The Last Year Changed The Reason I Take Photos

Missing a photo opportunity showed me the value of capturing and sharing small joys

Farah Egby
Dec 31, 2020 · 5 min read
Head and back of a kestrel with striped feathers and hooked beak
Head and back of a kestrel with striped feathers and hooked beak
Kestrel | Photograph by Farah Egby

In need of a screen break

Too much sitting in front of screens has made me restless and I itch to go outside.

I am lucky to live in a city with lots of green spaces all around. So I grab my shoes, keys, and husband and hop over the little cycle bridge that spans the river, intending to take a turn around the little nature reserve.

I hesitate a moment as we head out the door and place my phone back on the side table. No need for that. This is about a screen break, after all.

Squelch under foot

It’s winter and the field is doing its best to revert to its natural marshy state.

The river overtopped its bank last week and ducks could be seen merrily splashing in the temporary lake that stood where my feet are now planted in mud. I’m glad the authorities see fit to let this land flood freely — it saves our houses and businesses from suffering the same fate.

The mud sucks at my boots and half-decayed leaves squelch satisfyingly wherever I tread. Ahead, willows on the river bank weep gently, bare tendrils stroking the surface of the muddy water.

Willow trees with pollarded tops: the spindly branches reach directly upwards in stead of weeping downwards.
Willow trees with pollarded tops: the spindly branches reach directly upwards in stead of weeping downwards.
Pollarded tops of willow trees | Photograph by Farah Egby

The pond where moorhens pick their way across the shallows and a swan’s nest is filled yearly with spring fluffiness is now cold and silent.

As we reach the small patch of woodland, the willows become hipper, their pollarded tops sporting punk hairstyles.

Little birds — blue tits, chaffinches, great tits — flit between branches, ignoring a larger bird sitting motionless on one of the sturdier branches.

A woodpigeon? No, the silhouette is too sleek for that. Perhaps a raven? No, the beak is not straight and it’s sitting upright like a Victorian lady in a painting.

I blink a few times and nudge my husband in the ribs but he is already staring.

“That,” he states definitively because he knows about these things, “is a kestrel.”

All at once, I regret leaving my phone, and more to the point the camera in it, at home.

Life B.C.

The coronavirus crisis, with its accompanying lockdowns and restrictions, has changed the way I think about many things.

One of these is the way I view my local area. Without leave to travel to flashier locations, I look more keenly at the places within walking distance of home.

It’s also changed the way I feel about sharing everyday joys I come across.

Before Covid (B.C.), and at the start of lockdown life, I had resolved to live more in the moment, to resist the temptation to capture every last thing of interest as a photograph, to hold memories close in my heart instead of sharing them willy-nilly.

Today that aspiration isn’t working well for me. I itch for a phone or camera, enjoying the beautiful bird while burning in frustration at the same time.

Another grey day

The next day dawns in much the same way: the clouds are low and grey, the daylight hesitant.

My husband suggests another walk to the same spot and I readily agree. I rifle through the cupboard and find my camera, a point-and-click with a decent zoom lens. I slip it into my pocket as I wrap up against the winter.

Kestrel in a tree from curved beak to striped tail feathers looking directly at you.
Kestrel in a tree from curved beak to striped tail feathers looking directly at you.
Kestrel | Photograph by Farah Egby

I try not to hope as we squelch our way across the mud and into the woods. I figure the chances of seeing the kestrel two days in a row are not great. We do get birds of prey in our region but it’s rare to see them in the Commons dotted through the city.

We wander about, pretending to get excited about a lesser spotted woodpecker.

A robin puffs up its ruddy chest and wows us with its operatic warble.

Blackbirds dart back and forth between leafless tangles of bramble.

And then, as we round a bend, there it is.

The kestrel is perched on a broken branch jutting from the sharp crook of a tree, rich and ruddy against the trunk. It doesn’t seem bothered by us.

As I carefully lift my camera, it turns and looks directly at me.

Snap

As this strange isolation continues, I find the aspiration to leave behind my phone or camera reversed.

Photographing moments that inspire me and sharing the results makes me feel connected to a wider world, one I’ve lost physical touch with.

I don’t much mind whether people find my captured moments as inspiring as I do. It’s a bit like passing a stranger in the street and smiling. In the pre-mask days when we could see smiles, I mean. Maybe they smile back, maybe they don’t. Either way, the intent was to share something human, to take a chance on a fleeting connection and find joy when it does.

Kestrel perched in a tree amidst spindly branches.
Kestrel perched in a tree amidst spindly branches.
Kestrel | Photograph by Farah Egby

Yes, my pictures are only of the good times but snapping those moments isn’t about happy-washing my memories.

In grim times such as these, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the fear and the heartbreak of the everyday. Photos such as a chance encounter with a majestic bird remind me to smile and appreciate bright moments amidst the gloom.

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