Photography 101: Swarm

I witnessed a perfect example of this theme last month.  The sight of this swarm was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes.  I did not bring my camera to record the event because it was prohibited.  We were invited to watch the emergence of 300,000 bats at dusk from Carlsbad Caverns and instructed to sit in absolute silence and be still.  We did not want our presence at the door of their habitat to be disturbing to their natural activity.  To disrupt their nightly venture to find water and forage for insects would be disastrous to their livelihood.  There were school groups in attendance, and the children were remarkably respectful.  The park ranger began the program by taking some questions and giving some information about the bats.  He was, in effect, stalling for time.  When the bats began to emerge in a climbing spiral behind him, he left.  All were silent.  The rubbery slap and flap of wings became audible and the bats poured like pepper into the evening sky.  Lines of dots headed for the horizon in waves, like bait balls in the ocean, like starlings over the fields, like natural creatures who live and move and have their being in great numbers, synchronous and individual at once.  They came from deep within a cavern so huge it had taken me an hour to descend to its first level on foot.  They rose in an unbroken ribbon for 45 minutes.  Steve & I were the last to leave the arena.  It was like tearing ourselves away from a cathedral after a sacred service.  I am glad that I don’t have this image in my camera, only in my gut.  Here is a shot of the arena before the sun set:

swarm siteI do not have any photos of what Dave Foreman calls “Man Swarm”.  I shun crowds when possible.  I do live with inanimate objects in number — namely books and CDs. 

Visually, I think the most effective compositions of swarms of things are the ones that are aligned with the vanishing point.  In other words, as James Taylor sings, “Line ‘Em Up” like Nixon’s staff when he left office, like wedding couples under Sun Myung Moon.  It gives the feeling of infinite expansion and maximizes the impact of sheer numbers. 

And now that I’ve figured this out, I’ll try to keep it in mind the next time I find myself pointing my camera at a swarm. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

Some signs are meant to be helpful, but come across as completely confusing.  Like this one in the Milwaukee airport, just past the security checkpoint. 

RecombobIt took me a while to think through this one.  I had just been stripped of my shoes, my jacket, my purse and my backpack, been x-rayed, patted down, swiped and wiped, and I felt….discombobulated.  So there, with a few chairs underneath, was the designated area for getting recombobulated.  See, spell check doesn’t even recognize that word!  Helpful, sort of, but mostly not.  But amusing, definitely.  And absurd. 

Another sign I found on my travels.  A possible answer to the question, “Can you handle this?”

handling bats

Turns out, you can’t handle this.  114They never said I couldn’t photograph it, though.

Some signs need translation. The town of Embarrass, Wisconsin on the Embarrass River is nothing to be ashamed of.

I wanted to go into the Post Office and ask about their deep, dark secret.  Instead, I went home and looked up the history of the town.  Turns out, it was settled by French Canadian loggers who found it difficult to get their floating logs past this point on the river because of snags and debris.  In French, “embarrass” means to impede, obstruct or entangle.  Oh. 

Will you recognize the signs of the times?  Well, the times, they are a changin’. 


By this time next week, I will be unemployed and heading toward New Mexico for the Wilderness 50 Conference.  Yes, the signs are telling me that it’s time for a change.