until it was safe to streak away.
The first four photos below are the originals taken with the lens at its 300mm setting; the second four are the same photos but cropped in Lightroom to show the detail that the lens was able to capture. Wheeee! I like this lens… which, by the way, only cost me $39.