One Saturday early in May, I opted to travel out to the wooded area north of town where FD and a friend are building a cabin. It was a dream they had both had for many years and, after FD acquired an old, washed up, county road bridge for lumber, they went to work drawing up plans. Once the old bridge was taken apart and the lumber relocated to the site, construction of the cabin began. That is when I became a weekend widow.
FD managed to photograph the cabin at the end of their workday each Sunday but, while he had lots of photos of the cabin and of his friend working at various tasks, there were no photos of FD or of the two of them working as a team. This May weekend, I decided that I wanted to photograph the two of them working together, lifting the heavy beams that make up the cabin walls by use of a block-and-tackle system. It sounded like an interesting process and I figured when I wasn’t getting photos of them, I could wander around and take in some of the plants and wildlife around the lake. I had been out there just a month prior for morel mushroom hunting and wished I’d had my camera then. The area is remote and undeveloped except for a winding vehicle trail to the lake and the cabin, and nature abounds. It is a peaceful and serene area.
That morning, I rode out with FD in our old 1996 Ford truck that I call “Big Green”. She’s a crew cab with a long bed, so the ride gets to be quite bumpy with such a long wheel base. We rocked and rolled down the sand road to the main gate. The county no longer maintains the road so a person needs to come prepared to move a fallen limb or even use a chainsaw to cut back a fallen tree. Torrential rains often cut deep ruts in the road, which makes me sometimes think our next truck needs to be a four-wheel drive!
At the entry gate, FD had to stop and “unclog” the cattle guard due to a dam the beavers had constructed the week before. Recent rains filled up their beaver bog, and the dam allowed it to back up to the point of flooding the rock road ahead. From the entry gate, large crushed rock paves the road the pumper drives to the gas well site at the top of a hill. There, he inspects and maintains the well equipment, making repairs as needed. Once FD cleared the beaver dam and water from the bog began flowing downstream to a neighboring pond, we proceeded along the path to the lake and up a meadow to the cabin.
At the site of the cabin, I got my camera and zoom lens ready. Because a zoom lens is often necessary with scenes of nature, I brought it along in case I went walking about. While the guys got things set up, I did just that, wandering around the immediate area capturing photographs of many of the dragonflies that seemed to pose on the prairie grass. I could almost walk right up to them! I soon became bored with the dragonflies, however, and began chasing butterflies around, but then got sidetracked by the position of the sun. The morning light was providing all sorts of interesting photo opportunities. The wild flowers were all fresh and newly opened and I was delighted that everywhere I looked, I saw something of beauty.
Hearing the banging of hammers and whirring of equipment, I was quickly snapped back to the reason I was there. I walked back to the cabin site and began my task of photographing the guys at work. A few times between shots, I helped out by fetching a tool or a ladder, or switching off the generator. I watched and learned, marveling at the work they were doing. Like a finely oiled machine they worked together, seemingly knowing what was next and what was expected. Though it was still early spring, the day was hot and windy. Sweat poured off both of them, their shirts plastered to their chests, jeans sticking to their legs. I wondered how they could walk the beams so high above the ground, kneel down as if doing a delicate balance beam routine, then stand back up and use a sledge-hammer to drive steel re-bar to secure one beam to the next. When their first water break arrived, I was only too glad to take a rest myself. The heat was beginning to get to me, and I couldn’t imagine how it must be for them.
After sitting a short spell, the guys began discussing where certain beams would be placed and a good bit of measuring ensued. Finally, FD got on the tractor and began moving the heavy, twenty-foot beams. Suddenly, our friend yelled an exclamation of, “SNAKE!!” and, sure enough, coiled tightly under the beam lay an Oklahoma Copperhead. I had only seen them on our place, where they were more of a patterned, dark green color. This one was tan and brown. I had always heard they blended in well with their environment. I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to get Mr. Copperhead in the coiled-up pose, but I did capture him escaping. Unfortunately for him, our friend got the shovel out and be-headed the venomous reptile.
While the guys continued measuring and discussing the next phase of the project, I wandered off again, looking for wildflowers, insects, and anything else that caught my eyes. I heard a strange bird call that I did not recognize. I looked and looked, hoping to catch a glimpse of what seemed an elusive bird. Again and again I would hear it’s call but could never see it. I even went to fetch my binoculars, but still could not locate the bird in the thick foliage. This was beginning to irritate me.
Though I could not find the strange-sounding bird, I did see some beautiful moths and butterflies. Hundreds flitted in and around the blackberry thickets. Bees also buzzed around and dragonflies floated by doing all sorts of pivots and aerial maneuvers. I wished I had a way to the other side of the lake to get some better photos of the Canadian Geese and their young taking a family swim. The lake offered a beauty of its own, with herons and cranes fishing in the distance.
