I looked, and sure enough, there was a Siamese sitting at the front of a terraced walkway leading to a house. Now, I faced a dilemma. The cat was too far away to get close enough for the lens I had on my camera. We could try to sneak up the driveway until we were close enough for the shot, but I feared someone might peer out of the house and that when the bizarre sight of a grizzled middle-aged man with an arm tightly bound in a sling only partially cover by a shirt that also left his belly button exposed, pointing an upside-down camera steadied by a young woman living tripod as a scruffy young man, obviously a musician, looked on, grab a gun and shoot us all.
"Charlie!" I whisper shouted. "Go knock on the door and tell them that I must photograph the cat and that they must not shoot us! And give that cat a wide berth, so that you don't scare it away."
Charlie then walked toward the house, going more or less straight at the cat. "Charlie!" I whisper-shouted even louder, "Give that cat a wide berth!" The Siamese then arose. With joy manifest by its perked ears and erect tail, the cat stepped happily toward Charlie and greeted him with love.
I was still a little worried, and then a young man wearing baggy shorts emerged fromt thehouse and began to speak with carlie. I could not make out their words, but I could tell by their posture that the discourse between them was amiable.
It was about 11:oo PM, but this is Alaska, in June and the idea of anyone being asleep in this place at that time is preposterous.
The cats name is Ted and he is very old. His people do not know for certain just how old. They adopted him in Petersburgh, Alaska, five years ago. He had lived his whole life as an outdoor cat and could not be confined strictly to the indoors, and so goes in and out of the house at will.
He has been known to catch shrews and birds, but not to eat, but rather to present as gifts to his people.
He observes dogs closely, and often tries to mimic them. He will watch a dog roll in the dirt and then he will roll in the dirt. Sometimes, he appears to try to bark like a dog, but he does not bark so well. He lives with two other cats, both of whom are strictly indoor felines. I would have photographed them, too, but, to my surprise, I had filled my compact flash card.
That was the other night. This afternoon, I again took off for a very short walk. I contemplated a return to Ted's house to photograph his two indoor buddies, but I was alone and I simply could not carry my camera that far by myself.
Just down the street on the corner is house where many children hang out and off to the side is a trampoline. In the front, at the edge of the driveway, sits a little pen in which a rabbit lives. The shouts and laughter of many children bouncing at once upon the trampoline reached my ears the moment that I stepped out of the house.
I was glad that I was not carrying a camera, because it would be very hard to walk past all those children bouncing so joyously upon the trampoline and then not to take a picture. It was just a few years ago that the current residents of that house moved into this neighborhood where Sunflower and I raised our children.
Not long after they moved in, I was out walking when I spotted a beautiful adolescent orange cat hanging out in the front as the woman of the house did some yard work. I was charmed of course and asked the woman if she would mind if I photographed the cat.
"Sure!" she said in a friendly voice. "Go ahead and photograph the cat!" So I took a few pictures and then introduced myself. I told her that besides being a professional photographer, I kept a daily photojournal and that I always carried a camera, that I often walked through the neighborhood and that I liked to photograph any kind of scene that caught my eye, including children at play and that I hoped she wouldn't mind if I sometimes included her children in my photos.
"No!" she thundered back. "That's just weird! You can photograph the cat, but don't you dare photograph the children! That's just weird that you would even want to photograph children."
I was taken quite aback by this reaction. In 30 years as a professional photographer, I had never experienced such a reaction from a parent. Quite the opposite. Most often, parents are delighted to have me take pictures of their children. Sometimes they are curious as to why, but upon explanation almost always happy. My photographs of children have hung in museums and have appeared in magazines of many kinds - even National Geographic.
My pictures of children are displayed in books - even children's books, for crying out loud!
And now this lady was telling me that the mere fact that I would even want to photograph children made me weird. I wandered if she had ever seen a candid photo of a child and had liked it. Had she judged the person behind the camera to be weird? Does she believe that all the great photos of children taken on this earth were taken by weirdos?
While the First Amendment to the US constitution guarantees me the right to photograph anything that I can see when I am in a public place, including her children playing in the road or bouncing upon a trampoline clearly visible from the road, since that day I have never photographed her children - and I have seen potential classics.
