Story and Photography by Ethan Meleg
It was a glorious morning. A cool mist hung in the valley, drifting lightly on the gentle breeze. The sun burst over the horizon, its golden rays delivering warmth and life to the forest and its creatures. Cardinals and chickadees, nuthatches and titmice were harmonizing in song, filling the air with a natural symphony. It was, by every measure, a categorically picture perfect morning.
I was armed with the finest camera gear in the world: a camera that produces files of utterly remarkable quality and a telephoto lens made with extraordinary glass and technology. The light was perfect and the birds were close. It was shaping up to be a spectacular day of bird photography!
I am a very methodical person, organized with finely-tuned routines so everything runs smoothly. You could call me anally retentive and I wouldn’t dispute it; this serves me well as a photographer. I can function effectively early in the morning when I have to think quickly and operate advanced camera gear.
So on that stunning morning, as I was about to click some OPC magazine-worthy bird photos, I can’t explain why I didn’t follow my usual routine, which includes checking to make sure the tripod legs are secure.
The topple happened in slow motion. As gravity took hold of my very expensive super-telephoto lens, camera body and tripod, a quiet calm fell upon the world and I could hear my individual heartbeats as if they were a metronome setting pace for the incident. Unable to catch it in time, I watched the gear careen towards the ground and I braced for the inevitable: THUD.
The moment when your camera gear hits the ground feels like you’ve just been kicked squarely in the groin by a bull moose on steroids at the peak of the rutting season. It knocks the wind out of you. Your stomach ends up in your throat. Your eyes go saucer-sized and smoke comes out of your ears. Feelings of sadness, sorrow and despair wash over your entire body, extinguishing your will to live.
After the initial shock, I surveyed the damage. There were scuffs, but no cracks or chunks missing. The camera had an “Error 20” message, which basically means, “Screw off, I don’t work anymore.” I put the lens on a spare camera and it appeared fine. I was technically capable of shooting for the rest of the day, but the glorious morning had been shattered by the inglorious tumble, taking my photo mojo with it.
Several hundred dollars in repairs later, the gear is back in top shape. My emotional scars from the tragic incident, however, are still deep. Whenever I think of that camera going THUD on the ground, it still feels like that moose is kicking me in the groin again. It’s going to take wine and time to get over this traumatic camera incident!