Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Prologue from As Best I Can...

I consider myself an excellent photographer and have always boasted that if the Lord gives me an opportunity by putting a critter in front of me, I will get the shot. Though I am always humbled by the beauty of the Lord’s creation, I discovered on my most recent trip to Alaska that I’d been a little too cocky about my abilities.
My friend Amy and I arrived in Anchorage on a Wednesday in very gusty winds and drove out to Potters Marsh. No birds there, and we almost got blown off the boardwalk. I was extremely disappointed. We made it down to Seward and found out the tours into the Kenia Fjords had been cancelled that day. This put a sour note in my gut; this was what had happened on my previous trip in ‘04, and it was happening again. I prayed, “Lord, please just give me the chance to photograph the puffins, murres, and other sea birds. Just give me the chance and I will get the shots.”
Thursday morning was not as bad, but we were given a weather warning and the option of canceling and getting a complete refund or going out and, if we had to turn back, getting only a $40 refund, the same exact thing that had happened on my ‘04 trip. Luckily, we were able to complete the tour, though in rough seas.
The captain was aware of my desire to take puffin photos—this was my fourth boat trip to try photographing them. In the calm waters of Resurrection Bay it was easy sailing and within minutes of leaving the dock I was able to get a few nice sea otter photos. Heading towards the Northwestern Fjord, I saw many puffins in the water but was unable to get any shots from the moving boat in somewhat rough waters. The waters were much calmer in the Northwestern Fjord, and I could relax my grip on the railing to try and photograph the puffins we were passing. On our way to the Northwestern Glacier waters, the captain slowed the boat a few times for various bird sightings, mostly eagles, but I still couldn't seem to get any good shots from the moving boat. I was becoming frustrated. I needed more time.
We got to the glacier, a large beautiful glacier with many waterfalls nearby. There were small icebergs in the calm waters but no birds. Harbor seals stuck their heads out of the water, checking us out, and I was able to get those photographs. Our next stop was a beautiful roaring waterfall. After leaving the falls I saw a flock of about thirty or forty puffins in the very calm waters of the fjord. But the boat sped right past!
Why did the captain pass up all those puffins? I found out later that he was in a hurry to get me back to the Chiswell Islands where the puffins nest on rocks out of the water. It was very windy. I could not get any shots in water this rough. It was all I could do to hold on to the railing so my chair would not flip over. I was getting angrier and angrier and venting at Amy. “I can't do it! “I just can't do it! An able-bodied photographer couldn't get photographs under these conditions. Why does the Lord want me to fail like this?” Amy said that the Lord didn’t want me to fail. In my anger I replied that obviously He does want me to fail. Again, all I prayed for was the chance to get the shots, nothing else. By the time we got back to Resurrection Bay, I felt pretty depressed and utterly defeated. I had plenty of opportunities on this trip, but I just couldn't get any shots. That night, my prayer changed. Whereas before I prayed that the Lord just give me the chance, now I prayed, “Lord, I need your help. I just can’t do it by myself. Please Lord, calm the wind, calm the waters, steady the boat, and please, most importantly, steady my hand and my camera.”

When we awoke Friday morning, the air was absolutely still. The tall ornamental grasses near the hotel were not even stirring. We got to the boat, where the captain was greeting passengers as they came aboard. “It’s going to be a beautiful day,” he said, adding that the puffins would probably be up out of the water today because the air was cooler. I knew now that the Lord had heard heard my prayer.
Within minutes of leaving the dock, we pulled up to within 20 feet of a magnificent bald eagle perched majestically on the rock jetty in the harbor. With the Lord guiding my hand, I was able to get some great shots. Almost immediately, there was another sea otter, and my chance to take more great photos.
The Northwestern Glacier was actively calving, causing a pretty good ice flow in the water. The harbor seals were checking us out from the water. As if on cue, dozens of them climbed onto the ice and posed for photographs.
Heading back to the Chiswell Islands, the seas were still rolling, but very gently, and I saw more puffins than I could imagine. I couldn't believe my eyes. The captain made pass afterpass of the cliffs just teeming with seabirds, and with the Lord steadying my camera, I took a total of 120 shots of tufted and horned puffins, as well as murres and a few other species of seabirds.
Elated, I thanked the Lord over and over. I learned a good lesson in humility. I may be talented, but I’m no darn good without the help of the Lord.

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