While I was working on my dissertation, I imagined that finishing it (finally!) would mean a sudden change in my life. I pictured an acceleration, a speeding-up of things: all the junco research published, a new research project started up efficiently thanks to everything I had learned from the juncos, new analyses performed and revealed quickly.
But although the junco research is on its way to publication, and although I am starting a new research project, neither process has been swift. I catch myself laying the blame for this at my own feet: why can’t I work faster? Why didn’t this get done yesterday?
I’ve been spending a lot of my free time in marshes lately. I like the combination of open space and dense impenetrability. I like the stalking egrets, the hovering kites, the harriers bounding along just above the reeds.
I am entirely smitten with the Marsh Wrens. They are beautiful—splashes of red-brown and patches of white-spotted black on a pale creamy wren base. But you cannot see them, because they are always hidden.
They are not inconspicuous: I can hear them rustling the reeds and chattering their angry wren calls all around me. But they emerge from their concealing brush only for lightning-quick moments.
Other birds hide in the reeds too, but often you can still get a view of them if you sneak up carefully.
Not so with the wrens. They never stop moving. In my attempts at Marsh Wren photography, the second most common problem with the photos is motion blur of the wren. (The most common problem with the photos is absence of the wren altogether.)
You simply cannot chase the Marsh Wrens. They are faster, and they are not interested in playing fair. You can’t fly, or run around in the reeds like a mouse? Too bad.
All you can do, if you want a good look at one—if you want a decent photo of one, as I do—is stay still, inconspicuous, and wait. Maybe one will appear, just for a second, a fleeting glimpse of the bird as it darts out and then back in. Or maybe it won’t.
This is not a hardship in the marsh. One of my happiest states is that of listening to a nearby animal, trying to concentrate myself into transparency while I wait for it to appear. Even if the animal I am hoping for stays concealed, usually something wanders past and rewards my stillness.
But apparently the patience I cultivate in animal-stalking is not something I have managed to apply to my work.
Some of the work I’m doing involves things that are elusive, like the wrens: a framing idea for a paper; a new perspective on an analysis; a new interpretation of a strange result. Maybe I can’t always catch those things by moving quickly.
If anything I produced was one-tenth as lovely as a Marsh Wren, it would be well worth some extra patience.