Capturing lasting images at the Pacific Ocean
March 30, 2012
I passed a green highway sign that pointed west to Shelter Cove as I curled down in my Acura down this heavily forested part of northern California called the Big Sur. The road did switchbacks that converged into a one-lane randomly.
Continuous 45 degree angles met perpendicular curls in flat landings repeatedly in a downward spiral to the bottom of the Pacific coast. At the bottom of the ledge, the brake pedal held no resistance.
Barreling down the hill with no conventional brakes left, I jerked the rarely used emergency brake 5-feet past the stop sign. My mind was a seven-10 split between finding a mechanic or a campsite. I drove on to find the latter.
Steady hand on the e-brake, I stuttered my car cautiously down to the Kings Range Shoreline. Rolling into the overlook parking lot, I threw my arms up saying, “I’m done.”
Low tide licked the black sand beach below, cradled by two far-flung sea stacks in the formation of an amphitheater. The tide charts posited that the high tide would crest at 12:08 a.m. (mental error +/- five minutes).
I set up camp a couple hundred yards away from the tide; I set the alarm for high tide just in case.
On this trip, I soon came to the realization that “golden hour,” the first and last hour sunlight of the day, offered photo images with the highest contrast and depth of color.
This was the last time I saw the Cali sun disappear over the Pacific. The deep yellow/ orange cliffs snapped out the mushroomed sun like a wink, and I winked back in good faith.
B-r-r-r-r-i-i-i-n-g, 12:08 a.m. I slammed my hand against my phone. I then snapped my attention to the waves immediately replaced the alarm’s pitch.
I sprang to my knees. The waves sounded close to my landlocked ears.
I unzipped my one-person tent and peered out my miner’s lamp that bounced the rays off the salty white foam 100-feet or so away. I fell to a lump and awoke several hours later as the sun passed through the eaves of the pine trees that crowned the cliffs above.
After I stretched off my sleepiness, I began to pack my tent. As I lifted the tail of the tent a dark gray mouse jumped out in surprise. I jumped back too. The black canvas of sand as wide as a football field between the ocean spray and the cliff wall was no escape for a mouse compared to my young 20-something legs.
The mouse and I danced; the mouse for life, I for curiosity more than anything. As I cut off each of his vain attempts towards freedom, I shifted my distance hot and cold like the veritable cat playing with the mouse it doesn’t want to eat by softly batting it around.
One-step too close and the frail body crunched between the bed of sand and my hard unyielding leather boot. Two pink fingers pinched the tail and whipped the small body into the morning foam.
A pelican waddled near the waterline, deeper soaked black sand packed with the moisture of salt water, with its head bowed as a witness to my dance with the mouse. I ran back to the tent for my point-and-shoot camera.
I came back for the maritime bird and caught it many times by the lens. With each forward step, I then took one step too many, then the pelican, the only other observer to the crime against nature, disappeared as well behind the deep blue backdrop in heavy flaps.
Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.