Reub's journey

14 December 2011

The owl I didn't photograph

Regret. The English language has an entire area of verb tenses actively devoted to this word:

would have... could have... should have.

The conditional tense is hardly worth bothering about in many other languages. For example in Dari, the variety of Persian John and I learned in Afghanistan, it doesn't exist in any practical sense. The six other languages that I've pondered at some point (German, Spanish, Norwegian, French, Chinese, and Italian) vary widely in their use of this verb tense. A Swede once told me: "I like English best because it is the most accurate language. It can describe anything." I don't really believe that; each language probably reflects what's important to its original culture in a way that no other language can.

But still, we do "regret" very well in English.

See this?
Beyond the dip in this limb there sat an owl, the sun reflecting off of her perfect owl-shaped body. Her round black eyes, shining, studied me and Eddy, panting at my side. I saw her wondering. Should she lift up, dip, and fly silently away a second time? Or should we just look at one another, and wait for John to run up with Reub? She waited, and John arrived. "There's an owl right there" I whispered, "and I didn't bring my camera."   In the amazing fashion of owls, she turned her head 180˚ as I commenced our run, flooded with regret.

It's bothered me: I should have brought my little camera. I almost always have it with me, documenting even the most absurd things.

 Secretly hoping to see the owl again, the next morning I took my camera on my run. No owl, of course, but the sun had just come out and the morning frost melts in less than a minute unless you catch it just right.

 The sun lit up the blackberry bushes.

And then the fog, covering the valleys like snow.  It just doesn't pay to hang on to regrets, I tell myself. I didn't capture the owl with my camera. And that's okay.


  1. i'm sorry for you that you didn't get the owl, but man that valley of fog is stunning!!!

  2. One loves the conditional tense.

    Stunning photos.

  3. This happens all the time to me. I will see a deer, coyote, hawk, owl and will not have brought my camera. It is like they know when you do and don't have a camera and only come out when you don't. :)

  4. I'm just stopping by different type of blogs and thought id say hello folks. So greetings from an Amish community in Pennsylvania, and wishing everyone a merry Christmas and a healthy and happy new year. Richard from Amish Stories

  5. That IS OK. Because you got some lovely shots....BUT an owl. would give anything for a good photo of an owl...well many things...if not anything.

  6. It's more than okay. For whatever reason it was simply not meant to be. But what you have is the moment shared with John and the memory of you and the owl studying one another... something you may not have noticed while fiddling with shutter speeds and aperture settings. You have a beautiful mental snapshot.

  7. TWG: I never tire of the fog, I really don't.

    Laoch: I SHOULD have taken my camera, and then I COULD have taken a picture, which WOULD have resulted in an entirely different post.

    GG: HOW do they know? How?

    Amish Stories: Are you kidding me? Amish spam? How funny.

    Tabor: Yes, yes, exactly.

    Hilary: In the end, you are right. The shot exists in my head, crystal clear, shared with my husband. And if I had aimed a camera at this bird, it would very likely have flown off. Birds always know when they're being aimed at.

  8. That owl did not want her picture taken. How wonderful that she allowed you to gaze at her. They aren't usually out during the day, are they?

    I saw a huge barn owl here in DC just once through the window of the place where I used to work. I did get a couple of pics that are buried in the archives. Magnificent animals!

    The pics you took are gorgeous, even without the presence of owls.

  9. Had you taken your camera, you might have captured a fine shot, but you would not likely have taken the little excursion into the conditional (though you could have), and we would have been the poorer for it.

  10. The last photo simply blew me away! never mind about that owl...

  11. Reya,I'm pretty sure that the owl would have denied me a picture it I had my camera, yep. And it is rare to see them during the day, although owls are quite active this time of year.

    jb: you may be right.

    Jama: That means a lot coming from a photographer like you, thank you.

  12. hey! Check out my blog for a little surprise for you!

  13. sorry you missed the owl but I could picture it in my head /w your lovely photography and your eloquent writing :)

  14. What a gorgeous image! I would like to ask permission to reprint (with all due credit and a link, of course) in our no-budget village e-newsletter (looks just like home!) ... but can't find out how to ask. Kerry, if you're reading this, please email me:


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