I resisted taking photos for newspapers for the longest time.
My reasons varied but mostly centered around the strongly held conviction that I was already doing one job for you, and not getting paid enough. I’m not doing two.
Alas, I landed at weekly newspaper in a wretched town of 6,000 in central New Mexico in the indisputably lame year of 2009. (It was lame for me at least. I don’t know how your 2009 unfolded, dear reader.)
The management at the ramshackle newsroom handed me a Sony point and shoot camera on my first day and said “take a lot of pictures, but don’t run down the battery. They cost $10 apiece.”
Armed with this highly contradictory directive, I immediately threw myself into Staff Writer/Staff Photographer hybrid. Because I am my father’s son — he always had state-of-the-art electronics — I was soon unsatisfied with what I deemed a pedestrian piece of photo gear. I drove to the nearest camera store and bought myself a new Nikon.
Confession: I’ve educated myself into abject penury, so my mom footed the bill for new Nikon. Most of the lenses came from my stepfather. He was an amateur photographer obsessed with buying too much gear. I’m pretty sure we buried him in a camera bag.
I jammed the servers at the ramshackle newsroom with thousands upon thousands of snapshots of car wrecks, police tape, retirees who made their own leather goods and the dreaded weekly newspaper charitable check passing photo.
Around this time, I was pathetically single. I’m not saying I was lonely, but having my blood pressure checked by semi-attractive nurse at the local health clinic constituted a hot date.
In order to stave off my inevitable suicide for another day or two, I did what every well adjusted 30-year-old white male loner does — bird photography. That’s what we do, right?
The Rio Grande becomes a hot spot for birds between November and about February. Literally 10s of thousands of cranes, geese and ducks swarm into the area. They are positively ancient. You can take one look at them and know that dinosaurs didn’t die; they sprouted feathers and flew away.
My favorite spot for about a year was the makeshift bird sanctuary situated behind the only Taco Bell in town. The state built an Interstate highway loop through town. When the engineers dug up an area for dirt to build up the road, they struck the water table and created a wetland. It soon filled with birds. When they went to fill it in to build a strip mall, developers soon learned about a little something about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. They had to leave the birds alone. It became my Mecca.
Those birds kept me sane during my time in that wretched small town. Their proximity to the Taco Bell was an added bonus. Bird photography followed by a Taco Supreme. That will be my heaven when I die.