Sunday, May 22, 2011

The end of the world? What, again?

"Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep insights can be winnowed from deep nonsense." (Carl Sagan)

I know, I know. The blog's been running a little thin lately. In my defense, I've been working simultaneously on several projects that didn't directly involve a camera. In addition to running the photography business, I needed to pull together a PowerPoint presentation at night while also doing field work during the day on a new Harlequin Duck research project. When I finally surfaced this morning, I read that the world was supposed to end yesterday.  

Why is it that every time the world comes to an end, I'm the last one to find out?

John and Lisa band a male Harlequin Duck in Glacier National Park
(photo by Warren Hansen)
John and Lisa banding a Harlequin Duck in Glacier National Park 
This time it was a bunch of folks following some preacher named Camping. These poor saps sold off everything in anticipation of the "rapture," and now they'll have to figure out how to carry on with nothing. Meanwhile, poor Mr. Camping is left to pick up the pieces with a mere $70 million in donations sitting in his bank account. Tisk tisk.

This morning's news made me feel sentimental, sort of fondly reminiscent about some of the times that my world almost ended.

Like the time when, two weeks after getting my driver's license, I rolled my mother's new Datsun B210 car while rounding a sandy corner. And while the car was at the repair shop, someone broke in and not-so-gently ripped the radio out of the dashboard. I survived the wreck unharmed, but it was touch and go for a few weeks before my mother decided to let me live.

A few years later I had minor surgery on my left knee, and then decided to stop by and surprise my long-time girlfriend, maybe earn a little sympathy by showing off my new stitches. Instead, she informed me that she was engaged to be married to someone else, in two weeks. In shock, I drove straight to the racquetball court and played hour after hour until, totally exhausted, I felt fairly sure that my stitched-up world would continue.

Now that I'm an old codger, I'm starting to get better at rolling with the punches. Like that PowerPoint presentation last week, and that Harlequin Duck project.

I spent almost a week building a presentation for high school students, something about combining biology and photography into a hybrid career of sorts. I felt pretty comfortable, rehearsing and carving it down to 40 minutes, leaving 10 minutes for questions. Then we drove nine hours to the opposite corner of Montana and prepared to give the program four times the next day. Here's a free tip -- never give a presentation on the day that the school's tech guy takes off.

Three teachers and a couple of students couldn't convince the school's projector system to work. Thirty minutes into my first 50-minute allotment, we all shuffled out of the auditorium and into a nearby classroom, where one teacher got my program to work on a TV screen. I jumped straight to the middle, but the bell rang and students started leaving, and the commotion drown out the echos of my frantic words.

John talks with high school students in Billings, Montana
(photo by Tracy Schiess)
John talks with high school students last week in Billings, Montana
All I could do was smirk. I was taking work -- and my life -- way too seriously.

The high school debacle was a timely lesson in humility. One of the few questions the students had for me was, "Have you ever dropped your camera in the water?" I searched my memory and answered, no. I did push my thumb through the shutter curtain on a brand new Nikon 8000 once, but I've never dropped a camera into the water. Never say never.

That was Monday. Fast-forward to Thursday.

I'm an old Nikon guy, but I use a Canon camera bag (backpack style) because -- as I like to tell my Canon friends -- if someone peers through my car window and sees "Canon," they'll figure that it isn't worth stealing. But Canon would get the last laugh.

I'm wearing neoprene chest waders, stumbling down the middle of a swift mountain stream, gently herding a pair of Harlequin Ducks towards my comrades hiding by the mist net. I'm also wearing the Canon camera bag on my back. The round rocks are slippery but the crystal clear, ice cold water is only knee-deep, so I'm not worried about falling.

Splash!

Looking behind me, I spotted a camera and telephoto lens resting picturesquely on red and green rocks at the bottom of the creek. It looked just like my camera. Then I realized, it was my camera! My beloved D700, along with my 70-200mm Nikon lens.

D'oh!

I bent over and snatched it out of the water, then suddenly realized that the camera bag on my back must have caught on a branch, and now it was unzipped and hanging wide open.

Double d'oh!

Keeping bent over, I waded back upstream until I found an opening where I could climb out of the creek. Pulled the pack off my back and, somehow, four other lenses were still snug in their pockets. Phew. It was a good luck / bad luck sort of moment.

The camera was in the water for less than five seconds but, after drying it for two days, it still wouldn't turn on. So back it went, off to meet its maker. Will I ever see my $2,800 camera or my $1,600 lens working again in this life? Who knows?

Of course, I just recently sold off two other digital bodies to prepare for the "rapture," which in my case was the rumor of Nikon's next best-thing-ever, a new D800 camera body. According to those who preach these things, the D800 was set to arrive on Earth last March. Make that the end of August. Okay, October for sure.

I'm stunned, and still awaiting my rapture.

Meanwhile here I sit, camera-less for the first time in more than 30 years (okay, not counting film and pinhole bodies), wondering why the camera gods have spited me. Meanwhile, my friend Bob has offered to loan me one of his Nikon bodies until I can get back on my feet again.

Baptizing my camera wasn't the end of the world. But I do feel as foolish, and as broke, as those other poor saps. I'll have to start over, but at least I can smirk through the hurt.

UPDATE: Good news -- camera's still dead but my lens is alive and well, and the end of the world has been rescheduled for October. Sure hope I get the D800 a few days before then...

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: The rescheduled (Oct. 21) end of the world for sure this time didn't happen, again. And earlier this week (Oct. 17) Nikon reportedly postponed/cancelled "two big major launches." Yes, the rumored D800/D900 has yet to make an appearance here on Earth - or at least North America. How long can the faithful hold on?


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