One thing about Pensacola sunsets that has blown my mind since we moved here is this optical illusion known as anticrepuscular rays. It’s not an everyday thing, but it’s frequent enough that I’m not surprised when I see it. This shot is from Christmas Eve just as the sun is setting. Because of how those rays appear, one might think that this is looking due West, after the sun has actually set. This is not the case, however! This view is to the East, and the point where the rays converge is the exact opposite of where the sun is setting in the West.
Quoting the website “Atmospheric Optics” (atoptics.co.uk): “They appear to converge towards the antisolar point, the point on the sky sphere directly opposite the sun. Like crepuscular rays they are parallel shafts of sunlight from holes in the clouds and their apparently odd directions are a perspective effect. Think of a long straight road, it converges towards the horizon but turn around and it also converges to the opposite horizon.” Sometimes I get so focused on the sunset itself that I forget to turn around and see if this effect is in play on that night. Thankfully I did, as this is one of the most amazing displays of anticrepuscular rays I’ve seen yet.
In the week+ since we were warned that a tropical storm was brewing down south and looked to be heading towards Pensacola, we’re still waiting for the effects. Heck, we’re still waiting for just about anything from this system that doesn’t look like any other day on the Gulf Coast / Florida Panhandle.
On Sunday night our school district cancelled classes for Monday and Tuesday. I hopped on the bike that night and went around taking pictures of the clear skies and beautiful sunset down by the water.
Monday night, Lise and I went out and took more pictures – what a contrast! The clouds and strong winds are about the only thing that tell you that there’s a hurricane out there, but the difference between the top and bottom picture, taken almost exactly 24 hours apart, is striking!
Still waiting, Hurricane Isaac!
It was an incredible evening out on Pensacola Beach.
Dark black clouds. White fluffy clouds. The sky was black. The sky was blue. It rained. It didn’t rain. The surf was flat and the beach was clear of people.
We brought Dolby, our black lab, out with us. The oil spill was on its way to Pensacola and we didn’t know when the next time was we’d be able to bring him.
As we walked out to the beach, the rain started sprinkling, and a rainbow popped out to the East. We got ourselves settled on a blanket, Dolby obviously unhappy. He and rain don’t mix. He loves getting wet and swimming, but if the moisture comes out of the sky, this displeases him. Lise went to hunt for seashells and the dog and I stayed behind.
I sat marveling at the rainbow, the dichotomy of light and dark in the sky, at the beach that we so love, how the light reflected off the water, and how we might be losing it all to the oil spill, slowly gushing its way to us.
That’s when I saw him.
Off to the East. A Great Blue Heron.
He was a good 50 yards away from where Dolby and I sat. He was framed against a beautiful backdrop of those mixed clouds, the rainbow, the shimmering water, and the sugar-white sand.
The photographer in me instantly started calculating how close I would need to get, at what point I would need to stand, what settings I would need to put into the camera, in order to get a shot of those clouds, the rainbow, the heron, the reflection, all into one frame.
The one thing I didn’t calculate was what it would take to get Dolby to stay on the blanket and not scare the heron away.
Dolby’s a good boy. We’ve been very lucky to have a big dog who stays close when off his leash, and almost always comes back when called. Almost always.
As I started changing my camera settings to take into account the distance, the lighting, my subject, and walking slowly towards the heron, I realized that Dolby was with me. What’s more, his ears had perked up and his tail was straight out. He started moving faster and next thing I know, he’s 5 yards in front of me.
What to do!? If I yell, Dolby would come back, but the heron might take off!
I risked it. “Dolby! COME!” and he did. And the heron stayed in his spot.
I continued walking, started taking some preliminary shots to see how things were looking, but knowing I needed to get much closer than I was to get the heron big enough to make it all worthwhile.
I forgot about Dolby again as I shot and made adjustments, walking quickly and, hopefully, stealthily towards the shoreline and my quarry.
The next thing I see in my camera viewfinder?
Dolby has taken off. Not a full gallop (yet), but the Labrador Retriever Hunting trot.
I called again in the most commanding voice I have, “Dolby! COME!” knowing it was futile. Once he’s locked himself into this mode, there’s nothing I can do to stop him. I had two choices: Chase after him and hope I could catch up to him, and grab him by his harness, or…
Or, I could get the camera ready and shoot what was sure to be an interesting, if not funny, scene.
Dolby has chased after pelicans in the past, to much disappointment. He has chased after black skimmers and come away shame-faced. He goes after slow, bumbling pigeons, but the results are always the same no matter what he chases: they get away.
This night was no different. As he got closer, the Great Blue shifted slightly. I could see him eyeing this big galoot who was now coming at him at a gallop. I could also see that the heron was going to shame my dog by letting him get close, closer, closer…
And it was a fantastic shaming. That Great Blue waited until the last minute to unfold his large wings and gracefully take flight against my goofy dog. He flew perhaps 50 yards to the West, landed in the water, and resumed his search for dinner, keeping a wary eye in our direction.
My big dog got this shameful, silly look on his face as he trotted back, almost as if to say, “Dang it! I knew that was gonna happen, but shucks, I just had to give it a try!”
As the oil slick continues to grow, and as we find more and more oil out on the beach, this is just one of the many things we are growing sad about losing.
During our Saturday trip to Pensacola Beach today, we got our first glimpse of what’s here, and what’s to come with the oil spill in the Gulf.
Using some of their product, I have tried to articulate how we and many of our friends here in Pensacola feel about BP and the oil spill / death of millions of animals / destruction of habitats / screwing over of lives:
To be certain, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The blobs of oil we saw / stepped in / couldn’t avoid today were nothing compared to what’s a couple miles off shore, and even that is nothing compared to what’s slowly moving our way.
To say that we’re heartbroken doesn’t even begin to cover it.
We’re heartbroken for the wildlife that is being killed by this tragedy. We’re heartbroken for the lives ruined (those killed on the rig; the families left behind; those whose businesses and dreams are shattered; those of us who live on the Gulf coast who will be directly and indirectly affected financially for many years to come).
And we’re heartbroken for selfish reasons, too. When Lise and I moved here back in 2007, we did so for mental health reasons and because we had fallen in love with Pensacola Beach. Many long-time residents we’ve friended here think we’re somewhat crazy – coming to the beach three, four, even five times a week is not unusual for us. We watch the sunset. We collect shells. We sit together and dream dreams. We watch pelicans, terns, and other seabirds fly and live. We watch dolphins, schools of fish, sharks, cownose stingrays, and a vast number of other sealife swim with what seems to us like carefree abandon. We swim. We love. We are still in awe of the incredible diversity that the seasons bring to the shoreline. The peace and comfort we receive just being in the presence of the Gulf shore is indescribable.
Taking pictures today of Pensacola Beach littered with the first wave of tar balls / oil blobs hurt. Picking up a small amount of the oil and seeing how difficult it is to get that shit off of my hands was shocking. I still have oil stuck under / around my fingernails after washing my hands several times.
We’ve both cried. I’m sure we’ll be crying more. The pictures coming out of Louisiana are so painful that I’ve had to stop looking at them. The ramifications for our future here (mental health, financial, job-wise, etc.) are so shocking that we’ve not been able to have a coherent conversation about it yet. But we’re going to have to face this soon. I don’t know how we’re going to be able to stay here.
And for that: Fuck you, BP.