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Love affair: Almond blossoms & bees
A noontime lunar vision against a clear azure sky is framed by a floral array of sweet-smelling almond blossoms in an orchard on South Airport Way near Nile Garden School. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
I was trying to focus intently on a bee hovering over a cluster of snow-white almond blossoms. All around me, scores of bees were buzzing. The weather was perfect for pollination - the sun was shining, the skies were clear and blue, and there was no breeze to stir the petals of the flowers that would make focusing somewhat of a challenge. And it was neither too hot nor too cold outside.

All of a sudden, I heard – if not felt - a strong buzzing coming from the side of my head near my left ear. I waved my left hand to scare the wayward bee away from me. The buzzing sound just grew stronger. And the sound I heard sounded angry and desperate. I ran my fingers through my hair to disentangle the pollinator that found itself captive all of a sudden in the stringy mesh. In response, the angry apian creature let loose its stinger and nailed my arm.

If you’ve ever been stung by a bee, you know how painful that feels. And it takes a while before the pain subsides.

But I wasn’t going to be intimidated by a tiny angry insect. I went on with my photographic business. And I would have continued on, but somehow the bee that attacked me attracted the attention - or smell emitted by its distress - of its concerned apian friends. To my horror, more bees were doing kamikazes in the direction of my hair. And that’s when I made a quick exit from the orchard. One bee sting was enough for me that day.

That all goes with the territory though when it comes to the business of photographing the delicate flowers of almond trees. As the saying goes - no pain, no gain - literally in this activity.

Driving my sons to Nile Garden Elementary School early in the morning gave me the perfect opportunity to go on a photo safari among the almond orchards at this time of the year. One morning, I found the flowers and the dainty pink buds of the early blooming almond trees in an orchard along Woodward Avenue sprinkled with tiny translucent pearls. I haven’t seen a similar phenomenon since, and that was about a decade ago.

Sometimes, the simple task of taking pictures of almond blossoms and bees comes with unexpected surprises. Another morning, I was trying to capture the long shadows of blooming old and gnarled almond trees on the grassy ground at another orchard near Sedan Avenue. As I did the photographer’s “dance” of trying to get different angles of the early morning scene, I suddenly heard a whirring noise coming from above me. I slowly turned around to investigate the source of the muffled sound. My eyes went up one of the towering palm trees across the street. My heart skipped a beat when my eyes locked with a pair of somewhat scared round eyes staring out of a white creature that I thought was a cat. I was completely startled, but I somehow managed to zoom my 50-500 mm lens up the palm tree where the creature clung onto the base of the brown fronds. Zooming in even closer to the eyes of what I learned later on was a barn owl was even more startling. I managed to snap a few frames, about a dozen. Then just as quickly as it appeared, the beautiful white owl was gone.

One of the pictures that the barn owl allowed me to take was published by Cornell Lab of Ornithology on their web site. I’m not sure if it’s still there. But the web site still has my picture of a pair of kestrels doing what birds do in the spring on a hire wire. I shot the photo in the same rural area where I encountered the barn owl.

Carrying a camera at all times was a lesson learned from Kim Komenich
Incidents like the above taught me the important lesson of having a camera around at all times. I learned that from Kim Komenich, the Manteca High graduate who won the Pulitzer Prize in photojournalism in the late 1980s when he was working for the San Francisco Examiner.

So now, I always have my camera handy because you never know when that perfect photographic opportunity arises. Such as when I spotted magpies and cowbirds enjoying an early breakfast with the buffaloes in the old Esteves ranch where Atherton Drive on the east side of Union Road intersects today. It was always a treat for me to pull over the side of the cyclone fence and watch the buffaloes grazing or at play, especially when the almond orchards around the ranch were in bloom forming a Kodak-moment backdrop for the exotic animals. On this cold morning, the fearless birds were pecking whatever tasty morsels they found in the same enclosed field where the buffaloes were grazing. Sometimes the birds were right next to the furry animals’ steamy noses. Other times, they were right beneath their bellies and legs. I went click, click, click - the sound was more of a whirr as I let loose my multiple-frame drive - positioning my lens through an opening in the metal fence. After several minutes of that adrenaline rush of excitement, I paused to review the pictures I’ve taken so far. To my horror and absolute frustration, the message in my LCD monitor read: No CF Card.

Oh, well. Another day, another hard lesson learned.