Someone asked me how my day was and I said “Bobcat!” Okay, I admit I’ve totally lost my ability to interact in any ordinary way. I blame COVID. I’ve been in isolation for the last six months.
I’ve been hiking in this area for the last 36 years and this is my first bobcat siting. It darted across my path in Kit Carson Park in the middle of the day. Unmistakable. Too big to be a cat. Too fleeting to snap a picture. I know bobcats aren’t rare in these parts, but that’s not the point. The point is that it was a cool moment for me in a time when cool moments are hard to come by.
It’s still summer and it’s still hot. The best place to be is on the beach and the closest, wildest (for wildlife, not parties) beach for me is Torrey Pines. On this particular hike from street parking in Del Mar south to the north end of Black’s beach, the tide is rather low. I can see the crescent moon in the sky so I know it is not quite the lowest tide but pretty low given the expanse of beach to walk on. I do most of the hike shoeless and in ankle-deep water. I read the water temperature is up from the low 60’s of my foggy trip to the upper 70’s of this heatwave. Wading and swimming, I don’t have any trouble believing the report.
I bring my camera because the ocean and sunset never get old, at least in my humble opinion. With the tide low and golden hour light, I get some lovely shots of the cliffs with their reflection in the surf. The golden glow of the sun brings out the pinks, reds, yellows, browns, and oranges of the cliffs and in the reflections. I tried catching mirror images of the cliffs and shooting straight into the sand for more abstract shots. The play of light and water and color is fantastic facing back towards the cliff in the shallow surf, but I think I need to improve my camera work as the photos are little on the dark side. I think I will make a point of getting on the beach at Torrey Pine’s when the low tide is at sunset on a perfect day until I perfect my craft.
It is not too often I can walk on the ocean side of flat rock without fear of water-damaging camera equipment or getting smashed up against the rocks. The last hike, I couldn’t even get on top of Flat Rock from the beachside approach because of the high tide. This time, I casually walked around flat rock no problem. I took pictures of the matted anemones on its top side and barnacles on its underside. I can see fish working the surf and lots of fishermen trying to work the fish. A little boy charged with filling the bait well with sand crabs feels compelled to give me a close up of one.
Given the heat and the perfect weather, the beach seems relatively empty. Maybe its because the low tide has people spread out so much but the leg from the south parking lot to Flat Rock is sparse enough that I take plenty of people-less shots. Zoom in on the pan and look for people if you don’t believe me. The stretch from Flat Rock to North Black’s Beach is even more deserted. Black’s Beach itself looks as popular as ever but that is a story for a different venue.
I time the hike just about perfect to end up back at river’s mouth at sunset. A paddleboarder helped my cause by surfing back and forth in front of the setting sun making for some nice silhouettes in the orange glow. And while I was doing that, I saw dolphins skying out of the water in the distance. My perspective may be off because of the distance but those dolphins looked like they were getting serious hang time. Enough for me to look out, find them, and snap. It looked surreal to see these creatures leaping out of the ocean into the sky. If they had been in the line of sight of the sunset for a dolphin silhouette against a deep orange sun, I might have ** with excitement. Insert your own inappropriate metaphor there.
A flourish of trumpets. Not a grand entrance, think a quest, like King Arthur from the most Holy Grail of Monty Python. The holy grail in this case is the green flash. It’s one of those things you can wait your whole life for and never see, like Mercury or a full solar eclipse.
The Tale of the Fog.
It’s summer. It’s hot. There is not a cloud in the sky. If I’m going to hike, I’m going to hike on the beach. I figure if I time it right, I might be able to catch a sunset. So I pick up my son and drive over to Torrey Pines. Instead of finding clear skies and a sunset, we find fog and high tide. The fog is so thick it is night time in the day. Instead of pelican’s plunging into the ocean for fish, I see phantoms in the shadows dive-bombing into the unknown. Creepy crustaceans with big black eyes coat the sandy walls of the cliffs, which we are forced up against as the waves of the high tide lap at our legs. The murky fog is a minimalist dream, if only for some more light.
A man passes asking me if I know if it is the high tide. It most definitely is high tide. But he is heading south into the rocks and cliffs. He wants to know if it is THE high tide. I don’t know. I would have thought that high tide occurs when the moon is straight overhead or at the exact opposite side, but it is not so, this is only true in a perfect spherical world, one of all water. Alas, the tides know no table and the world is not perfect. Landmasses and other effects determine the exact times. THE high tide is still to come in about an hour but three hours ahead of midnight about the time I would expect the full moon to be straight overhead.
The Tale of the Mountain View
I hiked up this rather steep trail before to a ridgeline from which I discovered you can see the Pacific Ocean in spots before. I thought it would be a great spot to catch a sunset, particularly if the sunset lines up with views to the Pacific. I made it a point to return.
So suffering from acute cabin fever on an off Friday from work, I decide about an hour before sunset to see if I can’t hike up the mountain and score a few pictures. Because of the steepness of the trail, the lack of anything remotely resembling traction on the bottom of my shoes, and dusty, slippery, grain-sized granite, I bring my hiking poles with. In my mind, I glide to the top like a cross-country skier with the intensity of an Olympic champion. In reality, I am fast enough to make it to the top with about fifteen minutes to spare before sunset.
I find a decent rock to take pics from, but I can see the huge cloudbank covering the coast dashing my dreams of the sun dropping into water and its yellow-orange tail following it over the horizon. I set up the iPhone for a timelapse setting of the sun, admire the deepening colors of the golden hour, and snap a few pictures. A fog bank and a sunset have their own charms.
On the trip back, in the blue hour, I say hi to a pretty girl walking a dog who admired my walking poles, watch bats dart across the trail, and follow an owl as it glides silently in front of me. No pictures of any of them. Not sure how I would do that anyway. Skittish girls, flitting bats, and gliding owls, never listen to my requests to stay still long enough to take a picture in the dark.
So, what does that say about me and the times that the highlight of my day is escaping the confines of my house for a sunset on a Friday evening? When I later checked the pics, I discovered a hint of green in the sliver of the sun as it disappeared into the fog bank. The green flash? Okay, not quite but definitely caught some green. An image of the Holy Grail hovering over a castle in the distance.
The Tale of the Most Holy Grail
After a five-mile hike up and down the beach from Torrey Pines to Dog Beach in Del Mar, the sun drops out from behind a purple cloud curtain, not quite the eye of god poking through an opening in the clouds, but nevertheless, an impressive game of peekaboo. As the sun reasserts itself, surfers ply their trade in the foreground in a mild surf, fishermen troll the shallow waters for surf fish, and shorebirds plunder the plentitude of sand crabs.
No sooner then the sun pops out from behind one curtain it begins dropping behind another. The red-orange ball of fusion morphs from a full sphere to the outlines of an exploding earthly fusion bomb to a blip. The blip doesn’t disappear over the horizon, it turns green, fades, and disappears into a point just above the horizon.
The green flash. The most Holy Grail of sunsets. This is the real deal. A life long quest satisfied. I see it. I have a witness. I have a picture. It really exists.
I admit it is not a great picture. But that is how it goes with mythological creatures. Ask the Bigfoot photographer. Ask the Loch Ness monster photographer.
The quest is not at an end, only a beginning, now that I know it is real. You never know. I know I can see it again even if it takes another sixty years. I will be looking for it or die trying. Besides, what else am I going to do on a Friday night?