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:
I 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.
Water in the desert. It’s a huge factor, and not in the way you’d think. Water shaped the desert landscape, even though you might think there’s none there. The canyons and caverns of the American West were formed by water. I heard a very enthusiastic Death Valley National Park ranger named Jay Snow expound on this amazing fact. He was right. Death Valley is all about water. So is the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns and all those other iconic desert places. Many of them were once part of a vast inland sea, believe it or not. Water is ancient and powerful and wild. When we’re not tampering with it, that is. (and that’s a huge topic for another post on my ‘In Wilderness…’ page)