You Can't Always Get What You Want

January 28, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

AglowAglowThe Wizard's Hat appears to glow as abundant mist created by gusty wind and choppy seas is lit by the setting sun. (Bandon Beach, Oregon) The Oregon coast is beautiful but often mercurial.

If you're going there to photograph the magnificent sea stacks, timing is important. Summer and early autumn are typically the least advantageous windows; you're apt to get either clear and uninteresting skies or a persistent marine layer. Winter and spring, on the other hand, deliver more active weather patterns. While that means more rain, it also greatly increases the odds of dramatic skies as weather systems move through the area.

Improved odds are good but they're far from a sure thing. You can't always get what you want. Case in point: my first visit to Oregon's south central coast.

Anxious to hit Bandon Beach with my camera, I was also happy about the prospect of spending time at the ocean. Having lived near the sea for many years, I miss it. The Intermountain West is pretty but large expanses of water aren't exactly a signature sight. 

What I was not looking forward to was the 14-hour drive from my home to Bandon. I'm what you might call a reluctant road tripper. Living in this part of the western U.S., by necessity you're going to have to drive - a lot - if want to go anywhere. So I do. But that doesn't mean I like it.

I'd timed the trip for late April. That year, Bandon's early spring weather had been somewhat dizzying; each new five-day outlook seemed to bear little resemblance to what had been predicted only 24-hours before. I pushed my arrival back twice to avoid projected lengthy periods of rain. Finally succumbing to forecast lottery fatigue, I committed to a schedule and hoped for the best. 

As I made my way across eastern Oregon's high desert, the mercury topped 80 degrees (double digits above the April average high). There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Odd. Crossing the "Oregon divide" into the lush green part of the state, it was still unseasonably warm and the skies remained clear. Robin's egg blue. I started to get a little concerned about the conditions. Where were the partly cloudy skies that had been forecast?

Once I was within 90 minutes of Bandon, there they were out on the horizon: clouds. Just what I'd wished for, and just in time for sunset! Perfect!

Or not.

What I saw in the distance was actually a thick marine layer. There were no cumulus clouds drifting above Bandon. No sunshine, either. There would be no sunset that night. 

The weather apps said not to worry so I didn't. I used the rest of the afternoon and early evening to walk the beach, familiarizing myself with the sea stacks and thinking about possible compositions. I listened to the ocean. And then I got some rest, anticipating a productive day ahead.

I'll bet you can guess what happened. Rain. (So much for the forecast.) It wasn't a complete washout; sometimes it just drizzled. But this went on and on. Not just that day, but the next, and the day after that as well. Adding insult to injury, it was the worst kind of precipitation. No dramatic, stormy skies. No rainbows. Just flat, white nothingness overhead. 

I drove up and down the coast a bit hoping I could outreach the featureless ceiling. This being unsuccessful, I switched gears and began looking for intimate compositions along the beach featuring the surf and the sand. I switched to black and white to emphasize the moodiness of the monochromatic landscape. You've got to play the hand you were dealt.

Still, I was prepared each morning and evening to capture a sunrise or sunset, just in case. I kept a close eye on my radar app, just in case. And as the clock ticked down to the final hours of my stay, something wonderful happened. There was a break in the clouds - and it persisted long enough for a beautiful sunset to develop.

Though it was low tide, it felt otherwise; high winds pushed the sea forcefully back onto the beach and created heavy mist. My lens cloth got a workout as I continually checked the glass for spray. More than once the icy water crashed up, over, and into my muck boots, the retreating waves doing their best to knock both my tripod and me off our collective feet. The force of that surging water against the tripod could easily cause unexpected camera movement so it limited the length of time I was able to leave the shutter open. We take what we're gifted and make it work.

The color was short-lived; the overcast soon returned. It began raining again overnight. Very early the next morning I pulled into my favorite little coffee kiosk in Bandon to pick up a cup of hot roasted rocket fuel, and then began the long drive back to Eastern Idaho.


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