Two Crows on Spanish Beach

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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.

Fire in the Highlands / Smoke on the Water

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In classical mythology, Eurus and Apeliotes, interchangeably, were the gods of the easterly winds, though Eurus was favored by the poets such as Homer and later Ovid.  Homer, in naming the Anemoi (the winds) noted that Poseidon was the master of the winds, and after the blinding of his son Polyphemus (and Odysseus’ subsequent boasting), “Poseidon massed the clouds, clutched his trident and churned the ocean up; he roused all the blasts of all the Anemoi and swathed earth and sea alike in clouds; down from the sky rushed the dark.  Eurus, the east wind, and Notus, the south wind, clashed together, stormy Zephyrus, the west wind, and sky-born billow-driving Boreas, the north wind.”  Ovid, placing the Anemoi’s parent Aeolus at their charge, noted that “Fierce as Aeolus is, far harsher than his own sons, surely, something comes from a life with savage winds; his temper is like that of his subjects.  It is Notus and Zephyrus, and Sithonian Boreas, over whom he rules, and over the pinions, wanton Eurus.  He rules the winds.”

This photograph was taken on Spanish Beach just off of  17 Mile Drive in Monterey, California, near Pebble Beach.  The natural sepia tone of the photograph is derived not through the use of any filters or post-processing, but from the thick, cloying smoke that hung in the air from the raging Soberanes Fire then burning through the highlands south of Carmel, California.  As I mentioned in my post of the Lone Cypress, taken at the same time as this, I was off-put at first by the way the photograph turned out.  I have numerous panoramas of the coastline of Carmel, strewn with stones and shattered boulders, and this photograph offered nothing new.  Further, the smoke bled any detail from the scene.  I boosted the detail with post-processing software, but eventually I came back to the unedited version, finding a certain nostalgia with the memory of the smoke, poured out to sea by Zephryus, the west wind, and then wafted back to shore laconically by Eurus, the wanton east wind.  What is not captured in the photograph is the utter, lifeless silence of the coastline, aside from the ever-present sluice of the capped waves on the rocks.  The shore, always buoyed to life by crows and sparrows of every type, was abandoned in the smoke.  Perhaps the birds knew better to seek higher ground to the west, where the smoke had not yet permeated.

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Twa Corbies

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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.”

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Ode to Jeffers

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The shore of Spanish Beach, along Seventeen Mile Drive in Monterey, California, is littered with little cairns like the one pictured above – simple stacks of stones left as memories by passersby.  My son, Kemper, toppled this one, just to build it back again, and as I was snapping pictures of the shoreline he begged me to take a shot of his cairn.

We had visited the “Tor House” earlier in the day, and so my mind was filled with thoughts of Robinson Jeffers, the resident poet of Carmel for the first half of the 20th Century.  Likewise, the Sobersanes wildfire was still raging down the coast.  I was struck by a line in Jeffers’ poem, Fire on the Hills: “Beauty is not always lovely…”  The simple sentiment described the fire in his poem and the fire in the valleys raging at that time.  Later, when I was editing the pictures I took, I came across this one, and I remembered ruminating on that line as I took the photograph (as I still remember it today).  Though beauty is not always lovely, sometimes beauty and loveliness can be found in the simplest things – like Kemper’s five-stone cairn, which his small hands slowly stacked in the smoke-filled air of Spanish Beach.

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