I was lying flat on the ground when I met my first neighbor a year ago.
“Are you OK?” he hollered from his porch across the street, and I completely understood. It’s not every day you see a grown woman lying on her belly, very near to the curb, face inches from the ground, and not moving.
Lucky for me, he didn’t follow his first inclination and dial 911. It would have been extremely embarrassing to admit to the paramedics that I was photographing ants.
As a photographer, I love to get up close and personal with things that most people don’t even notice. In this instance, I was reliving a favorite childhood past-time–watching little brown ants crawl out of the ground, deposit one tiny grain of sand onto the donut-shaped mounds encircling the entrance, and then head back down for more.
On this day, I gave a vague wave, shouted that I was taking photos, and stayed prone. I found out later that he shook his head in wonder and told his wife he thought the new neighbor might have had a heart attack.
When I finally talked with him later, face to face, and explained what I was doing, he was still confused. Why on earth, his expression seemed to say, would anyone want to photograph ants?
Belly flopping happens a lot when I’m walking with my husband and our dog, too. If I keep my eyes down, all kinds of interesting little bits of flora and fauna present themselves. When George no longer hears footsteps behind him he turns around–and then his gaze drops from where he thought I’d be, down to where I’m lying amid the ticks and sticks. I can HEAR his eyes rolling; but, bless him, he doesn’t say a thing. He just waits until I’m done communing with whatever happened to call my name.
The dog isn’t quite so blasé about it. She figures if I’m on my belly, on her level, I’m down there to play. When I hear the jingle of her collar escalating in speed and getting closer, I know I’m about to have a perfect shot perfectly ruined. This is how I’ve learned to think on my feet–er, belly–when taking a shot. I have to do it all right and in a hurry before Lady descends.
At least George and Lady are family. It feels a bit different when the siren call of a macro subject comes to me from someone’s yard. Most people don’t readily tramp around on other people’s front yards, but I have a philosophy about that. I figure if I have a camera, I have a license to be strange. And if I’m bothering to stop and peer closely at an irresistible something, if I’ve selected a subject in that yard as opposed to all other yards, then I’ve just shot the property values up, as exclusivity always does. I’m sure that after I’ve left, that homeowner now greets his neighbors with an ever-so-slightly smug smile.
What none of these people realize, of course, is that the really amazing thing about belly flopping isn’t that I’ve found fascinating minutiae to focus my camera on. It’s that I’m able to climb back to my feet again with any semblance of dignity and agility. Those days are probably numbered.