Joel is an artist, and this photo displays what I think is wonderful composition and form. The swirling lines, the balance, and the complementary shapes are immediately pleasing to the eye. But that's not the main reason I like it so much.
Jay, who is "a bit of a herpetologist," commented on this photo and identified the shells as being from Eastern Mud Turtles. He also suggested, being that they were empty and found side by side, that Joel had found a feeding station of a Raccoon. Joel thought a Great Blue Heron he had seen nearby could have had something to do with the fact that the shells were vacant.
That begins to get at what I really like about this photo. The shells, resting on the organic detritus of a damp stream bank, are beautiful in themselves. More than that, they are evocative--of the life they once contained, and the ways of nature that left them here empty. But the crowning touch, the genius of this photo, is that they are juxtaposed with the rod and reel and line. I never would have thought of that. We expect--we're trained--to see a fish lying there where the forlorn turtle shells are. The shells surprise us, perhaps confuse us for a moment, and we're drawn in to look more closely and think more deeply.
You can go a lot of directions from there. Please, let your mind wander. But here, simply, is what it says to me: When we pick up that rod and reel and head out into the natural world, we are connecting with, "catching" with all our senses and faculties, infinitely more than just fish. The rod and reel is not just a tool, it's a totem.
Not to get carried away, but I find it fascinating that in the cosmology of many ancient cultures the turtle played a key role in the origin of the earth or the universe. In fact, the turtle supports the world, or the entire universe, on its back; is the fundamental ground of being.
The Iroquois, for example, told the story of the Great Turtle:
The heavens were around for a lot longer than the Earth, according to a creation myth told by the Iroquois people of North America. One of the heavenly inhabitants, the Great Spirit, punished his daughter for becoming pregnant by throwing her through a hole formed when he ripped up a giant tree. To keep her from perishing, though, he ordered the Great Turtle to dive down into the water, bring up some mud and wait for the daughter to land on its back. When she landed, she gathered up the mud and created the Earth as an island carried on the Great Turtle's back.
And this is an image that comes from Hindu cosmology.
Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not. What is it about turtles?
The bottom line is, I really like this photo. It says to me, much more than a photo of a fish, "That's why I fish!" Thanks, Joel.