I invest a lot of time writing about the hard issues plaguing our economy these days, and talking about it as well. Too much time, or so my friends tell me. But that’s not my topic today. At year’s end I always slip in something different--a piece that is really in accord with the way I truly experience my life, for I’m thankful to say I’m a very happy person in my heart and soul, and very content in spite of the ire that sometimes finds its way into my articles.
Writing is a solitary craft, though never lonely. You have an idea, or a story, and you sit at your desk for hours on end, pecking away at the infernal inefficiency
of the QWERTY keyboard, battling your typos as you stretch to express each thought as cogently as possible. For me it becomes a kind of timeless space, particularly when I am writing fiction. And recently I’ve
added another element to my creative process, a camera and time chasing light. There’s something wonderful about a photo shoot. Your eye starts seeing things you might seldom take the time to notice otherwise.
There is a bit of the thrill of the hunt involved in the process, or perhaps the same quiet sentiment experienced by a fisherman as he casts out his net. You shoot the world you see, and then go back to your desk
later to see what you may have caught.
A camera and a good companion create just the perfect set of bookends for a day. With a camera you venture out, chasing light to capture those special moments of beauty
that each day brings us, though we don’t often take the time to notice with our busy schedules. For me, such moments are the very essence of life, a time of quiet, of taking in; a time to savor the moment, look at it, truly see and realize the experience of it.
You know them, the sunrises and sunsets of your own life. Perhaps you catch a glimpse of the sky on your way to work and think how beautiful it is while the radio drones
out the news of the day. For that fleeting moment you are there in that sunrise, your own timeless space while you wait for the traffic light to turn green.
Such moments are what life is really all about. At such times you are the universe suddenly aware of itself, and your perspective, all you see in that moment, is completely unique.
I’ll note that no one really thinks about taking their camera to work, however, and making sure they get a shot of their desk, the report they’re reviewing, the
office cooler, or a meeting taking place there. It’s not that this time isn’t important, for it is invested with good intention if you have found right livelihood. But you would never think to photograph
it, and frame it on your wall, would you?
Some people elevate their job, the effort to earn money, to the highest place of importance in their life, but not me. For most, time away from work is called “spare
time.” For me it’s “prime time.” In my life, I work each day just to have the wherewithall to provide me the freedom to go out and look for moments like those captured in the photos here--a
sunrise over Monterey Bay, and the sunset that made the other bookend of a day. Such moments, when shared with someone special, are food for heart and soul. It’s what we live for--to be here, to be aware, and
to simply look and see what is before us with a sense of awe, and sometimes wonderment, and always deep appreciation.
There’s an old Zen mondo that reads: “Look at your world! Look! This is all yours. When you realize that nothing is lacking, you have found
Today this is what was all mine, to find and share with my heart companion, who accompanied me on dual photo shoots to take in the sunrise and sunset one day. So I thought
I would share it with you as well in a little photo essay that is my version of “take the time to smell the flowers” here at year’s end.
This morning I woke up early, with the world still folded in sleep. Instead of turning over I suggested a photo shoot to greet the rising sun, and it was a perfect way to
start the day. We took a brisk walk, sometimes running after we caught our first glimpse of the dawn, down to the famous Cannery Row in Monterey just in time to catch the vermillion sky across the bay and take some
shots before the light changed.
This place is a photographer’s dream come true. On this December morning the normally heavy tourist traffic had not yet arrived, and the Row was largely empty, all
ours. We made our way to a good vantage point and watched the colorful clouds swirl over the bay, while we happily clicked off shots and pointed out angles and perspectives to one another. There are so many places,
if you know the area, where you can find perfect angles to catch the light, and lots of interesting things to silhouette in the foreground. Meanwhile, a host of seagulls cavorted in the sky, their raucous calls
greeting the dawn. Every so often the gulls, quietly perched on rooftops, just launched themselves into the sky in a mad welter of wings over water.
When the sun finally appeared it glimmered on the bay, painting the dancing waves with gold. There’s a reason photographers call this time “the golden
hour.” The hues are just perfect, with wonderful color saturation in that first hour after dawn. We made our way down under the pier that supports the popular “Fishhopper” restaurant, and watched
the gentle golden swell of the sea, waves leaping as they broke on the rocks. This is truly one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, with a rec trail that follows the old bed of the railroad that
once served the fish canneries here--the place of Steinbeck, sardines and the sea.
Sometimes a solitary seagull would set the stage, judiciously perching on a rock in the foreground--thank you very much! I can tell you, from long experience, that the
silence of a seagull as it watches you, wondering what you are about, can be profound. They are ubiquitous along this coastline, companions to terns, sandpipers, geese, grebes, cormorants, swans, the occasional
albatross, and my favorites, the pelicans.
Making our way along Cannery Row to Steinbeck Plaza, we took new shots of the now familiar buildings, some decked out for Christmas. The light was wonderful on the bright
orange walls of the Fishhopper, and two wicker reindeer sat on the roof above the Bargetto Wine tasting room. Then it was down the Row to my favorite coffee at Peets, and a cinnamon roll that held the moment
just perfectly with every bite.
The coffee house was already busy when we arrived, with tourists emerging from nearby hotel rooms to start their day. My companion found a few quiet moments reading the
newspaper, while I just savored my coffee and roll, and watched the people. There were a group of four men, all European, speaking Italian or Portuguese, (I couldn’t tell which, but if you spend more than a
ten minutes on Cannery Row, you will likely hear at least four or five different languages.) An old gentlemen sat under a woolen cap, looking for all the world like he had just walked off a Morton’s Salt
label. Another woman, her lips painted bright with thick, red lipstick, immersed herself in a book.
