Embracing Error



Oops: I did it again.

I fell on…but, on the bright side, not off…a cliff in Iceland.

To answer your questions:

No, it was not icy–just slick, rainy, and windswept.

And, yes, I was trying to take pictures–of cliff-dwelling birds which have monopolized these wonders of Vik through a design that enables only them, and not their predators, to land on towering narrow ledges.

In fact, I can show you the dizzying whoosh at my end of the lens, shortly after my daughter had reminded me I should not be doing what I was doing without appropriate footgear.  (The sturdy footwear with traction remained, in a car trunk, about 1.4 kilometers away and sopping wet, having been filled with icy ocean water when I had turned my back to a rapidly incoming tide in order to photograph a glacier two days earlier. This may be related to why my daughter forbade me from going anywhere near the glaciers themselves, or cliffs’ edges.)  Oops.


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Not a soul at my office was the least bit surprised to see me return on crutches (cool Icelandic crutches, with built in green reflectors that my daughter assured me I would not be needing given that I was not to be out unsupervised after dark while healing).  They were kind enough to ask what happened without adding the “this time.”

Evidently I have developed a reputation.

During my first year of widowhood my equilibrium was off, literally.  I stumbled and fell during quotidian travels–like numbingly navigating a single step from the door to the outside path, and from curb to street.  I broke my foot in two places and spent my first blizzard-filled winter without Jim and on crutches with no traction.  I fell again on a loose brick that had borne me no ill will for the preceding fourteen years and fractured the wrist upon which my beagles relied to get outside in New England without ending up in, say, Idaho.  (Jim used to forward me whimsical thoughts and articles by email; one was about a beagle who was found five years and 850 miles from home; he added the header, “I wonder how far the rabbit got?”)

The same daughter who had instructed me about the cliff-dwelling birds’ adaptations majored in Biology, as did her father.  Like her father, she gathers data and believes in the scientific method.

Error is the cornerstone of science, as it is of many other facets of life.

I am not necessarily a proponent of my own idiosyncratic brand of error. As lovely as the Iceland hospital was, and as nicely as the neutral horizontal lines of my ivory cast were layered in counterpoint to the linens’ buttery beiges and milky browns, I would not recommend that kind of failure.  I’m just a klutz.

But I’ll learn from at least some of my mistakes.  And other mistakes can make for quirky surprises, little gifts from my non-thinking senses (or my not-thinking-hard-enough brain).  More often than not I will download pictures and find epic yet delightful failures of photographic technique: an unsteady hand yields phantom cliffs of streetlight trails against a watercolor swath of Boston sunset; a cardinal eludes me by swooping down, then up and out of the frame entirely as I try to get him to pose; I unwittingly press the button prematurely and capture the metaphor of autumn shedding its colors as it flees into winter’s flat silver-blue.


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Princeton 170

spring April 2015 162

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