Thursday, January 11, 2007

Snow on the Beach

High Seas as seen at Clifford Kampf County Park
Smith River, California
(and yes, there was snow on the beach)

It never ceases to amaze me how depression can steal your life. I’m sure that anyone who has gone through a period of depression will say this is an understatement. It’s my excuse for missing the past two days’ writing assignment. And yet, the children’s verse comes to mind:

The world is so full of a number of things
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

--Robert Lewis Stevenson
A Child’s Garden of Verses

Certainly as I’ve wandered the back roads and beaches of Del Norte County the past couple of days, my eyes and heart have been gladdened by a “number of things.” I’ve even managed to capture a fair share of them in my camera’s memory. Returning home, or to Mother’s home if you will, I have been brought back to the realization of how empty the house is without her. The person who taught me to see; the person who urged me to write is no longer here to share in the wonder of life around us. There is a very real hole in my world right now, and I have no idea how long it will take for that hole to be filled.

I remember spending one Mother’s Day weekend at the Flathead Lake UMC Camp with members from the Stevensville MT UMC and other parishes in our sub-district. The weekend was billed as a clean up time, preparing the camp for the summer season ahead. Sitting around the campfire Saturday evening, I said how truly appropriate it felt to spend Mother’s Day in this wonderful setting. As a small child I had walked at Mother’s side on that very ground—while Father fulfilled his duties as head of the camp. Mother and I would investigate rocks, water, the jig-saw puzzle pieces of Ponderosa bark. As I think back, we were looking at the very things I love photographing now. The waves on the Pacific are a bit higher than those on Flathead Lake, but it’s the same spirit moving it all.

Honestly, I wonder if the time has come for me to head back to Montana. Sitting here in the house my parents bought in 1976, even if the title is being changed over to my name, I cannot escape their presence—no matter that it be a benign presence. Little by little I’m making the place over in my image. But it may be a case of too little, too late in many respects. And I have a home, a partner, friends who love me, waiting up in the frozen northland.

What I don’t have in Montana are these wonderfully awe-inspiring seascapes. Set me down on the beach, even at 36 degrees, and I can happily watch the sea, find dragons in driftwood, pick up stones and shells, and catch the birds as they glide past, appearing to move effortlessly. The occasional hunky surfer dude doesn’t bring me down, either.

This morning dawned, again, clear and cold. Bright blue skies overhead and frost on the lawn. I headed out to the Crescent City Harbor to get a morning shot of the Coast Guard Cutter and Battery Point Lighthouse. The CalTrans reader board over US 101 said “Carry Chains. Snow Ahead.” I wasn’t terribly worried about snow on the road—there was barely any snow along side the road, at least by Montana standards. What did worry me was the thought of black ice on the highway as the temperature was fluctuating between 32 and 37—prime territory for black ice, and the road was wet enough that ice was a very real possibility. Still, just as at home, take it easy became the watchword as I headed south on 101.

Crescent City's Coast Guard Cutter, with Battery Point Lighthouse in the background
Crescent City, California

Stopping first at the Harbor, I got my morning shot of the Coast Guard cutter with the Battery Point Lighthouse in the background. I’ve taken this shot before—several times—but never with the morning sun cooperating with me. This scene always makes me think of the hymn Melita.

Eternal Father, strong to save
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidst the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.

--William Whiting, 1825-1878

Deep sea fishing is the most treacherous job in America. Every time the boats go out there are those in peril on the sea. Stop for a moment and send good thoughts their way.

While at the harbor, I was also able to get several shots of gulls, both on land and in the water, including one of a gull just taking off from the water leaving a hole in his wake. I submitted that picture to Eyefetch ( under the title “Hop, Skip and Fly.” A few pics of the sealions resting on the docks and a couple of surfers braving the extreme cold, and I resumed my south-bound drive.

