Describing Wildlife Encounters — Which is More Effective, Words or Photos?

August 2, 2012

“For the animal shall not be measured by man. . . . In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.  They are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the spendour and travail of the earth.”
— Henry Beston, The Outermost House

I read this quote in a wonderful book about animal encounters, Wild Delicate Seconds: 29 Wildlife Encounters  Black Bears to Bumble Bees by Charles Finn.

Cover illustration by Claire Emery, Wild Delicate Seconds

These 29 very short essays imitate the brevity of the actual encounters that Finn shares.  His written descriptions are so vivid and alive and attentive, that they made me wonder which paints a better picture of the experience — words or photographs?

Bees on allium

Bee’s eye view of allium

For example, here is what Finn says about bumble bees:  “I sit watching the bees, their inner-tube bodies overinflated, their legs like kinked eyelashes hanging down.  The white-noise of their wings soothe me . . .”

Turtles sunning on a log amidst the lily pads at Green Lake

Or listen to this description of turtles:  “They are toy tanks, frowning Buddhas on the boomed ends of logs, the original mobile home.”

Great blue heron with turtles, Green Lake

Of the heron, Finn says:  “It looks like a hunched stone, an oval of waiting.”

Great blue heron, Green Lake

And:  “The heron hunts with unswerving patience, its hula hoop eyes highlighter yellow, circular as hope.  Its head is smooth, domed like the cockpit of a jet fighter, its long beak white on top, blue on the bottom, tapered like an immense sewing needle: the heron, nature’s idea of a spear-throwing machine.”

In these instances, I would vote for the power and poetry of the written word.








8 Responses to “Describing Wildlife Encounters — Which is More Effective, Words or Photos?”

  1. Martha Says:

    Wonderful post and beautiful photos!

  2. Shirley Says:

    I love the pictures, but would vote for the words, another book to add to my list

  3. Chris Says:

    I have that quote from the Outermost House on my refrigerator…it is one of my favorites!
    Great analogies and yes, the words make it easy to imagine. Love both photos and written descriptions!!

  4. Margaret Says:

    I will have to check out the book. It sounds like a great resource for inspiring children’s writing.

  5. I love both the quotes and the artwork in the illustration for the cover. Since the bird is not familiar to me, I need a few words – am I looking at a seashore bird with seaweed in the bottom left?

  6. […] Describing Wildlife Encounters — Which is More Effective, Words or Photos? August 2, 2012 […]

  7. Barbara Stahler Says:

    A very hard choice-both are special in different ways. The photos really bring me into the bee or heron’s world.

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