What I intended to capture with my pencam this morning at Goose Pond was the sight of a lone merganser swimming in foggy stillness. Accidental, though, are the odd tinges of yellow and bright blue in the water above that bird: I don’t remember seeing any strange smudges of color, but my pencam is notorious for adding its own peculiar glints and tints to whatever images I snap.

These days, all my shots are accidental, taken with my pencam while I’m waiting for a pre-paid box to arrive so I can ship my injured digicam for repair. My pencam, like an old fashioned film camera, doesn’t have an LCD screen, just a viewfinder, so I have no idea when I snap shots how (or even whether) they’ve actually been recorded. Instead, I snap shots blindly, not knowing until I get home what duds or delights my pencam holds.

Just as early morning fog drapes an exotic aura over even the most familiar landscape, my pencam typically captures images of the almost seen. The image at left isn’t faithful to what the fog-shrouded pond looked like under one arching hemlock: in reality, that hemlock was gilt with gleams of slanting sunrise, the water beneath an inky shade of midnight blue. But the inaccurate image my pencam captured offers an unreal beauty all its own: no, the underside of that arching hemlock didn’t look over-exposed in person, but neither did the water under it shimmer with such a dreamy shade of sky. The photo at left isn’t what that tree and the water beneath it actually looked like, but that isn’t enough reason to make me dislike the image. Instead, in this case I think I prefer my pencam’s distorted view of reality, suggesting as it does a quality of black-and-white etching suddenly transforming into richly evocative color, with a reflected tree looking more real than its physical antecedent.

Although my pencam doesn’t offer the same pixel-sharp fidelity as my digicam, I often adore the way it captures the warmth of a particular image. Digital cameras capture what’s there, but sometimes that pixel-perfect image seems lifeless and sterile, a picture as seen by a robot.

Sometimes, the pictures I snap with my pencam look ancient to my eyes, like the sepia-toned photos or daguerreotypes of yesteryear. This is, again, an accidental effect: I get no thrill from pretending this morning’s walk transpired in another age, and it’s odd to imagine my living hand as that of a photographer long dead. But just as hallucinogens and other intoxicants offer the excitement of the mundane world made magic, the simple act of seeing the world through an imperfect lens turns that world on its head, adding surprising sharpnesses and quirks of color that call into question the reliability of my senses. What if my eyes themselves are imperfect lens: what if my pencam sees the world as it really is, and all my life I’ve been deluded?

“Delusions are endless; we vow to cut through them all.” The second of the Four Great Vows points to my Buddhist commitment to see the world clearly, and yet I wonder if seeing the world too clearly is its own kind of delusion. Perhaps these pencam images with their funky colors and surprising glints and tinges are an apt metaphor for Don’t-Know Mind, the world always offering more than we think we see and understand.