The Moments Within, and Without


The morning was bright, the beginning of a warm spring day. The promise of new life. The light was perfect.

A tree branch’s curve followed the tree-line across the small meadow. It’s shadow etched a dark frame along the edge of the walkway.

I stood in the shadow, looking through a viewfinder for the best angle.

There’s a constant for photographers. It’s waiting, patiently watching, knowing where to stand, where to look. To know the right place. To know that the moment will happen. It always does.

The light just inside the woods along the walkway is near perfect. It comes from the north filtered through leaves and branches, reflected from the pond and the grass and sky, funneling to softly fall where the older trees begin.

The mosses, leaves, and lichens in the moist cool air at the edge of the canopy saturate themselves in dark color holding tight to anchors of earth and limb. In the fall the small trees growing at the feet of their older relatives join in the splash of bright colors as greens turn to yellow and gold. When blue disappears into the darkness of winter and the time of blue sky is shorter and life-sustaining sunlight has to move across more miles of the sky to arrive where earlier there was growth. Now begins brown, soon to be decay to feed next year’s growth.

And spring again.

This moment was a woman in a sleeveless yellow cotton dress.

The spring light brightened her dress. Her dark hair glistened,
swinging gently as she quickly walked into my view. With her arms gathered behind her back, hands clasped at the waist, she smiled, said “Hello”, moving toward the moment, that spot on the path where everything is perfect.

The moment went black, disappearing when the shutter opened and the camera viewfinder closed.

It’s odd, the way photographers never see the moment they’ve recorded. Sudden darkness. A flash of black and the view returns. Only the film, or today the memory card, holds the secret of that ever so brief slice of time.

Some physicists insist that what the camera records is a different reality than what I would see without the camera. I’ve never understood the math. My existentialist friends say both the physicists and the subject should be of no concern to me. It only matters that I am concerned with my observation. I’m only concerned with the moment.

I never saw her again. Most of the people I see in the park stroll past at least one more time. She never did. Perhaps she was there only for me, for one of my moments.

There are many moments in the day when everything falls into place. Then we move on to the next. The next moment to observe or miss, or dismiss.

There are always moments.

I stood in the funeral home parking lot during my mother-in-law’s wake to escape the warmth of too many bodies in too small a space and too much emotion in too brief a time. A steady, gentle wind blew across my face and hands and whipped the cuffs of my trousers.

The dry North Dakota air felt pure, having moved across the upper plains, fed by cold shielded in the earth’s winter penumbra well north of the Tropic of Cancer. My eyes closed and taking deep breaths, I walked across the snow-covered gravel parking lot into the wind refreshing memories of the years I spent there in the military. The dry snow crunched beneath my feet, its desiccated surface a reminder of the death so nearby.

The wind gently caressed me, creating brief eddies across my face and fingers. I remembered the Old Testament scripture when Elijah recognizes the presence of God in a gentle whisper, not in the brilliance of earthquakes, fire, and storms.

Family had gathered to celebrate the gentleness of a woman whose tumultuous life never betrayed her love for her children. We stood together, in tears, not afraid to speak of the good things, the moments of congratulations and celebration bequeathed to her children. A gift to pass along to the following generations without condition or regret.

Early winter’s fresh snow changed the landscape ever so briefly reminding me of that moment, when brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews gathered to celebrate a life.

We were in that moment of cold between death and resurrection when only memories brighten the day and tears wash away the sadness.

The mind’s moment of joy and despair. Of losing something important and wondering when there will be another moment to grip us so hard.

There will.