Rocks of the Bay

My dad grew up in Biddeford, Maine (south of Portland) and spent his summers in Old Orchard Beach.  My mother’s parents would rent a house on the coast during the summers when I was much younger, and all I can remember from those days is climbing through the rocks that lined the shore.  Because of this, I have a certain affinity for Down East (the coast of Maine).  So when my in-laws decided to take a vacation to Bar Harbor, I was excited to be able to personally revisit some of my childhood memories.

We took a small boat around the harbors, and saw many of the lighthouses that dot the coastline.  The stones along the coast longed to be climbed on, but that was a long while ago.  My son, Kemper, is as old as I was then, and he would love the (relative) safety of climbing on the rocks of the bay (versus the cherry tree in my parents’ front yard, which mercifully died before I got too big for the topmost branches to hold me).  He is not a risk-taker, for which I am very grateful.  His impulsivity would not be well met by fearlessness.

Although I usually prefer black and white photographs, the contrasts of the trees and coastline to the skies and water were to beautiful to reduce to monochrome.  For whatever reason, the photographs I have taken in Maine tend to end up in color.  This is a testament to the natural beauty of Down East (and to the fact that I always visit in the summer).

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Cypress Sunset

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I have observed many sunsets in California over the past three years.  The view west from my in-laws’ house peeks through the greenery to a patch of ocean and sky.  There was nothing particularly special about this night’s sunset.  The sky was a bit hazy, which somewhat amplified the corona, but there were no pinks or purples to speak of just above the horizon, as I had seen on a number of occasions.  Still, I managed to wrestle myself away from the others and stroll down to the path that runs along the ocean on Scenic Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea.  I took a number of shots of the setting sun, but this one, framed by two yin and yang Monterey cypresses, was my favorite of the lot.

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Crash

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The Pacific intrigues me like no other body of water.  Having grown up minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, I am accustomed to what I always considered crashing waves.  I remember the muscle memory as a child of being tossed and rolled in the waves after a visit to the beach lasting for hours after we arrived back home.  The sheer strength of the Pacific dulls these memories somewhat, and forces me to reconsider the awe of my childhood fascination with the placid Atlantic.

This photograph was taken amongst the rocks in Carmel Bay.  Although the crash of the waves in this photograph is impressive, the highest swells and tallest sprays seemed to come the moment I turned my camera off after waiting for the next great wave to roll in.  Kemper joined me on this trek down to the water’s edge, but he was more interested in throwing pebbles to the tide pools than the august waves and cacophony of them extinguishing themselves on the rocks.  Perhaps he is jaded, having grown up with the Pacific, or perhaps he is simply a child, whose attention is drawn more by his controlling of nature than nature’s control over the elements.

The morning layer was thick when I dragged him from bed to amble down to the coastline, and the colors were muted.  The deep dark shades of the wet rocks and the brilliant white of the salt spray were perfect contrasts, and so my inclination to monochrome most of my photographs was well founded in this one.   Although I am taking more photographs with Kemper in them, which capture his growth and my fondness of him journeying with me as I did with my father, I had not yet begun this practice when I captured this wave against the rocks of Carmel Bay.  When we return, hopefully soon, to California, I will rectify this shortcoming.  Perhaps he is old enough now to appreciate the power of the Pacific, but more likely, he will return to his old pursuits of watching his ripples in the tide pools as I wait for the great wave.

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Hokusai

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I took hundreds of photographs, waiting for the waves to crash on the rocks at just the right angle, with just the right force.  This photograph evoked feelings of “The Great Wave” the famous woodblock print by by the Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai in his series Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji.  It also made me think of the creation myth of Aphrodite, which unlike Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, was, by all accounts, a violent affair.  Although Aphrodite can be broken down into “aphros” (foam) and “ditos” (risen), there is no direct etymological derivation.  This did not stop the Greeks (Hesiod, specifically) from crafting a story of Aphrodite rising from the foam after a great battle between Cronus and Uranus, which would foreshadow the same father-son battle between Zeus and Cronus.  In the whitewash, I can almost see Aphrodite throwing her hair back, casting off the spray as she nears the coastline.  But then, I suppose that’s what you get when your two favorite subjects in school were Latin and Art History…

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Invasive Beauty

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This post was originally titled “Native Beauty,” as I had seen these beautiful purple flowers up and down the coast near Carmel, California.  With a bit of research, however, I found that these stunning flowers are an invasive species known as Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans).  In fact, forestry officials are removing them from native plant communities as part of habitat restoration efforts in coastal parks such as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  The genus name is from an ancient Greek word for the plant. It is derived from “echion,” with the root word “echis” meaning “viper.”  There are conflicting etymological justifications for the name, including that the shape of the seed resembles that of a viper’s head, and  that Echium Vulgare, a related plant, was a historically thought to be a remedy for the adder’s bite.  Candicans or “shining white” refers to one of the more famous varietals in Madeira, Portugal, where the plants originate.  It was originally referred to as Echium Fatuosum, which is where the “pride” in the name originated.  In California, however, the purple E. Candicans varietal shown in the photograph is the most common.

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Roil

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This photograph was taken on a blustery morning in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  The winds were coming through the bay at a fierce clip, and the waves were the largest I had ever seen.  We went on a hike to Point Lobos, and I captured this scene after one of the larger waves had crashed across the rocks – completely covering them in a mix of foam and roil.  One of the apocryphal origins to the name Aphrodite is “risen from the foam,” but I cannot imagine that this was the type of scene the ancients envisioned of her birth.  I think Botticelli got it right.  The violence of the waves made me marvel at the strength of the stone, which has invariably been battered for eons.  Love is like that in many ways, often beaten but never broken…so perhaps the ancients were onto something…

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Awash

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I have lived near the ocean my whole life, and yet it took my first trip to the California coast to truly admire the beauty of the sea.  The rocks and the waves are gorgeous in and of themselves, but together they are magical.  This photograph captures the instant when the two come together to produce an ephemeral wisp of beauty.  But for my camera capturing the fleeting moment, this little crash would have been forgotten, lost beneath the weight of the others that have come after it.  My fascination with the waves and the rocks can be seen in my collection California Waves.  I hope you enjoy this instant as much as I have.  The Romantics–Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and Shelley–all tried to capture that one infinite moment in words.  I will never have the words to capture it like they did; but then, they didn’t have a lens…

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