All around us

Tent Caterpillar Nest

The world looks pretty normal most of the time, doesn’t it?  I mean, all the things you see around you appear as you expect – the right size, color, shape, etc. – right?  Ever noticed when you get too far or too close to some normal thing in your world that it suddenly takes on a new appearance, usually an unexpected one?

There’s a whole ‘nother world around us, existing between the macro world we see normally and the micro world we need special equipment to visualize.  Call it the “close-up” world, a place that pops into your view when you get closer than normal.  It’s all around us, we’ve just learned to tune it out.

When is the last time you laid down on a lawn and noticed the grass.  Not the lawn, but the individual blades of grass.  Or the bugs that live down there, going about their daily business of survival.  That which we usually see collectively as something (a lawn) has a new relevance when we see it individually (grass blades).

I saw this tree down by the lake the other day, most of the leaves are gone and tent caterpillars had built nests where the limbs branched.  The setting sun was hitting it just right, where the white nests were glowing against the darker part of the small grove of trees.  Usually I’d just walk by but this time it caught my attention.  Not because of anything artistic but because I had my macro lens and was looking for some “close-up” opportunities.

We see an image like this and it probably evokes thoughts of spider webs, but those are  usually two-dimensional or a most a couple of layers.  This tent, made up of all these tiny strands, is like an apartment complex with layers upon layers.  Apparently this structure helps regulate temperature in the nest as well as serve as a place for the caterpillars to gossip about food sources.  Well, that’s what the Wikipedia entry says so it must be true, right?

I love the way the light plays on the strands, giving contrasts that help the eye see the three-dimensional structure even on a two-dimensional image.  As always, light is everything for images and the sun was working in my favor for about 5 minutes.

Jimmy White, one of my photographer colleagues, also sees this “close-up” world but his environment is almost keyed to making you pay attention to it.  Underwater you can only see a little bit in front of you and the truly interesting things are pretty small.  Follow the link to read an article he recently wrote for his local newspaper discussing the Gulf oil spill and how we should all pay attention to it impact.  He included some of his underwater photos to show what we stand to lose by being apathetic.


2 thoughts on “All around us

  1. Hey Mel,

    This image is mesmerizing! The shallow dof does a great job of giving enough detail to identify the subject but also obscures enough to allow my imagination to run wild.


    P.S. = Thank you for the kind words!


    • As I was writing this I realized your underwater photography really doesn’t lend itself to grand vistas so you really have to pay attention to what’s near you. Recording changes to the little things may not be a highly sexy part of environmentalism but as you’ve said, it’s what will keep us aware of the health of the ecology. Perhaps the hallmark of a great photographer is one who can visualize both the forest and the trees?


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