Seeing Eagles and Shooting Soccer

It’s our second day visiting my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew in Indianapolis.  We are at a lull in the day where each of us has found our own way to entertain ourselves.  I am working on photos.  Paul is doing something related to work.  Megan has gone for a run.  Scott is off somewhere.  We have a few hours before we will reconvene to go to the next soccer game.  Pat is the only one devoid of entertainment.  He wants to do something fun and he wants someone to do it with.

I ponder this for a while.  While Pat used to do things on his own quite often, they typically involved having a workshop and building something.  It’s not the kind of interest that you take with you when visiting others or even relocating temporarily.  His tools are being used by a friend instead of in storage, but they remain in Columbus.  It dawns on my why he wants to go back to Columbus so frequently.

In the meantime, my brother gets up and finds some sort of game for the two of them to go outside and play.  It looks like Jai Lai, which I would have never heard of except that we had a restaurant in Columbus when I was a child named “The Jai Lai,” so we all learned what it was.  Since Paul has taken care of entertaining Pat, I return to my photos.  Sorting through the shots from yesterdays soccer game is a challenge.  I actually had many decent shots (given that my goal was to shoot my nephew), but they mostly look the same.  I missed the crucial moment many, many times.  For example, when my nephew scored, I couldn’t get my lens turned fast enough and ended up with shots of the grass.  I have a new respect for sports photographers.  But now, I have hundreds of similar shots that really should be discarded because they are dull.

Pat suddenly returns to the room I’m working in all excited.  He tells me that he and Paul have seen an eagle diving into their neighbor’s yard and that I should come outside.  While I’m somewhat skeptical that they saw a Bald Eagle diving out of the sky in the middle of their suburban neighborhood, there have been eagles nesting by their neighborhood lake, so this is not as far fetched as it would have been even 5 years ago.  The only part that is at all surprising to me is that a Bald Eagle would choose to hunt rodents when there is a lake full of fish just a block away.  I make a mental note to google Bald Eagle eating habits later.

When I step outside, I am surprised by the bright sunshine.  While the weather was improving yesterday, it’s downright perfect now.  I suddenly regret that we didn’t decide to go for a short hike before the soccer game.  Instead, we walk the streets of my brother’s neighborhood looking for an eagle eating something.  We never spot that eagle.  Pat doesn’t take nearly as much interest in birds as I do, but he is interested in birds of prey.  So, when he tells me the bird they saw was much bigger than a Red-tailed Hawk, I tend to believe him.  But, now it’s getting close to time to leave, so we return to the house to get ready to go.

When we get to the soccer fields, I haul out my big lens again on it’s monopod.  As Pat and I settle in at the sidelines, a father sits next to us and says, “Are you with the Indianapolis Star?”  He points at my camera.  I assume that the Star is the local paper.  I laugh but before I can say anything, Pat jokes that we’re from the Chattanoogan some-name-he-made-up and that this game is getting big coverage.  The guy laughs mightily at that–this is a co-ed recreational soccer league–and says, oh, yeah, big, big game!

As I practice zeroing in on my nephew as he plays goalie (making my job much easier) the first half of the game, I periodically pause and look around.  It’s an interesting shift when I am thinking only about shooting a subject and I’m looking through a telephoto at that subject, and then I suddenly look outside the lens and allow the full scene to enter my consciousness.  It’s a good analogy for tunnel vision, I guess, which is, of course, an analogy for narrow thinking.

I think about one of my least favorite corporate expressions that’s being overused these days:  “Laser Focused.”  Remaining “laser focused” allows me to shoot my nephew without getting distracted by the pretty leaves across the field, the crooked lines drawn on the field, or even the ball.  But failing to look around causes me to miss all of those things, including who’s actually winning the game.  I experiment with looking for other things to shoot when the ball is at the other end of the field.  This creates an interesting tension between keeping an eye on the ball so that I know when my nephew is likely to be back in action and peering down that telephoto lens at some other subject, when I’m most likely to miss what’s going on in the game.

Then, Pat points out a big bird circling over the woods across the field.  I had seen it and dismissed it as a vulture because of its size.  Now, as I look again, I realize that it is not a vulture, but I can’t tell what it is.  It’s too far away and I don’t have my binoculars with me.  We watch it circling and then it suddenly tucks it’s wings into a shape you would expect to see on a military fighter plane and dives towards the earth at break-neck speed.  Pat sees a white head and is convinced we’ve seen another Bald Eagle.  I’m less convinced.  I didn’t see a white head (although it could have been a juvenile) and I’m still not confident that eagles commonly hunt on land.  I make a second note to google eagle eating habits.  However, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a hawk that big or one that dove like that.

I hope that it was a Bald Eagle.  I remember the first time I saw one in the wild.  It was 1992 and I was on a trip to the East coast of Maine.  At that time, I’m not sure if there were any places closer to Columbus, OH where you could see a Bald Eagle in the wild than the East Coast of Maine?  DDT destroyed the population.  It’s unbelievable to me that I was able to drive 15 minutes from our home in Columbus to a metro park to watch a nesting pair of Bald Eagles for the past two years and that my brother has a pair nesting in his neighborhood.  It’s one of those stories of hope that makes me think it’s possible to correct the damage that we’ve done and restore some sort of balance to the ecosystems we depend on.

But returning to the game, I get to practice panning (a lot) when my nephew plays defense in the second half.  Turns out, panning it pretty difficult when you’re following a subject that is unpredictable.  I also get to use an autofocus setting that I don’t use often–it keeps refocusing as your subject moves.  It’s a little tricky to get used to, but a couple of my shots come out reasonably clear (out of about 100).  I definitely need more practice!  It’s funny that I’ve been trying to learn this hobby for about 7 years now, but I’ve been so sporadic that it’s like I have to start over each bout of shooting–I even have to get the manual for my camera out and relearn what’s what periodically.  Oh well, at least it’s a hobby that’s likely to last a lifetime.

After watching my nephew’s team win their second game of the end-of-the-season tournament, we all head home.  We pack up the van and we take two cars to dinner.  We eat at an Indian restaurant that’s on the way out of town for us and not far for everyone else.  Pat and I will drive to Columbus straight from dinner.  I am dubious about eating Indian–I like Indian, but it doesn’t always like me–but I order something mild.  As we say our goodbyes, I am suddenly sorry to be leaving.  For a moment, I ponder what it would be like to have a close-knit family that lives within a couple blocks of one another and walks in and out on a daily basis.  Then, we get into the van and go on our way.

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