I am grateful for pink skies at dawn, the relentless rhythms of the sea, and new beginnings.
It was a small space located between Newberry's and the bank, the small local bank in the days before all the mergers. It was where the brass ensemble would play outside in the cold winter air while our small town went about their Christmas shopping. The cold mouthpiece of the French horn as the mouthpiece met my lip and the frigid bell as I slid my hand inside. Perhaps that is why this night, Hospitality night in our small village, brings me such joy and pleasure. It is the continuum of who I was to who I am and the knowledge that as much as things change, they are often still the same.
It has been two months since the sun hung highest in the sky and the days were their longest. The swells of summer, tides, and tourists have left their indelible marks on this small village of ours, and I consider what I have lost and gained in the passing of these 60 days. These are the first days of fall, the change in air and sky palpable, as Jupiter appears just above Catalina, and I anticipate the night sky that will sparkle with moon shadows dancing across the water, palm trees in silhouette.
It's arguably the night I love most in our little village, the one where all the town comes out to celebrate Santa's arrival, to listen to the music of our people, choirs of kids, a chatter of friends, carols of the season. As the approach to the holiday season begins, so does my enthusiasm for this night, little changed in all the years we have lived in this place of endless summer.
Just a little walk down Peppertree Lane, past the park benches weighted by tourists licking cones of sweet confections having followed the wafting smells of vanilla and sugar. The line snakes down the brick walkway ending just beyond the door to the sweets shop, the place of toasties, coconut flakes doused in rich chocolatey goodness. Tonight I head up the alley, the path less taken, to avoid the vestiges of summer only to find the steps to the parking lot lumbering under another pack of sweet searchers. And I turn to look into the shop, flush with faces anticipating their treats, the little boy in the corner whose nose is pressed to the glass, the pink plastic tasting spoon of consideration held aloft, and everyone illuminated by the light from the cold vetrina holding the vats of creamy gelato goodness.
The days are getting shorter as we all too swiftly pass to the equinox. It has been two months since the sun hung highest in the sky and the days were their longest. The swells of summer, tides, and tourists have left their indelible marks on this small village of ours, and I am considering what has changed in the hour and a quarter of brilliant sunshine I have lost in the passing of these sixty days.
It isn't my favorite time of the year, instead preferring the time just after Labor Day to when the cycle begins anew, sometime around July 4th. I respect and empathize with the emotions this town of mine engenders and remember well the days I used to visit and dream of making a life here. My first visit was very long ago, and I was different then.
The man I had married had deep ties to this place of sun and sand. He grew up here back when a spring drive through the canyon meant passing fields of strawberries, before the hillside of Newport Coast had been tamed with row after row of houses, and there was a gay bohemian culture that erupted on weekends in amusingly unique ways. His family pioneered this western coast and populated it with grocery stores in a gold rush of their own making and made a life here that included a beach house on a private cove just south of here.
I remember the first time I met him in one of those eastern neighborhood barbeques just after he had moved east with his family. He wore Van tennis shoes and OP corduroy shorts and a Hawaiian print shirt, and I thought I had encountered the surfer from the mystery date game that was so popular when I was a girl. Open the door, and you could have either the handsome man dressed nattily in a white dinner jacket or the image that stood before me. Funny how so many things have changed and yet, so little has. The Mystery Date and Dating Games evolved to the Bachelor and with it went the small cottages that used to fill the space inside the green belt that encircles our village, replaced by big homes and people that don't make their life here all year, the nattily dressed types in white dinner jackets.
I met him at the end of summer when he was soon off to college, and I was off to finish my last year of high school, and that was supposed to be that. But it wasn't, and years of making up and breaking up ensued. When the finality of our time together came, it was the rhythm and cadence of a west coast life that stayed with me, and I became part of the waves of people who wanted a piece of this idyl. It would be years and lives before I would move here with a different husband and find the rhythms of the sea and the cadence of our life together in this place.
The hour and a quarter of lost daylight have brought a chill in the air that annually catches us by surprise. Each night we sleep under covers so casually kicked aside during the long evenings of high summer when the heartbeat of our life is more in sync with the sun than any other part of the year. We fill the hours with long hikes up the hillside behind our house, or along the beach, followed by lunches of fish tacos and cold draft beers, long afternoons of reading and writing and golden hours of photographing. We plan our daily excursions to accommodate seaside pilgrims and are out early and first returning to the safety of our home while they still sleep in the earned pause of vacation. If we dare to venture out in the evening, we rely on the kindness of friends, the reward of a winter's worth of patronage to ease the strain of long queues and crowded venues, but mostly, we unapologetically stay put in this place we have called home for so long.
The hour and a quarter loss of bright sunshine have resulted in the long shadows so appealing to the photographer in me and with them the seamless horizons of the descending sun that stir in me the recognition of summer's end and the seasonal transition to fall. I think of the word transition, of movements and passages, and modulation and of those of this year as we move from the long days of summer into the fall, and later the winter.
Once, a few years back, I happened upon a night of passage as the graduating seniors of this and neighboring towns gathered seaside for one last night of summer revelry in this first transition of a lifetime of them. Excitedly they gathered by the fire facing in equal parts fear and anticipation for the lives on which they were embarking. Met with the same, at that juncture in my life, I am not sure I could have left this place of endless summer.
And I am not sure I could leave even now in this life transition from fall to winter. My hair, now the color of snow, belies the warmth in my heart and the chill in the air reminds me that fewer summers are in front of me than behind. So it is that I take my hour and a quarter gain in light and spirit and enjoy the waning days of summer fearless of the transition and the cold, filled with gratitude for all the days that have come before.
