Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sneaker Waves May Daunt Sunny Daze at the Beach 

April 20, 2013

I may sound like a cad, but Darlene's raucous horselaugh at my misfortune with a sneaker wave turned my ears beet red.
So much for wifely commiseration.
Even Nora the Schnauzer yawned so wide that she squeaked.
So much for man's best friend.
And so much for last week's sunny Tuesday that began as a perfect day on Cannon Beach.
We drove the seven miles from Seaside in about 12 minutes and parked at Tolovana Wayside Park at about two minutes before the 11:35 a.m. low tide.

Darlene, with a view of the beach, lighted her kindle and leaned over it.
I shouldered cameras with wide-angle and macro lenses and headed for the world-renowned Haystack Rock, a mountainous 235-foot-tall basalt sea stack with tide pools and nesting tufted puffins.
It's so massive that it appears to be minutes away from the wayside. Alas, Nora and I dallied en route for almost an hour. I took photos. Nora made new friends.

We eventually reached the tide pools, however, and I switched to the macro-lens outfit and tip-toed among the rocks and shallow pools with my head down looking for colorful anemones.
Finally, I became transfixed  with countless sun-bathing starfish plastered to the rough base of the sea stack’s north side.

Then a man with a camera approached and pointed out tufted puffins and marbled murrelets that sailed in from the northwest to land on the grassy haystack dome.
Drat. And me without a big lens.
So much for “being prepared.”
"C'mon, Nora," I called. "Hurry.”
She bounded into action and I followed.
We covered the half-a-mile or so across the sand in  23 minutes. On the way, I plotted using the big lens on the tripod with a Kimball head that swivels and adjusts up-and-down with ease while still holding the camera steady.
It’s heavy and awkward to carry, however, so I had used the Kimball head twice in five years when shooting hummingbirds at a feeder.
I spent 15 minutes attaching the big lens and camera to the Kimball head. I snapped on a fanny pack containing water and slung the macro outfit in a camera bag over my left shoulder.
Before shutting the truck's door and picking up the tripod I turned to Darlene.
"You know, I feel a little like world-famous Art Wolfe setting out for a photo shoot on the Serengeti Plain," I said.
Darlene looked up from her kindle, but she only nodded.
The rest I’d rather forget.
I worked up a sweat by the time we stood beneath Haystack Rock again. An white-haired couple sat in lawn chairs near the tide pools. I asked it they minded if I set up the tripod a few feet away.
They didn't.
I spread the legs of the tripod and worked the knobs on the Kimball head so that the lens aimed at the top of the rock and swiveled smoothly.
Nora sat in my shadow with her tongue out. I removed the fanny back and  unsnapped the lid from her water container. I set it and the fanny pack in my shadow. I lay the camera bag beside them, with the top open for easy access.
Just in case.
Then I peered intently through the lens at the top of the rock and waited for puffins the approach.
A flight of three flapping their short wings appeared. I swiveled and tilted the lens working the manual focus to lock onto the high-flying birds.
I sensed a commotion among bystanders. Water swooshed onto my feet and chilled my shins.
I lifted the tripod and stumbled back to escape the sneaker wave. I reset the tripod at a safe distance and saw my camera bag, the fanny pack and the water container swamped on the sand.
A stranger grabbed the fanny pack. I picked up the camera bag, noting that water and sand seeped from it. The stranger fetched the water container and its lid.
“We often get waves like that about and hour after low tide,” he said and handed me my stuff.
I grimaced and thanked him.
At  safe distance I dumped Pacific Ocean salt water and sand from the camera bag and used a handkerchief to wipe water and sand from the camera.
It worked OK.

I didn’t feel like shooting puffins. So, with shoulders slumping and eyes skimming the sand I mopped all the way back to the truck. Expecting some sympathy, I told Darlene my story.
"You know, an hour ago I felt like Art Wolfe,” I concluded. “Now I feel like Pee Wee Herman.”
And she laughed. Really loud.

Note: These sea stars are clearly comfortable beside the sea, but did you know that starfish really are consummate marine species? Why? Because they actually have no blood to speak of, instead using filtered seawater for a similar purpose. Called the water vascular system, this hydraulic method of circulating seawater through their bodies is what sea stars use to move, eat, excrete and even breathe.

Written by: Simone Preuss

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