Many years ago I worked in Cameron, Louisiana with another helicopter pilot, now deceased named Bob Hill.
The word Cameron comes from either the French or the Spanish words for shrimp and refers to the remarkable numbers of shrimp in the waters there.
Bob and several other helicopter pilots and I lived together in trailers in the bayous and, as pilots, we supported the offshore oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico.
We co-existed with alligators and flamingos, and our footprints filled with water.
At that time, having more money than I needed, I owned a very expensive camera; perhaps the most advanced 35mm SLR camera available on the retail market.
I had a giant lens, filters, attachments, motorized winder and ****** grip, and carried this huge, impressive camera around with me wherever I went.
This camera system could take any picture, capture any image.
In contrast, Bob had a little pocket camera, the kind that unfolds.
It had no bells, nor whistles, and Bob had manual control only over the exposure time; how long the lens remained open and admitted light.
Bob took many pictures with that tiny little pocket camera and two pictures in particular which, although I don’t have them today, I will never forget.
He took the first of the two memorable photos on a day when we flew a hundred miles out into the Gulf to get some roughnecks and bring them back to the beach.
Bob and I flew pilot and co-pilot for each other, switching duties with each leg of the flight.
As we passed the beach outbound, Bob took his camera out of his shirt pocket and held it in front of both of us, pointing back at us, and he pressed the shutter release.
A few weeks later he showed me a picture that looked like a professional Hollywood studio had taken it for a movie, and it showed Bob and me flying the helicopter, side by side, as if viewed from the outside, in front of the helicopter.
A happy accident, a fluke, I thought.
Bob took the second of the two photos as he and I stood together in the Louisiana Bayou night, with the stars and the sounds of the swamp around us.
The sole man-made light came from a pole lamp, which illuminated our biggest helicopter, a Boeing-Vertol 107, as it sat on the only concrete pad in Cameron.
I had flown this type of helicopter in the Marine Corps, where we called it a CH-46, and I sometimes served as co-pilot on it there in Cameron as needed.
I had significant memories of flying this type of helicopter as a Marine, including mock dogfights against Cobra helicopters, in which we, in this powerful, agile machine had humiliated the gunship pilots.
In Cameron, as peacetime civilians, we used it for very long missions, carrying 20 roughnecks out to the most distant platforms.
We also used it on occasion for heavy lift, since this helicopter could carry a ten thousand-pound oilrig part suspended beneath itself by cable.
As Bob and I stood talking we both found this ship, white, with a simple orange stripe down its length and dark swamp surrounding it, surprisingly beautiful in the light of the pole lamp.
Bob took his camera out of his pocket, opened it up and set the exposure time to...I don't know...30 seconds or so.
He then placed the camera on a nearby 55-gallon oil drum and pointed it at the big Boeing-Vertol glowing out of the darkness.
He double-checked the image through the viewfinder as gravity held the camera there on the oil drum, and then he pressed the shutter release of the camera.
I heard the shutter open.
Bob turned to me and looked at me, although I could not see his face in the darkness.
After a precious eternity, I heard the shutter click shut.
Bob picked up the camera and put it back in his shirt pocket.
Two weeks later Bob handed me the picture he had taken the night we stood talking and looking at the Boeing-Vertol.
Years passed and I heard through the pilot's grapevine they had found Bob in the wreckage of a helicopter, dead.
No one knew the details.
As I tried to imagine the wreckage and Bob's body, instead I saw myself holding a photograph of a beautiful Boeing-Vertol, glowing against the darkness, as Bob had so exquisitely captured it that far ago night…with a pocket camera.