Wayne Hinshaw: Knock, knock, knock

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 25, 2017

I feel like an old friend returned this week. She came back to the sugar maple in my front yard.  I first heard her “knock, knock, knock” sound, and then I saw her drilling more holes in my maple tree.  Every winter, a pair of yellow-bellied sapsucker woodpeckers return to my maple tree.

I don’t know for sure where they go during the heat of the summer, but I suspect they travel to the northeast or even the Great Lakes area for the summer. They are not a welcome sight everywhere they go, since they use their long beaks to  drill long, horizontal rows of evenly spaced, quarter-inch holes in trees. They sure do damage the trees as they open up “sap holes”  and plunge their brush-like tongues into the tree to eat the sweet sap. They are the only woodpeckers to drill the orderly holes and suck the sap of the tree.

This week, I have seen only the female sapsucker, with her white chin and throat. When her male partner comes, he will sport a red chin and throat.

Photographing the woodpecker is an adventure to me.  Before you condemn me and call the little men in white jackets, let me explain. Someone once said that “your best art is right in front or you.”  I am fascinated by paths, patterns and following visual lines. The patterns of the holes that the woodpecker drills, with great precision, capture my imagination.

I am trying to react to what I see and hope to share my vision.  There are pictures everywhere to be made. I have to care about what I see and how it becomes part of my life.  I just have to have the vision to notice the things put before me and organize them in my mind, and then use the camera to record and lock down the image.

It takes some work to photograph the little bird.  As I approach her on the shaded side of the tree, she circles to the sunny side  and makes a shrill “cat-like” sound. I think she is laughing at me (that is, if birds laugh).  We go around and around the tree.

On the shaded side of the tree I photograph her as a silhouette against the brightly sunshine lighted, out-of-focus ground. It is a perfect silhouette showing the shape of her body, black against bright.

On the sunny side of the tree, I see her  black-and-white patterned body with a slight straw colored yellow color on her chest. Now I see her eye. Now I see her pause to suck the sap from the tree.

I suddenly pause to enjoy the humor of the moment, and she goes back to sucking the sap from a “sap well”  and ignoring me and my foolishness.

A quote from Magnum photographer Ian Berry  comes to my mind. “Photography is not an intellectual pursuit. It’s about becoming a hunter — getting into the right place at the right time.”   His quote goes on, “… I just get in situations. My feeling is that I grab the moment… .”

Nature shows us such incredible things and creatures, if we but stop and have the vision to enjoy the display.  Seeing the image for me is easier than writing about it. This image that I want to share with you comes from me and only me.  My vision may not be like someone else’s.

It is my visual voice today. It might be different tomorrow.  The image comes from me, the person, and not the tool, the camera.  Many others might see it differently from me. They might see it better than me.  The image is not the best photo that I have ever made, but it is far from the worst one.

Mark Schacter, trying to explain the communication process, wrote, “It’s about trying to do the impossible — draw other people into my own head and have them see the world as I envision it. Photography is an imperfect attempt to share my private experience.”

Photographer Wayne Hinshaw lives in Rowan County.