By John Warden
I was out at Hastings Lake one morning, working a grove of aspen trees with my camera, trying to find just the right combination of color, light and line.
The leaves were yellow and orange against a frieze of green and the smooth white bark of the aspens. The vertical lines of the tree trunks carried me up from the ground and into the image with feelings of height, power and grandeur. And the light! It was that magical golden hour of sunrise when the light was soft and mellow, pumping up and saturating the colors.
I wasn't even conscious of pressing the shutter release on my camera; the pictures were taking themselves. Some people might call such an experience ‘being lost in the moment’, but I wasn't lost. I was a part of that moment. And then something extraordinary happened. Coyotes started howling.
The coyotes began with some excited yipping and then the bunch of them began to howl. They sounded close, perhaps just on the other side of the trees. I paused, and listened. Their chorus punctuated the moment with howling exclamations.
They were so close, I suspected that if I moved, they would hear me, but I had to try and see them. Sure enough, as I worked my way quietly around the trees, hoping to get a photograph, their howls turned into yipping and then their voices began to move away. It was an amazing moment. I experienced the coyotes, without actually seeing them. I put my camera away and walked down to the edge of the lake. What a moment, a symphony to the tune of color, light and line, with Mother Nature leading the orchestra. And I was there.
Not all of the sounds in nature though, are as pleasant.
Elbow Falls at Bragg Creek near Calgary has always been one of my favorite places. My wife Debra had never been there and wanting to share it with her, we went one February when the sky was a gorgeous Alberta blue.
The Elbow River was still open but the falls were choked with ice. Despite the roar of the falls, it was a quiet, pristine, almost sacred moment. But then, the serenity was shattered. The ripping and snorting of off road motorcycles, blasted away the quiet. There was a pack of them and they came out of the trees, just across the river from us. Like vulturous carrion birds, they perched for a moment on a point just above the falls, gunning and revving their engines as they looked down at the falls. Then they were off, roaring through the bush looking, no doubt, for small children to devour.
Of course I exaggerate. I know intellectually that they were people, not monsters and that they have a right to ride their noisy, smelly bikes in a provincial ‘recreational area’. Yet on a more personal, visceral level, they were an orchestra of the obscene.
People though, are naturally part of our experience. While I for one work hard to find places and times when few people are around, they (we) are almost everywhere, a fact of life. What’s the balance? How do we find or create a harmony between people and nature?
I was fortunate to experience such a balance one evening. Looking to escape the throngs of tourists in Canmore, I followed the Spray Lakes Road out of town and stopped along the way at Goat Pond. It was a beautiful evening in the mountains, the sun was setting and the lake was a deep blue, all still and tranquil. I was setting up my camera in the silence, enjoying the solitude, when out of the cosmos came the sweet yet haunting melody of a flute. The notes were soft but clear, drifting across the pond like an autumn mist.
The sound of the flute was similar to the wild call of a loon, beautiful and perfect in its own way, but different. It was a sound, originating from the human, that didn't detract from the moment. Here was a person, adding to the specialness of a moment in nature. It was a harmony, a synergy, a perfect balance.
Interesting how people have created snorting motorcycles and soothing sounds of music. Interesting that people can add to a moment, or completely and utterly ruin it. The ratcheting chain-saw like sounds of motorcycles and all terrain vehicles are sour notes in my adventures close to home. They are notes that linger, but I can tune them out or turn them off. So I do.
But oh, the wonderful symphonies that I have heard in nature, the coyotes, the loons, the flute, that’s what I wish to share with you.