With a stop at the vista point just inside the National Park boundary, I was able to confirm and record that you can, indeed, see both the Battery Point and the St. George Reef lighthouses from one vantage point. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the right vantage point to get both in my lens at the same time, but I was able to capture both. I’ll get the shot of the two for one yet! But what beautifully clear shots of Crescent City and the Pacific I was able to get.

Over the hill and down to the Wilson Creek beach access. Lots of great shots here, including a terrific shot (if I do say so myself) of a wave breaking against the rocks. I submitted that one to Eyefetch as well, but I saved the shots of the gulls in flight for my project: 101 Gulls. With the alphabet book done, I need a new project, and fortunately I’ve thought of three. I’ll share them as they progress, but they involve gulls, kelp and other flotsam, and red pickup trucks. Yep, red pickup trucks. Why not?

My main objective this morning had been to catch the harbor scene, but a secondary thought occurred. On the north bank of the Klamath River, just as the river enters the Pacific, there is a rock formation that looks like an old woman, sitting on the hillside watching the mouth of the river. The Yurok people indigenous to this area say that when the Great Spirit decided to add human beings to his creation, two of the spirit people choose to take material form in order to assure the well-being of the Yurok tribe. Both spirit women took the form of rocks. One sits at the south end of the river mouth and is called the Sister. The other sits on the north bank and is named Oregos. I had shot Oregos with film and with the L3 digital, but the day I was out with the Pentax SLR and film, I wasn’t able to get very close—taking my pictures from the overlook on the old coast highway. When I came back with the L3, I parked on the side of the river, and hiked out the sand spit to its northern end where I was able to focus on Oregos just across the river. The weather, however, wasn’t terribly friendly. There was a heavy mist in the air and by the time I got back to the car, the mist had turned to rain. While I was able to get several good shots of driftwood on the sand, Oregos had drawn a foggy veil around her. With the bright sun, clear skies, and cold, crisp temperatures, I was sure that today was the day for a good shot. Indeed, not only was I able to get several clear shots of the spirit woman in her present incarnation, but I saw something I’d never seen before—her companion raven. (Now if I blow the images up significantly, I can see that all I’m looking at is a trick of the shadows, but can you see a raven in this pic? Hint: It’s perched at Oregos’ feet.)

Oregos, Spirit Woman guarding the Klamath River
Seen here with her companion Raven
Mouth of Klamath River, California

I missed the pic of the day as I was playing hide and seek with a seal who had swum up the river. The sand spit separating the river from the sea is quite wide and has a good ridge on it. If you’re at river level, you can’t see the ocean. And as I was watching the seal surface, spy me, and dive back down, a handsome, hunky surfer was catching the waves on the ocean side. I wish I’d seen him in action, because I can’t quite picture what he was really doing. As I walked along the sand, a machine looking like a Montana jet ski on steroids, came howling into the river’s mouth. It held two guys in dry suits, one of whom was carrying a surfboard. I asked if they’d been doing some kind of cross between waterskiing and surfing, and was assured that indeed that was exactly what they’d been doing. A buddy had built a fire on the beach, and they headed over to warm up a bit. Alas, they were done for the day, so the only shots I got were of them bringing it home, as it were, on the jet ski.

Heading home myself, I stopped at the Sweet Street Café in the town of Klamath where I had an Indian taco—the first I’ve had in over a year. It was great. I explained to the woman running the café that I’d been photographing Oregos and hoped that I hadn’t offended anyone by so doing. She assured me that people had been photographing the same image for countless years and no one had ever asked permission. With that in mind, I bid you adieu, and suggest that you look for the spirit guides guarding your own lives. Wish them well, as I do my own.

Hunky Surfer Dudes returning from Jet Ski Surfing
Mouth of Klamath River, California


Weather: Blue Skies, Sunshine, Temperatures in the 30s.

Mood: Contentment—verging at times on joy (when I look through my lens and it appears that I’m in the middle of that wave!)

Photos taken: 240 including countless gulls and 5 red pickups

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