Not long after that meeting, I was walking down the road and I saw her boys, playing with other boys. "It's the camera man!" One of her boys suddenly shouted a warning to his friends. "He's a weirdo! He's a bad man! Don't let him take your picture! He's a bad man. Run! Hide!" Then all ran, screaming away. They hid.
And so it has been from that time forward. The very sight of me has caused those kids - this boy in particular - to run and hide, to shout warnings to their friends, to warn them that I am a weirdo, a doofus, a bad man.
One of those potential classic pictures that I did not take happened very recently. I was out walking with my camera when I came upon the boy who is the very worst at shouting out the paranoid fears of adults. He was walking his dog. He called to it. The dog came running. The boy opened up his arms and the dog leapt into them, coming down into a warm embrace right against the boy's chest.
"What a wonderful picture that would make!" I could not stop myself from shouting out to the boy. "Surely, your mother could not object if I were to take such a wonderful picture of you and the dog!" A puzzled look came over the boy. I could tell that he liked the idea of being in such a picture.
Then a paniced expression filled the face of his younger brother, who stood nearby. "No!" he shouted. "She would object! Don't take the picture! Please don't take the picture!"
Of course, I did not.
Before today, the last time I saw the older boy was shortly after I returned to the house from the hospital. I was out for my first post-surgery walk. I felt the pain, and I walked slow. The boy stood in front of his house, clutching an air rifle. My arm was in the sling. forcing the shirt that I wore outward and upward, so that my belly was bare.
I knew the gesture to be worthless, yet I said, "hi."
The boy said nothing, but just stared at me with what appeared to be contempt. A wry grin turned upwards on his face. I continued on. Then I heard the poof of an air rifle being fired. I heard the zing of a bb flying over my head; I heard the multiple whaps of the bb as it smacked into leaves of a tree on the other side of the road.
Tell the mother? To what end!
Today, as I neared the corner and the kids bounced upon the trampoline, I saw the dog running circles around the pen. The rabbit within squealed in terror. Then, somehow, the dog was in the pen, biting the rabbit. The rabbit shrieked in horror. Then the rabbit was outside the pen, circling it as the dog chased after. Then the dog had the rabbit down. The shrieking rabbit broke free, but the dog soon had it again.
All of this was happening within line of sight of the children, who were considerably closer to it than I was and if you have ever heard a rabbit scream, then you know that it was producing some high-volume racket. Yet, the kids made such a joyful racket themselves that they could not hear it.
The dog now gripped the screaming rabbit in its jaws, dashed across the street into some high brush and set about to kill it.
I felt helpless. I had just come out of a second surgery and did not want to go into a third. I could not run, I could not dash, I could not even walk fast.
"Your dog is killing your rabbit!" I shouted from the corner. The kids bounced on, laughing and squealing, having a great time. I turned down the street that led past their driveway, moved a little closer and shouted again. The kids bounced on. As quickly as I dared, I advanced down the street, shouting every few feet, and always, the kids bounced on.
Finally, I reached their driveway. I did not want to want to enter it, but I had no choice.
Suddenly, the kids stopped bouncing and looked at me, in horror. "What?" one of the older girls called back to me.
"Your dog is killing your rabbit!" By now, the rabbit had become silent. The dog emerged from the brush, wagging its tail, looking pleased and happy.
"No!" the girl screamed. Her eyes glinted in fright. The whole group of children streamed past me, towards the brush in which the rabbit lay. A boy reached it first. "It's dead!" he shouted. Squeals of grief and sorrow rose over the road.
"No!" a second voice shouted. "It's still alive!"
The mother came running out. "What's goin on?" she said, then, when she found out, "call the vet!"
One the girls then looked at me. "Thank you. Mr. Camera Man!" she said in the sweetest, most sincere tone. "Thank you so much!" Then every single one of those children walked up to me and said the same. "Thank you. Mr. Camera Man! Thank you so much!" Last to do so was the boy who had always tolds his friends that I am a bad man, the boy who had so recently fired his air rifle over my head. "Thank you, Mr. Camera Man. Thank you so much."
I walked on. While I am optimistic that the effort had not undone my most recent surgery, just the act of shouting and walking fast had put enough strain on my injured shoulder and arm that it hurt like crazy, all the way around the block.
Yet, I felt good, like maybe progress had been made.