"Wait for the Lord to lead, then follow in His way"
Three years from the end of my eleven year term as Pastor of St. Anne in Napoleonville, Louisiana (1874), with its chapel of Immaculate Conception (1858) four miles down Louisiana Highway 401, and Assumption Catholic Church (1793) in Plattenville, La., early in the morning, while sitting on a fallen log and facing a crawfish pond during my daily reflection, I was graced with, "The Apparition". This took place on property that belongs to the father of Roman Rivere, who gave me permission to climb the gate to enjoy the quiet of his fenced in crawfish ponds. I was sitting, two miles from my residence next to St. Anne Catholic Church in Napoleonville, Louisiana and not that far from Assumption High School. During my wonderful years in that Louisiana civil parish, rich in nature's beauty, I was still young enough to go on a daily early morning three to five mile jog/walk, mostly in the cane fields which are nearby. My habit was to find a quiet spot away from the sounds of the small town and the nearby roads, just to stop and reflect. The crawfish ponds were my favorite place to go. On this particular morning, I had walked along a levee to the far right corner of the ponds, found a fallen tree, and sat down to enjoy the ducks and the other water fowl which were clearly visible. I was drawn to the area due to reports of eagle sightings. Eagle sightings during those years were rare, since there were only a few nests in Louisiana. On my jog/walks I would sometime spot the lone eagle that probably discovered the crawfish ponds long before my find. The eagle would never allow me to get closer than several hundred yards before flying away. (An eagle's eyesight is fifty times more powerful than a human's.) One would be accurate in saying that it was the eagle reports that drew me to "The Apparition".
While sitting on the log, and well into my morning reflection, I began to hear a tap, tap, tapping sound directly behind me. It was so close that I could not ignore it. At the time, I was not an experienced bird photographer, but I did know not to turn quickly, or make any noise. Turning as slow as I could manage, I saw it, not more than ten feet from me. My eyes must have widened as I made a silent scream and said, "what in the world is this?" It was focused on finding its breakfast and was listening intently to whatever insect or worm was under the bark of the tree. My inability to remain motionless caused it to make a quick exit into the nearby woods. To this day, almost twenty years since "The Apparition," I have not had the privilege to get that close to such a shy bird.
For the next several days I would describe "The Apparition" to my parishioners and no one could tell me what I had seen, some even shrugged their shoulders. I tried returning to that very spot on several occasions and at the same time in the morning, but was not able to see anything again. Then, one morning when I was returning from yet another trip to the crawfish ponds with binoculars in my hands, a painter from Minnesota, working on a project at St. Anne Church called out to me and inquired, "Father, seen any woodpeckers out there?" I walked over and told him about some small woodpeckers that I had seen and then I said. " I saw a large bird tapping on a dead tree trunk that was directly behind me. It seemed to be two or three feet tall, had black and white stripes down the side of its face, black wings, and the top of its head, bright red." He quickly responded, "O yes, that's a pileated, red-headed, woodpecker. They are beautiful." I thanked him, immediately bounded my back steps, found, my bird book and looked up, "pileated woodpecker," and confirmed my sighting. I then determined that I would one day get a good picture of that bird. That , "tap, tap, taping was the conception (I later realized) of my desire to become a wildlife photographer. It would take me years to understand that the pileated woodpecker vision is filled with many nuances, and this is why I have named that moment, "The Apparition." What, are who, led me to this experience? My father was born in Assumption Parish December 11, 1916. After spending eleven years traveling the same roads he traveled while sometimes wondering "what" comes next, perhaps it could have been him in collaboration with my Father that led me to that levee by the crawfish ponds beyond the sugar cane fields in Napoleonville, La. The next decade would be filled with my last years of ministry in Assumption Parish at St. Anne and Immaculate Conception and Assumption Catholic Churches, followed by more wonderful years as Pastor of a large parish in Baton Rouge, St. Aloysius. But all during that time, I felt drawn to something more.
My role as pastor of those communities led me to become computer literate. What a steep curve that can be for someone beyond six decades. The computer and digital age brought on the development of digital technology and digital photography, which fascinated me. Five years before my retirement from full time ministry as a Catholic Priest, a parishioner, Brodie Saxon, asked me after mass over coffee and donuts, what did I plan to do when I retired? I immediately answered that I would explore wildlife and nature photography. He then told me that he had upgraded his Canon Camera and that I could have his "old" camera and several lenses, (a six megapixel Canon Rebel). I was hooked. This coincided with plans that I had made with several parishioner friends to travel to Big Ben National Park. During that trip I knew that I was onto something but that my skills as a photographer were greatly lacking. It would take a lot of education through books, online courses, other skilled photographers, and then just the experience of getting out there and "playing with my cameras." Furthermore, I had to learn the art of organizing and editing photos and how to save and back them up. This continues to be a work in progress and after ten years I still have a great thirst to get better.
"Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,"
Elizabeth Barrett Browning