Analog photography is a slow and mindful process, each step a deliberate choice that begins with the selection of the film. Long before my walk had started, I stood in my kitchen before the open door of my cool and bright refrigerator, reaching for a box of Ilford HP5 blanc et noir 35 mm 36 exposure film. I turned to face the kitchen counter where I would open its tiny canister and place the film gently in the camera I have selected for today. Today, I will walk with my dad's old camera, and as I reach for the app where I log the date and time of each roll in each camera, I think of him and the photos he made with it. It will be nice to walk with him, to think of him, to remember. Today, I want my photographs to look like charcoal pencil drawings of the nature that surrounds me, and as I slide into the front seat of my car, I choose to head towards the hills. My measured pace walking them will slow this day and add to the thoughtfulness of the morning. I begin with the explorer's spirit rushing towards the starting line only to have my rapid breath fall out of sync with my plodding feet as I ascend. About midway up the incline, I first notice the white rock, whose surface catches the tiniest bit of morning light and the small glistening leaves that face east and frame the path that leads into a dark unknown.
I step back to see, really see, what has caught my eye. By choosing black and white, I have limited my response to the spectrum of available colors and selected to measure the intensity of light, in essence, simplifying my choices to subject and luminance only. I remember thinking the decision as a good one as we soon would head out for a few days of reconnection and the idea of being present in the pure essence of our time together appeals to me, to narrow the wavelengths that I explore to focus better on the spectrum of you.
I pull the camera to my eye and begin to frame the wooded path, the rock, and the bits of light that will last only a bit longer. I set the speed and focus point, and then, I inhaled deeply and still each part of my body while I press the shutter. I love this moment, the still concentration just before catching the light. And, then, the moment is forever gone, and I turn to continue the trek up the hill.
I fill this day with moments such as this, intervals of movement and stillness interspersed with profoundly deep breaths and concentration. Walking to the car, I review the morning's photo count. As I drive back into town and home, I consider the rhythms of this day, slow and methodical, intensely aware, and engage with my surroundings. There are no headphones, no noise, just the quiet cadence of feet on the path.
It will be another week before I finish this roll of film, and I will be miles from home on a cliff at Los Osos State Beach in the Central Valley before I unload it. And it will be another month before the negatives and the scans return from the lab. It will be like a Christmas morning as I look at each of the precisely made photographs as the scans download and consider that I made one morning last five weeks, effectively slowing time.
The waves enticingly lap at the shore this early morning where the mist obscures the break between sky and sand. There are only ripples of water in this presunrise instant of emptiness. Soon the shoreline, now absent the accouterments of summer, will burst with brightly colored pails and short-handled shovels. Colored plastic utensils will litter the horizon and provide hours of silly sandcastles, backbreaking bottomless holes, and relatives buried neck deep in beach. Now, though, it is just the gulls and me enjoying the rhythms of this life of earned pause.
You wake before me and walk to the sliders on your side of our bedroom and quietly close them against the misty May gray morning that will shortly tumble into June gloom. Spirits dampen as each day upon day delivers sunless skies while the ocean and the air harmonize. As my eyes flutter and I slowly come to consciousness, you announce, without provocation, that the mist hangs heavy on the hillside. It, as you know all too well, is a pronouncement that speeds my arousal. Thus it is living with a photographer who loves nothing more than rainy mornings and, as you turn to leave the room for the kitchen to make coffee, I throw back the covers and ready myself for the elements.
I pull on the heavy socks that fit snugly inside my wellies, and, as I walk down the stairs, my hair begins to peak through the neck of the sweater I am pulling over my head. I place the empty coffee cup in the dishwasher and move towards the office to select the morning's equipment. I retrieve my waterproof camera from the cabinet and attach it to one of the many tripods that lean against the back of the closet where I store my gear. I slide my feet into my boots while simultaneously pushing my arms through the sleeves of the massive black slicker I wear to protect both me and my gear in the downpours, and I slip into the car.
The rain is fine now, not the steady one of 30 minutes ago, but the sky is heavy and the ceiling low, and I believe it will pour again soon. No matter, this is enough, this morning filled with weather and purpose, and the hope that I will catch the one photograph that will make leaving the comfort of my blankets, those silver pitchers of hot coffee and him worthwhile.
As I round the corner onto PCH, I consider that not everyone rallies to this early rainy morning ritual of mine preferring the inertia borne of overcast skies. The streets, devoid of all the bustle of the previous holiday weekend, are quiet now. I am acutely aware that this peace will not last long. June gloom rapidly transitions to July when the call of the beach resonates beyond the accessible neighboring towns and our village, so unassuming most of the year, belongs to those that don't live here.
In short order, I arrive at the parking lot of the beach where I will set up shop for the next hour or so. In the drizzling mist, I survey the coastline considering layers and locations for this morning's outing. It is all but empty with only the occasional seagull or pelican to keep me company. I attach the camera to my tripod and adjust the legs so it can lay supine on the sand, and carry it towards the break. Click after click catches swollen clouds, foamy seas, and the desaturated color palette of an early stormy morning as the waves crash against my camera and drench me. I decide the boots are useless against this assault and slowly pull them and my socks from my legs and return barefooted to the focus and flow of the morning's work. The frigid water barely a distraction as I lose myself in the rhythmic sounds of waves rolling in triplicate against the shore in a thunderous primal pounding.
Wet, and tired I turn to head home dreaming of a steaming cup of hot tea sweetened with local honey to warm me while I download photos, catch up on correspondence and begin the day in earnest satisfied by having spent the earliest hours mindfully making. The glow of a morning in the bountiful beauty of the coast, connected to the earth's energy by the power of the sea flowing around me, the ocean encouraging me to expand and fill the empty spaces I know wait for inspiration. I inhale, profoundly calming emotions swirling within me just as the sea had swirled around me. It was not to be my morning if measured in output but the elements of the earth rescued my spirit with their sirens early morning call to the sea and to wake up.