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  • Writer's pictureGeoff Kronik

Nature's F-16

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

It was nature's version of being buzzed by a fighter jet. Months later, I can still hear the sound and feel the sudden rush of air from above.

Late one June weekday, I finished home-officing and drove to a coastal nature preserve south of Boston to photograph shorebirds. Sandpipers, terns, killdeer and plovers made their way into my viewfinder, but I captured the day's most memorable image in old-fashioned gray matter, not modern megapixels.

The green, the watery and the wild have the ability to connect with something elemental in almost everyone. The instinctive fascination children have with nature is evidence of this, likewise that many people felt the call of the wild during the physical, emotional and intellectual claustrophobia of the covid-19 pandemic. There's a reason why the phrase “natural wonder” exists: the former has a unique and innate power to evoke the latter. Disinterest in nature is an acquired characteristic.

I was lucky enough to have parents who appreciated nature; my father especially made sure to give my sister and I regular doses of the outdoors. Nature has been and remains the stage for many of our peak memories, with wildlife often the players. Now I can file another such experience away in my neural catalogue.

Peregrine Falcon in flight

At the coastal preserve, I was crouching by a tidal pool, taking close-ups of semipalmated sandpipers, when suddenly all the birds rose up and flew off. In the same instant I heard a whistling-roaring sound above me. It got louder--a lot--and soon became so intense I ducked: ZzzhhhhhhhhwwwohOOOOOSHH. A black shape streaked into my field of view, perhaps ten feet away and too fast for me to identify it. Then it arced back up into the sky.

No wonder I'd heard that rushing sound. And no wonder I couldn’t make out details. A grainy shot, taken at long range once I'd collected myself, confirmed I’d just had a very close brush with the world's fastest animal: a peregrine falcon. They can dive at speeds of over 200 miles per hour, and one had come bulleting down directly above me and just missed having a sandpiper snack.

I sat there on the sand a while, roiled by a confusion of thrill, disbelief, and instant longing that something similar might happen again. It may never, which makes the fact that it did a privilege to which no price can be attached. Then I stood and packed my camera gear away, as any image I tried to capture thenceforth would surely be upstaged by the one in my mind.

One cannot be dive-bombed online by a peregrine falcon. Maybe an AI can patchwork a facsimile of the visuals or sound, but the convergence of sense and emotion that the drama of nature produces remains analogue. To access it, one needs only to unplug and go outside, whether far afield or to a neighborhood park, and then wait. It's nature, which means something will happen sooner or later. It likely won't disappoint, and it might even be traveling at 200-plus miles per hour.

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