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.