March 10, 2018 9:44:11 PM
The only time I ever went deer hunting was when Bull Sullivan was recruiting me to play football at Scooba. A group of fellow recruits and I spent a night or two at a deer camp somewhere in the wilds of Noxubee County. (A friend who was similarly recruited two years earlier said the deer camp belonged to the Sparkmans of Macon.)
The experience didn't make much of an impression on me. I didn't see, much less, shoot a deer. There was a feast, a venison buffet of sorts, in which deer meat was prepared four or five ways. That's about all I remember.
I didn't end up going to EMCC and playing football, though many of my teammates from S.D. Lee High did. Most had a great experience and have an almost endless supply of stories from that time.
All this is a roundabout way of saying I've not had a lot of experience with our southern white-tailed deer. Even so, it's easy to be impressed by the creature's speed, beauty and grace with which it moves through the landscape.
The first time I saw a deer swimming was during a kayaking trip down the Buttahatchee. There were three of them. At first I thought them to be some sort of large waterfowl. When the first one bounded out of the river up on the shore, I was dumbfounded.
Thursday morning, as I paddled toward the East Bank of the Lock and Dam, I was composing in my head an email to two of my mates.
When Eddie dropped me off at Dewayne Hayes at sunrise, the water was glass. The first sunlight glowed reddish-orange off the grey of the bare treetops. Unseen geese were raising a ruckus nearby.
As I paddled past the park's riverside campground shortly after 6, a grey-haired woman stood next to an RV, a camera pressed to her face, apparently making a photograph of the river in the early morning light.
On a Sunday morning about 40 years ago in similar light, I stood with a camera in an alleyway off of Issaquena Avenue in Clarksdale. I had composed on the view camera's ground glass an image of faded advertisement painted on the side of a building. Morning sunlight sweeping across the mural made it iridesce.
But the image needed something. In this situation, a photographer waits, hoping for that unknown element that will animate his composition. On this Sunday, it arrived in the form of a woman wearing the white dress you sometimes see on ushers at black country churches. She was carrying a guitar case. As she walked past the mural, I released the shutter.
I suppose the paddler in an orange jacket and white kayak was the woman with the guitar case for the grey-haired woman in the campground. I hope she got the picture she wanted.
For the first hour or so, the river was smooth. I glided under the Highway 50 bridge, past Tom Soya barges glowing red in the low-angled light and under the old, partially demolished railroad bridge near Waverly Landing.
A week earlier, when I made a similar early morning trip from Dewayne Hayes to the Riverwalk, the swollen river was roiling with the muddy water from recent rains and the journey downstream had been fast and relatively easy.
By the time I entered the Columbus Lake Thursday, the trip had become a slog. The early morning light gone, and the river here was big and slow.
The reviews I would send my paddling mates would not be glowing.
My route angled southeast -- probably the old river channel -- toward the parking area off Wilkins-Wise. To the right are a series of thickly wooded islands, to the left smaller islands separated by mud flats.
That there were mud flats wasn't readily apparent, not until I watched in amazement as a large deer galloped across the flats from an island toward the mainland. The deer -- I was too far away and too excited to note if it was a buck or doe -- lurched across the flats, through water less than a foot deep.
Clearly, this would be in my river report. Then, I saw another deer standing in the mud flats. I started quietly paddling toward it. The distance closed, 200 yards, 100 yards, 50 yards... The deer, a large doe, stood there nonplussed. As I drew closer -- 25 yards -- she, without haste or fear, made for a nearby island.
I made the mistake of continuing through the mud flats and eventually had to get out and drag my kayak through the gooey muck the deer had traversed. It was difficult enough with my size 11s. For the dainty footed doe, it must have been much more so.
Though it may be a stretch to try to tie all this into a neat package, parallels seem to exist between nature and photography and patience's reward. Chance plays a role for sure, but one must be there, in position, to experience the magic when it is offered.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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