Two Crows on Spanish Beach

CaliSet3-2

The sky was sepia and thick from the smoke from the highlands where fires raged, uncontrolled and hungry like it had so many times before.  Fire trucks lined the Pacific Coast Highway, which was closed south of Rocky Point.  Any hope of going to Big Sur and seeing the redwoods was dashed, and the new hope was that the fire was stopped before it reached them.

I walked on Spanish Beach with Kemper and Anna, among the seaweed and the granite outcroppings, where Kemper stacked stones in little cairns as if to say “I’ve been here, and I was industrious.”  He was first to spot the two crows babbling amongst themselves, perhaps about the fires, and perhaps about the little visitor approaching without caution.  They hopped from place to place, not quite flying though propelled by their charcoal wings, themselves dappled with ash.  They settled on a low stone, glancing at us with queerly knowing eyes, whose whole blackness belied the sentience behind them.

I told Kemper to slow, to admire the birds before he scared them to flight.  He stopped, perhaps as intrigued as they were.  I told him that they had been known to drop nuts on the street so that passing cars could crush them, only to swoop down and pick up the fresh meats from the cracked shells.

In his small universe, these two were the birds that I spoke of.  Not those crows in Japan that had learned this behavior.  But I understood then, that this beach, these rocks, these crows—these were his universe.  These crows were the only oddities that his four-year-old imagination could process at the time.  The sky was smoky in and of itself, like a chthonic deity.  There need be no fires, only smoke.  There need be no other crows, only these.

As we walked away, careful to keep a wide radius from the crows, they continued to look at us, their heads panning ever so slightly as we passed.  The crows will still be there, as they are in this photograph and in his mind, fixed in eternity, a memory of a distant beach on a foreign coast, until he sees the next pair of crows flitting about the shortleaf pines in his backyard, wondering how they made the journey but ever grateful that they made it for him.

Anna’s Hummingbird

SSA Photography (213 of 400)

This photograph of a female Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte Anna) feeding on alium flowers was taken in my in-laws’ garden in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  She visited the flowers nearly every day we were there, but she always visited alone.  Her mate would have had beautiful pink plumage around his neck.  I have always been fascinated by the drab colors of female birds (such as cardinals and tanagers) in contrast to the fantastically colored feathers of the males.  My grandfather was an avid bird-watcher, and he was the first to teach me to distinguish between the sexes of birds.   My mom carried on his love for watching and identifying birds, which she passed on to me.  I have already begun teaching Kemper the species of birds that live in our yard.  He was especially fond of the “tipmouse” that took up residence in our garage over the summer.

Click here for a larger version.

Pod

SSA Photography (212 of 400)

I took the photograph of this pod of pelicans off of Point Lobos, in Carmel, California.  This is only the front of a much longer line of pelicans that was flying down the coast, and I thought the panorama captured them nicely against the bay and the creeping marine layer.  I love how they are all in different stages of flight, some coasting and some flapping frenetically.

Click here for a larger version (and a color version).

Passerine

SSA Photography (281 of 400)

Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque,
et quantum est hominum venustiorum:
passer mortuus est meae puellae-
passer, deliciae meae puellae,
quem plus illa oculis suis amabat.”

Mourn, O Venuses and Cupids,
and whatever there is of pleasing me:
the sparrow of my girl is dead –
the sparrow, the delight of my girl,
whom she loved more than her own eyes.

Catullus, Carmen 3

As evidenced by this brief passage from the funeral dirge of the first century (BC) Roman poet Catullus, the sparrow has been a subject of art and admiration (even tongue-in-cheek adoration) for thousands of years.  I found this golden crowned sparrow perched in the chaparral along the path towards Whaler’s Cove in Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, Carmel, California.  I thought it was a lovely photograph of a beautifully marked bird, but upon closer inspection of the photograph as I was processing the photos at the end of the day, I noticed the rather doleful look on the sparrow.  For an animal that flits about, seemingly without care, this look struck me as rather queer.  Perhaps, like Catullus, I am importing more meaning to the life of a sparrow than reason would suggest appropriate.  Still, this remains my favorite photograph of the many sparrows I have photographed over the course of the last fifteen years or so.

Click here for a larger version (and a black and white version).

Aesacus

SSA Photography (253 of 400)

This panorama was taken near Carmel Point, the southernmost point of the coastline in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  The title, Aesacus, alludes to the myth memorialized in Chapter 11 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  The youth Aesacus fell in love with Hesperia.  As he pursued her, she was bitten by a snake and died.  Aesacus gives a brief soliloquy lamenting her death, which he says was caused by him and the snake equally.  The sentence after his speech contains one of my favorite images in Augustan-era poetry: “Dixit et e scopulo, quem rauca subederat unda, se dedit in pontum.”  (“So he spoke, and from the cliff, which the rough waves had eaten away below, he gave himself to the sea.”)  As Aesacus fell, the ocean goddess Tethys took pity on him and changed him into a diving bird.  Watching the five diving birds in the photograph flying between rocks (eaten away by the sea) made me think at once of the Aesacus myth, which gave the scene such a mournful subtext.

Click here for a larger version.

 

Twa Corbies

SSA Photography (235 of 400)

This photograph was taken on Spanish Beach, just off of Seventeen Mile Drive in Monterey, California during the Sobersanes wild fire.  The sky was sepia, and the general mood was foreboding.  When I saw these two crows (twa corbies) seemingly conspiring with one another, my mind turned back to the macabre Middle English folk song, “The Twa Corbies.”

Click here for a larger version.

Marine Layers

SSA Photography (177 of 400)

This photograph was taken just after dawn in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel, California.  The stratification in the photo is a result of the low “marine layer” rolling in over the bay, which layer forms in the summer months as the warmer air above the Pacific is cooled by the ocean waters.  The resulting gradient was interesting in full color, but I felt that the monochromatic layers gave the photograph a more distinct presence, which is set off nicely by the black and white gull.

Click here for a larger version.