Did I mention that Peet’s cinnamon rolls, warmed in the microwave, are heaven on earth? Yes, it may not have been the healthiest food to start the day
with, but I have often thought that if one must die, let it be by cinnamon roll!
I spent some time, listening to various snippets of conversation here and there in the room, and watching new people wander in, still bedraggled with sleep, like animals
coming down to the watering hole. The smell of the lattes, and cappas being brewed up was wonderful.
At one point, the angle of the newly risen sun cast a warm beam that illuminated my companion’s newspaper, so I uncapped my Lumix and fired off one last shot. A
moment later we walked home up the hilly streets to begin the day. There would be a thousand other tasks we would both engage in that day, some loose ends of work for me, little errands, bills to pay, and any of the
other ‘thousand nothings of the hour’ that Matthew Arnold wrote about in one of my favorite poems, The Buried Life. In it, the poet talks about those quiet moments when we become fully aware of who we are, and feel the thrill of life coursing within us.
“Only--but this is rare--
When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable
Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen'd ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress'd--
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of
feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life's flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.”
Sometimes I hear the winding murmur of my life in the distant cry of a seagull at sunrise, or at dusk. The night before this dawning, we had watched this very same
sun slip away to the far side of the world, with the same drama and majesty in the sky after a cold front had swept through the area leaving the sky dressed with gilded clouds. The photos that end this little essay
were all taken at Asilomar beach, a conglomerate name the Anglos made of the Spanish for “asi lo mar” (to the sea!) This lovely beach is one of our favorite haunts, and we frequently rush out to try and
catch the sunset there with our cameras. It is always different, and never disappoints.
We always hope for clouds, so the fading light will paint them with colors, or just back light them with gold as the sun sets. One night we may arrive at very low tide and
catch stranded starfish clinging to the sides of the rocks. Other times the waves themselves strive with the sun for the most prominent role on the stage, as high swells of surf break in endless sets over the long
This is a popular beach, and you can often silhouette families, couples, cavorting dogs, and the ever present flights of gulls and squadrons of pelicans. The birds always
seem to migrate south at sunset, and I have often wondered where they go after they search the turbulent waters for their nightly meal, (perhaps to nearby Point Lobos, known as the “greatest meeting of sea and
sky on earth.”
If you’re lucky, and we were that night, you can catch a wild sky mirrored in the sleek wet beach as the waves recede. It’s a kind of beauty that defies
accurate description and, in such cases, a photo is indeed worth a thousand words. The sun drops down from behind the drift of clouds, and the scene is suddenly bathed in brilliant light. The golden orb perches
briefly over distant landforms near the Famous “Pebble Beach” and then is swallowed by the sea.
After sunset the beach empties out and people head home. There is a quiet solace in those last moments of the day, a forgiveness for every misstep we may have made, every
ill conceived word spoken, every errant thought or frustration that may have plagued us. It is all behind us now, absolved by the golden light of sunset, and laid to rest. Within each sunset is the kernel of hope
and renewal that makes us get up each morning and start again. Within each sunset is a promise of dawn, and another chance to do again anything we may have left undone, or say again anything left unspoken.
After the sun sets, the little Sandpipers flock in coordinated drills, chasing the receding surfline to ferret out tiny sandcrabs washed ashore by the waves. Their
movements are so choreographed with the sea that they appear to be a part of the oncoming and retreating surf itself. It’s difficult to photograph them, as their urgent movements are hard to fix in the low
light. We tried to sneak up on them, all set to take the perfect shot, when suddenly two dogs come racing across the strand, charging the phalanx of Sandpipers and sending them off in a wild flight as they pirouette
and eventually land again at another place farther down the shore.
It’s a great way to end the day, and this was one of those last hectic days just before Christmas holidays. You look at the sea and sky and realize that nothing
is wrong there, nothing. There are no problems in the sand and surf, nothing unfinished, no pressure to be or achieve anything, no judgment, no criticism, no bad news.
It is just a perfect moment, complete in and of itself, and lacking nothing. And in the quiet perception of such moments, things we would shoot with our cameras and frame
on our walls, I realize that happiness is only a choice to be as carefree and complete as the sea, the sky, the birds and the setting or rising sun. It’s a choice we can make each and every day, for the
perfect completion of this moment tells us that every moment is equally sublime--if we but open our eyes and let it in, like the light we so eagerly seek to capture with the open aperture of our cameras.
I must tell you... there are few moments in life that compare with that quiet walk home from the sea, arm in arm or hand in hand with my gal. Yes, I’ve taken in many
a sunrise and sunset on my own in this life, but sharing it all with another is a quiet affirmation of everything I think and feel in those moments. For with the hard work of the day now over, I see in her eyes the
glimmering of sunset, and the promise of hope in another day that will come to us both tomorrow with the sunrise. I see the same enthusiasm and intense focus on her face as she sets up what she hopes might be the
“perfect shot” of this oh so perfect moment together. And with her I see my own life and experience reflected and returned, like the shadows on the glimmering wet sand or the sunlight redoubled on the
sea. And I experience my own capacity to love made real when I look deeply into her eyes, and that is a profound gift indeed.
So here’s to sunrise, and sunset, and Peet’s Coffee, and cinnamon rolls, and walks on the beach with my camera and my lady, and that quiet affirmation that
comes to me again, as it came to Matthew Arnold when he wrote:
“And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life
And the sea where it goes.”