I wonder how many people have glimpsed the ideal photograph, and then, through error or happenstance, lost it forever.
This has happened to me many times, and I can tell you that, while the image may last only a split second in real life, it will be burned into the photographer's brain, in perfect focus. There, over time, imagination will glorify it, just as the fish that got away grows in size and wiliness in the mind of the fisherman.
I re-experienced this phenomenon on the afternoon of Saturday, November 24, during a tree decorating party for children at the Keene Valley Ausable Inn. I had told innkeeper Ellie Wadsworth I would come over and take pictures - after all, it's just the kind of event I love.
When I arrived at the inn, darkness was falling. The tree was strung with colored lights and touched with big flakes of falling snow. A very small boy, about two years old, reached into a cardboard box and pulled out an ornament. I took a picture.
He then turned to me - he didn't even know me - and held up the ornament for me to see, sharing the moment. His eyes were huge, his little mouth was saying "oh," he was clearly dazzled by the wonder of it all. No doubt all over America adults were sitting around who would give their eye teeth to feel that sense of awe again when they looked at a Christmas tree. I took the picture. No I didn't. Nothing. What the?
But look, the little boy was giving me a second chance! Holding the shiny plastic ornament as high as he could, he toddled over to me with that radiant expression on his face, as if to say "Hey, grandma lady, look at this! Have you ever seen anything to equal it?" It was wonderful. And do you think I could take the picture? No.
A little icon on the camera told me the battery was dead. But I had just charged it. It occurred to me that leaving my Canon in the freezing cold car all day might not have been the best plan after all. As it turned out, once I brought the camera inside, it warmed up and worked just fine. By that time, the little boy was doubtless sound asleep in his bed, while visions of colored lights and Christmas trees danced in his head. And visions of his bright little face danced in mine.
Perfect visions that caught and held for all time that elusive quality of wonder and joy that children feel at Christmastime, images capable of reawakening that same feeling in the most jaded and cynical of Scroogey old reprobates. images that I almost, but not quite, caught for the Lake Placid News.
But somehow, before the camera seized up, I did get one photograph of the little fellow. It's not as good as the pictures in my imagination, but it will have to do.
This Christmas I'm picturing colored lights and candles in the deep gloom of the winter solstice. Christmas comes at the darkest time of year, and, even as Scroogey and cynical as I have come to be, those lights still kindle a powerful atavistic excitement.
How did our ancestors get through the dead of winter? I'll bet the cave folk sat around the fire, their faces rapt in its glow, just as we do today. Little Cave Bobby playing with burning sticks - don't play in the fire, Bobby! Little Cave Jenny staring dreamily into the coals, imagining heaven knows what.
They must have cooked their winter feasts over the fire. I wonder if the men were in charge of roasting the mastodon steaks.
Turkey deep friers have been around for a while now. How about a deep frier for the Adirondacks, capable of cooking a deer? You can't just throw the buck in there, splashing boiling oil all over. You'll need to set up a winch, a special deep-frying buck winch.
Lower 'im in, Fred, easy does it, there you go!
I think this could work.
I wonder if our cave ancestors made music. Do you think they sang, rejoicing in the cold and darkness? The more I think of it, coming together to share light and music and food in celebration of the renewal of life is the best way to get through the dark season.
I really wish that picture had come out.
Have a good week.