Aerial Photograph
by J.R. Carpenter
I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought,
and on the labour that I had laboured to do;
and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind,
and there was no profit under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 2:11

Every bolt and bone of the small plane shook, wingspan bright against the grid of forest and fields below. The pilot's arms shook in a loose language of warning. Clouds cluttered up the horizon, moving in like in-laws. Everything looked like rain.

Luke Turner found the position of passenger difficult at the best of times. From the cramped back bench seat of the Cessna, he glanced for a moment at the fine lines cross-hatching the back of the pilot's weathered neck. The old coot had tried to cancel on him, on account of the weather. Luke had had to insist: "And bring your fancy photographer with you, to hell with what Environment Canada has to say."

Luke only half-listened to the code-like communication coming in over the headsets—staccato bursts, numbers and abbreviations—bluster and bluff as far as he was concerned. The weather wasn't so bad—cold was all, creeping into his feet. He craned his neck, strained to see everything in all directions. His farm lay open and rolling beneath them. The rain would hold off. They would take the photograph today—a record of these past seven years of cutting, clearing, tilling and a healthy dose of slaughter.

They flew over a narrow scarf of woods. Some of the leaves of the weaker trees had begun to turn toward autumn. Luke forgave them their frailty, if only for the sake of the aerial photograph. A skirt of yellow for accent, a rage of early sugar maple red—he was paying extra for color. High above the forest-green edges of the north pasture, he sighed to see the spectrum of summer blossoms gone. His fields were past their second haying. All the clover was mown and stored in the barn as hay. Today, all his cattle were out. He had spent the better part of the morning driving them from the fodder. Until the moment he spotted their light brown backs against the green ground, he had been uncertain they would be visible from the air. He could kiss the stubborn, dim-witted lot of them—of their own volition they had grazed themselves into a picturesque pattern across the pasture.

Even his nemesis, the truculent tractor, appeared placid, parked neatly beside the low bulk of the barn. There would be no fits and starts from it today. His van, he saw, was not where it ought to be. Briefly alarmed, Luke pressed his forehead to the plane's cold window. Vibrations shook him. Rocky, pitted air filtered down to his teeth.

Where had his wife driven off to?

Ida did not know about the aerial photo. He had not found a way yet to tell her, his desire for it, the expense. He had left her up to her elbows in beans and peas to shell and freeze. There was no reason for her to leave the farm today. And then Luke remembered: Ida was home—he had the van—he had driven it to the airfield, of course. He shook his head at his foolishness.


Luke had not expected to see the beehives at all, but there they were: a dotted line of white wooden boxes, bright in the shadow of the rock wall that ridged the northwest pasture. Thirty-five universes unto themselves, stilled now, for winter.

Luke had only just finished extracting this year's honey late last week. He still bore the mark of the one and only sting he had sustained all season. Ensconced in his basement's makeshift workshop, engrossed in the dismantling and cleaning of parts, his defenses had slipped. One lone female crawled out from somewhere—he had not seen her, only felt her—she landed lightly on the lid of his down-turned eye.

The bat of his startled lashes had stung the bee to action. His eyelid had swollen shut in an instant. He had shouted, and sworn. He had been so sure he would emerge unscathed this year.

Sitting near the woodpile, near the basement's cool wall, Ida had calmly placed the bottle of Benadryl on the table in front of her. Without a word, she had returned to her work of labeling the plastic tubs of honey.

Luke had taken her gesture as a surreptitious 'I told you so.' She had not wanted the bees in the first place: "Don't you think we have enough on our hands already?"

"No I don't think," he had said, but veiled and hooded in mesh and smoke, Luke had struggled with the bees this season. They had had a killing frost late in the spring, and a costly swarm in August.

Ida had suffered nine stings at last count. The small bottle of antihistamine was nearly empty. She had saved the last of it for Luke. In his rage at the shock of the pain, he had lurched toward the labeling table. Half blind, he had snatched the bottle up, and hurled it over Ida's head. It had not shattered satisfactorily. It had bounced and fallen into a crevice of the dark woodpile.

The beehives had passed by in an instant, slipped beneath the belly of the plane. But from the height of flight, Luke felt the sting of embarrassment—barely dimmed. The hives might not appear in the aerial photograph at all. Or, such a small detail, they might stand out bright and white to haunt him.


Flying very high now, they sailed over the rippled sea of his woodlot. Their shadow skimmed the thin scar of the logging road that Luke had worked to clear. It veered left a little, where he didn't think it ought to. For all his calculations, of grade and slope, from the air the line of the logging road appeared sagged and bowed. The kick of the chainsaw echoed in his shoulders. His back ached, his ears rung. Still ten cords more to split to dry for winter. It occurred to him—they would find the medicine bottle again, as the woodpile shrank toward spring.


The small plane seemed to occupy the last blue space in the sky. Land keeled and lurched beneath them. Weather warnings came in over the headsets, echoes of everything the pilot had told him. To the north, the low-pressure system marshaled its resources—a dark wedge over the bay. Soon fog would roll in, obscuring all beneath its dank duvet.

The pilot banked sharply, turning from the approaching rain in a wide arc. One wing bright, one wing dipping shadow, they turned to face the farm in its entirety. A glare of late afternoon sun shot off the cattle pond, stabbing Luke in the eye.

"Damn!" He blinked. His bee-stung lid still smarted.

Through the headset, he only half-heard the pilot speak: "Now, Henry. Now." The aerial photographer crouched over his equipment, brow folded like a low range of hills. Luke leaned too, jacket taut across his back.

It was done, Luke unsure if he had seen or missed it.

J.R. Carpenter is a visual artist, poet and fiction writer originally from Nova Scotia, now living in Montreal. Her short fiction has been published in Blood & Aphorisms, Postscript and the Knight Literary Journal. She is a winner of the CBC/QWF Quebec Short Story Competition, 2003. Her writing and web art projects can be found at