I looked around, admiring the lake’s charms as vultures and Mississippi Kites soared above, when suddenly, I heard it again, the strange call of that unknown bird. I decided I should look a bit harder for this elusive fellow, even venturing into the edge of the woods. Where WAS that bird? It sounded close, but I could not locate it. When I got my jeans snagged up in cat briar, I decided I best move out of the wooded tangle to continue my search from a safer vantage. Our earlier encounter with Mr. Copperhead should have been warning enough that walking around in the woods wasn’t the brightest idea. I would have to use my binoculars to find that bird from the outer edge of the woods. I’d been hearing it all day. Surely, at some point I would find the source of the shrill song!
At this point in the day, the light had become harsh and the humidity was sweltering. The wind had come up and I noticed my zoom lens was not working as smoothly when adjusting it in and out. I was in a huff by the time I got back to the truck to change lenses. I should have known better than to take our most expensive lens out in the country, in a sandy area no less, and subject it to the harsh Oklahoma elements. I also noticed debris in the body of the camera. I would pay the price of having to do some delicate cleaning when I got home. Cameras require careful cleaning, and sometimes it must be done professionally (translation – “expensively”).
When I returned to the cabin site, I found the guys had stopped for another water break and realized that I, too, was ready for some hydration. I walked the distance from the truck to the water cooler complaining to FD about my blunder with the zoom lens. I was highly irritated with myself for bringing it along. I showed him the dirt specks I was seeing in my viewfinder – evidence of debris in the body of the camera. Caught up in the moment with my panties in a twist over the condition of the camera and lens, I suddenly became aware that I was hearing that songbird again! I looked up immediately, and THERE IT WAS!!! It was just above us and, from head to tail feathers, was the brightest shade of true red I had ever seen! Proudly, it sang and sang.
Aghast, I realized I had changed back to my regular lens but now needed my zoom lens! I walked carefully, but steadily back to the truck, changed lenses, and crept back like an Egyptian, ever so careful but not so fast as to draw attention and scare the bird off. The three of us stared at the striking red bird. Not one of us had ever seen anything like it before. I managed only a few shots of it before it flew away to the west, disappearing into the darkness of the thick foliage.
I spent the rest of the afternoon helping the guys with construction… being a gopher of sorts. I enjoyed the hard work, and I gained great respect for the thought and the work behind the woodland cabin. Somehow, I forgot about being a weekend cabin widow and decided I was quite proud of my husband and his friend for working so hard on a dream, and doing it so inexpensively through the discovering and dismantling of the old bridge for material. I was thankful too, for the opportunity to photograph nature in a different setting than the woodland on our property. Although dismayed at the ill-functioning camera, I was elated that I managed some beautiful shots of nature and wildlife, and of such a stunning bird. I had also accomplished my goal of capturing the guys working diligently on their cabin. I could not wait to get back home and download my photos of the day. I had taken more than three hundred in all. And of course, I needed to research that bird!
After viewing the photos, I discovered our scarlet beauty is actually a handsome, male Summer Tanager. And no wonder it took most of the day to locate this handsome devil! Summer Tanagers spend most of their time high up in the top canopy of trees in rather dense forested areas. Their primary diet is wasps and bees which they catch in midair. They flit from tree to tree and branch to branch as they catch and kill their prey. They are constantly on the move. I considered myself very fortunate that this particular bird allowed me time enough to change lenses so I could take his photo!
At the end of that first day I realized I had so much fun that I decided to go back out with FD and his friend on Sunday for another day of work and play. It was a more overcast day, and much more pleasant for us all, in spite of my having to deal with the ill-moving zoom lens once more.
A week later, as I was walking through our woods with Daisy deer, I again became irritated with the difficulty of the sliding function of the zoom lens. I know, it’s hard to imagine me irritated, but I mentioned out loud to the Universe… to God, that it would sure be nice if my zoom lens was not messed up. Can you believe about ten minutes later, the zoom lens began sliding smoothly back and forth? As I looked down in disbelief, I noticed then, in small print on the zoom ring, a couple of words and instructional arrows pointing in opposite directions, “SMOOTH <—-> TIGHT”. WHAT?? All of this time I thought I had messed up the slide adjustment on the zoom by exposing it to the sand and wind, when all I had really done was unknowingly twist the zoom ring to “Tight”. In the six or seven years I have had the zoom lens, never once did I realize the function of that ring! Maybe, like the Summer Tanager, I’ve been too busy flitting from shot to shot and task to task to take time to “read the destructions” as FD would tell me. I say, “Pshhh!” – Ooh! Wait! Where’s my camera? And out the door I dash…
Who has time to read the silly old instructions anyway?
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…