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Lake Kutcharo (2024 #1)

I sometimes go to the zoo. At a zoo, you can almost certainly see a wide variety of animals from all over the world in one place, something that would normally be impossible to see on a short trip. If you can turn your eyes away from the animal ethics discussion and focus only on convenience, it is a very convenient and attractive place for animal lovers. But going to such a zoo and taking pictures of the animals does not satisfy me. And the very reason is such convenience. In order to take pictures of a certain animal, I search for its habitat, research its climate, characteristics, accessibility, and precautions beforehand, make a trip plan considering the best time and date to take pictures of the target, actually go to the place, but somehow fail in some way due to the lack of research and got of a lot of troubles but finally success to see it, found a good spot to take the picture of it, moved there, set the exposure, looked through the viewfinder, but was fiddling around with the exposure, the animal disappeared from view, which makes me disappoint and crouched down to smoke a cigarette, and then it reappeared, my heart pounding again. I look into the viewfinder again and this time I release the shutter. It is the typical sequence of events that makes me feel satisfied. For me, traveling in search of animals and photographing them, in other words, traveling and photographing are two continuous actions taken with the same purpose, and they are inseparable. According to the philosopher Saussure, a name is a symbolic representation of the division of nature into a series of parts in order for humans to organize things. In other words, travel and photography are continuous for me, but someone who was born before me divided them and made them into symbols. Annoying. I have no other choice but to recombine and re-symbolize the travel and photography that have been separated. Next time.

WITHOUT this in mind, I chose Lake Kutcharo in northern Hokkaido as the destination for my first trip of the year. Lake Kutcharo is a brackish lake that is the third Ramsar wetland in Japan and a migratory stopover for swans and ducks. Although swans and other birds normally migrate to the Honshu area during this season, I went to Lake Kutcharo because I came to know that there are places where it does not freeze and there are swans and ducks that overwinter there. I wanted to photograph birds in the snow. However, the trip was not easy. Driving. I had experience driving on snow-covered roads in Hokkaido, but this was something else. Maybe it was because it was the first time for me to drive with snow completely remaining on the road. We drove on the icy road, looking for ruts. If you go off the ruts and run into a sherbet-like area, you will slip. If you don’t slow down before a curve, you will slip. If you don’t slow down early and take your time, you will slip. Slip, slip, slip. It was like real Mario Kart. In the midst of all this, a car that appeared to be a local drove easily past me from the side, while I was driving at the upper limit of the legal speed limit. By such a comparison, I recognized the level of my driving skills are.

I was staying in Wakkanai city, and the distance to Lake Kutcharo is 1.5 hours (according to Google Navi). Due to the road status above it actually takes a little longer. I continued driving under tension, concentrating on finding ruts and carefully operating the gas pedal and steering wheel, and finally arrived at Lake Kutcharo just as my fatigue was reaching its peak. The lake is completely frozen, and the snow is evenly piled on top of the frozen lake, forming a vast snowfield. A forest can be seen in the distance, and hazy mountains can be seen further back, but other than that, the entire field of snow spreads across the entire vision. The tension from earlier in the day dissipating at once. A wintering group of swans and ducks are gathered in an unfrozen corner of the frozen lake. I was also able to confirm the presence of a family of swans and ducklings at a distance from the group. The swans were sitting or floating on the water as usual, spending their time leisurely, or suddenly becoming excited and making a lot of noise all together.

There were a few times during the trip when I felt uncomfortable driving, but after all, when I returned home from the trip and developed the photos, I found that the memories of the trip came back more strongly than usual. In the end, I conclude that photography and travel are connected, and that the length and difficulty of the journey to reach the subject is a factor that determines the depth of the memory.

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