Dismal Nitch

This week has been another vacation week (I got a bit behind on using my vacation days this year).  This time, I left Pat and Tisen at home and travelled out to visit family in Portland, Oregon.  Portland is one of my favorite parts of the US–this is a trip I look forward to every year.

While visiting the Oregon coast, we stopped at Dismal Nitch across from Astoria, Oregon.  Dismal Nitch is an easy rest stop to access these days–a long, long bridge from Astoria to Washington makes it a really interesting drive with fantastic views.

But, when it was named by the Lewis and Clark expedition, it was no picnic.  Traveling by boat, the craggy harbor became a dangerous place for the explorers and their team.  They were stuck out in the rain for 6 days, waiting for the weather to clear so they could safely navigate the rocks and other hazards that have made this area among the most dangerous waters in the country.

I pause as we stand along the fence at the rest area, looking out at the Cormorants, Seagulls, and Pelicans.  The face of a seal suddenly pops through the surface of the water.  I stand there wishing I had my 100-400mm lens.

And then, it occurs to me, I feel mired.  I think about Lewis and Clark sitting in that same spot, cold, wet, and probably hungry.  I think about them bobbing about on rough seas and waiting out the stormy weather.  I wonder if they felt it was hopeless.  I wonder how long they were prepared to wait before making their move.  I wonder if they saw seals and pelicans and thought of them as signs of hope.  All of this flashes through my mind as I realize the difference between me and people like Lewis and Clark is that they took the safest course for the duration of a storm and then moved on.  I seem to confuse safety with long-term direction.

I took some photos of the dismal nitch.  The clouds gray and swirling above relatively still water created a nearly monochromatic scene.  I stared out over the waters, hiding the dangers of shoals and debris that had sunk more than its share of ships.  It looked so peaceful.  Tranquil.  A cormorant stood on the stump of what might once have been a pier, spreading its wings and flapping them.  He couldn’t wait for them to dry so he might fly again.

Perhaps we are all like the cormorant.  We dive in, get wet, and then have to hang out and dry out before we can jump back in.  Perhaps some of us have to hang out longer than others before we’re willing to take the next plunge.  I metaphorically flap my wings and wonder just what kind of drying time to expect.  By my count, they’ve been drying for at least 8 years.  I find myself wondering if the Cormorant ever forget how to swim.

The Open Road in Sepia

Hanging out on the tip of Washington in a place called “Dismal Nitch” might sound depressing.  However, according to the National Park Service, its name was derived from the journal of Capt. William Clark who referred to the site as a “Dismal Nitch” after being stuck there for 6 days in a storm waiting for supplies.  For the Lewis and Clark expedition, it was the last miserable stop on the Columbia River between them and the Pacific ocean.

For us, it was a beautiful, sunny day that gave us great views of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, the Columbia River, and the mountains beyond.  However, having driven over the ridiculously long bridge, stopped at Dismal Nitch, watched the pelicans diving after fish, and watched the sun start to sink lower in the sky, we decided it was time to start heading back towards Portland.  We had one more stop in mind and we wanted to get there by dusk.

On the way back, I did some more “through the windows” shooting.  I’m fairly certain there is some law of photography that starts with, “Thou shalt not do landscape photography from a moving vehicle.”  Oh well, rules are made to be broken.

I know for sure there is some law of photography that says all photographers must at some point take a shot of themselves in a mirror.  I’ve resisted for a really long time.  But when I caught my reflection in the side-view mirror, my will power crumbled.  Like being drawn into a black hole, I felt compelled to press the shutter button.  Too bad I didn’t have try a slower shutter speed–it might have been interesting with the bridge blurred in the background.

Having captured some similar images of the bridge going the opposite direction, I found myself somewhat bored with today’s selection of photos.  I decided to change them all to the sepia preset.  I went a little wild with the orange tones in the first image–it evoked the idea of sunset for me.

The pairs of images are yet another semi-happy accident I wish I would have thought of when I was shooting because I would have shot them a little differently.  Maybe with the road going left and then right or something.

Regardless of what I might have shot differently or whether I shot something similar before, there is still something evocative to me about looking down the road.

What is it about an empty road that seems so prophetic?  My nomadic desires were suddenly reawakened by the sight.  The possibilities promised by going somewhere new seemed irresistible.  But on this day, the road didn’t lead to a place we hadn’t been before.  Just like life, sometimes we drive in circles.