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Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Angry Rabbits

by Steven Velasquez
July 7, 2012

A photographer can only claim to be one when they are ever ready to capture the moment.  They often have their equipment within an arms reach at all hours of the day and night.  They make awkward guests at your party because while everyone is laughing, dancing, drinking or frolicking about, they're up in the rafters composing their next shot, the party masterpiece.  They brazenly place their silly lens in your or your guest's face, sometimes much to your dismay.  You, not being a supermodel, feel uncomfortable and sometimes try to avoid them and their creepy cameras. Sometimes, they can be quite the nuisance!  And sometimes they're the authors of your photographic legacy.  They have masterfully and creatively bent light, isolated time, captured a moment in just a way that leaves you -- and others breathless.  They have composed an image that may serve as a family heirloom for generations to come.  And now, you suddenly find yourself in that discomforting position of saying "thank you" to the "creepy camera guy" (CCG) in your life.  

This is a story of a CCG (yours truly) on a beautiful summer afternoon, with his two angels 16 and 5.

The water temperature on the Delaware read 80 degrees.  The temperature in the truck on the way there was in the 90's.  The two daughters were anxious and excited about spending time with their Creepy Camera Daddy (CCD) on a canoe trip together.  Bundled in their life vests and very apprehensive about getting into the canoe and launching for the first time, they both questioned CCD if he knew what he was doing.  "I don't like canoes" said the little one.  "Don't be silly, the river is only three feet deep according to the sign here.  If something happened, you could just stand up! Plus you've been going to swim lessons, so I'm sure you'll be fine."  Little one slowly nodded her head as if she only partially trusted her father's words.

"I don't like canoeing Daddy."
So they loaded their boat with oars, their persons and some minor incidentals.  For the important items (phones, keys, wallets, cameras) CCD thought ahead, and brought Zip-Lock bags.  Off into the summer sun they went.  "Stroke. Stroke. Stroke" said the father to his princesses.  He taught them how to steer the boat left, right, forward and back.  He emphasized how important maintaining balance was.  They picked up quickly and seemed to begin to relax a bit.  Once that began, it was time to (you guessed it) shoot some great shots!  The family gently floated beneath hovering hawks, some white puffy clouds and a canopy of trees.  Click, inspect, adjust.  Click, inspect, adjust is the routine algorithm  of the digital photographer.  Always composing, always adjusting, always clicking -- in search of "the one."

A little distracted with his eye behind the lens and planning to really capture some stunning shots, CCD continued.  The very anxious, newly 16 year-old began to chatter away questioning which way they should go.  CCD remembered the writing on the side of the bus said that we should paddle to the "Um, uhh... either the left or right, I forget,  Who cares? It all goes to the same place!  Stop whining."  The little one was making comments about "angry rabbits" or some nonsense.  "Let her enjoy her fantasies while she's still young enough to" he thought. So, without much thought CCD said, "Right.  Let's go right. I'm pretty sure that's what I saw on the side of the bus."  And right they went.

He teased his daughters mercilessly acting like he was shouting to someone across the river on the Jersey side.  "What? What's that? Go left? Dangerous? No one has ever made it? Dead man's what?"  "Stop it!" The daughters screamed in unison.  He belly laughed while churning the shallow water with his paddle.

"What's that noise?" asked the oldest.  You could hear the sound of rapidly rolling water slapping against rocks.  "It's the angry rabbits" said the youngest. CCD put his camera back in its canvas bag but had no time for zip-locks or angry rabbits.  Some quick decisions needed to be made.  They were immediately upon some rough rapids ahead and the girls were panic-stricken.  "Daddy I don't know what to do!" cried the oldest. "Hold on" he yelled!

Boom! The boat was immediately thrown on its' side.  Daddy, daughters and personal belongings thrown asunder and the canoe was quickly going under.  Like a soldier saving his M-16, CCD tried to get his head above water and hold his camera bag above it.  Clearing the river water from his eyes, he looked toward the screams of his daughters and tried reaching them but couldn't move accurately with the rapid water consistently wanting to take him under.  "Daddy she's getting away!" cried the older.  The younger was on her belly and rapidly pulling away from the capsized canoe.  "Get your sister!" The older reached back and latched onto the younger's life vest.  "Get back to the boat.  Hold onto the boat!" "I can't!" exclaimed the older; tears running down her face.  The weight of her sister pulling away from her, the pain of the multiple lacerations across her legs from the river rocks, the increasing weight of the sinking canoe as it took on more and more water, were too much for the 16 year-old to bear.

CCD lunged forward and fell, camera bag and all, into the drink again and again tearing up his legs along the river rocks below.  He grabbed the younger's life jacket with one arm and the boat with the other.  "Stand up. Try to stand up."  The entire event lasted maybe two minutes but felt like hours.  Every muscle aching and straining to drag the water-laden canoe to shore and off in the distance, like Wilson in the movie "Cast Away," was one red duffle-bag floating rapidly down stream.  In it, CCD's wallet, ATM card, cash, his and his teen's phones and some other incidentals.

They dragged the canoe to shore and tilted it over while little one cried on the shore about the "angry rabbits."  "I told you this was going to happen. I told you I don't like canoes or the angry rabbits."  We finally calmed the younger down and brushed her hair out of her eyes.  She looked pathetic missing a water shoe and older missing both.  The "angry rabbits" she kept alluding to, when you listened carefully, were the angry rapids.  She was tuned into the rapids the entire time and CCD thought she was imagining a story she read in school or something with unhappy bunnies.

A critical point was reached.  The family needed to decide whether this was a bad idea, it's too dangerous and they should abort & go home, or, like a rider who's fallen from their steed, get back on and ride again.  CCD's camera, lenses and speed-flash were all water-logged and presumed dead.  Admittedly, this hurt him but it wasn't the primary thought in his mind. The fresh images in his head of his crying daughters and the water pulling them away from him while he couldn't get to them were playing again and again.  This event could have had many outcomes (far more painful than a couple thousand dollars of camera equipment).  He took the canvas bag and placed it behind a tree covered in some bushes, then looked up on the Pennsylvania side for a landmark to remember, for when he returned to pick up his soggy setup.

No longer able to capture the moment.  CCD was no longer creepy and no longer had a camera.  He became - just Daddy.

"Angry rabbits" ahead!
Daddy and his now safe daughters launched the canoe again and with a sense of purpose, took the remaining paddles (one adult and one child) and began heading down stream.  Their exit from this watery nightmare depended largely on their ability to find that red bag.  Fortunately a family they met on the bus found it and stopped their travels until they could reach them.  Unfortunately, the bag with the phones did not maintain a seal.  Both phones and thus their ability to communicate or call for help were gone.  This put the family in a very awkward position.  They were forced to work and communicate together, isolated from Facebook, email, the Internet and its' search engines.  They had to manually move their boat down stream and talk to each other face to face.

Despite the adversity and capital loss, my daughters and I had a wonderful day together.  We learned valuable lessons and when we consider the other possible outcomes that could have been... thank God that we were spared, kept whole and returned home as a family.  I am a healthy, strong man with strong convictions.  I'm unafraid of hard work.  I will work and I will rebuild -- and I will be creepy once again.

I've taught my daughters that "We love people and buy things -- not the other way around."  I saw that posted on my daughter's Facebook page earlier and almost cried.  Like her little sister who remembered to kick her feet and keep her head above water, the older appears to have learned some valuable lessons too.

To Samantha, Nicolette and Brianna - I love you each with all my heart and all my strength and all my love.