The weather in San Francisco is pretty much the same throughout most of the year. It usually only varies by about ten degrees. The cold means wearing a sweater in the morning with a jacket. A warm day involves wearing just a light cotton sweater. Either way, you dress in layers. The seasons of the sea, however, are more extreme and expressive.
As someone who frequents the beaches around the San Francisco Bay Area, I have learned about the sea seasons. Like the spring, summer, fall, and winter seasons we have on the land, the oceans also celebrate their own seasons. The oceans have three seasons: Winter Storm (December – February), Upwelling (March-August), and the Oceanic season (September- November.)
As the name suggests, the upwelling is when the ocean has a lot of energy, and swells are significant. The waves are furious and urgent. The oceanic season is more gentle and serene. But it won’t be long before winter arrives with gray skies and cold gray waters. As I observe the ocean more closely, I have found that the oceanic seasons are more visible along the coast of Northern California than land seasons.
Transitions between seasons bring a new sense of urgency to an ecosystem. This is true on land and in the sea. In both cases, I find the seasonal transitions visually and emotionally appealing.
During the upwelling season, the weather patterns lead cold, nutrient-laden waters up to the surface. This provides a fertile environment for plants, fish, birds, and sea mammals. You can see a lot more activity on the water. Birds are breeding during this season. Pelicans are flying everywhere. Along with other mammals and marine life, you will see some blue whales and humpbacks. You see fewer birds during the oceanic season, which is already underway, but more whales, dolphins, and sharks swimming about in the quiet sea. Between these two seasons — the time I find to be the most interesting — schools of anchovies, sardines, and the Pacific hake abound. There is a feeding frenzy.
I recently found myself on a beach off the Californian hamlet of Bolinas in the middle of a seasonal transition. For a couple of hours, I watched multiple whales frolicking in the waters as they dove for food. I am not enough of a nature expert to say for certain if these where the blue whales that have been making appearances in Northern California. I could see these with my naked eye. It was easy to find them, as well, because the ocean was relatively calm. A gigantic, ever-changing swarm of sea birds was also taking part in this alfresco dining.
The sight in front of me was a reminder of the gentle rotation of the planet, which will keep going long after I am gone. Similarly, these whales will migrate elsewhere.
Locked in my cave, as I have been for the last many months, I feel the passage of time. I don’t mean that in a rigid, mathematical sense. I feel its ebbs and flows. Time has fluidity and adaptability. It is fungible, only represented in the rhythms of the world around us. As I grow older, I realize that impermanence and time are part of the same journey. The biggest lesson of standing in place — especially during this pandemic — is the importance of listening to the heart’s rhythm and letting that define what time and life are.
This continuum of emotions is starting to impact how I create, both with words or images. It is particularly pronounced in my photography. These days, I tend to leave my usual photography paraphernalia at home. All I carry is my camera and a lens that doesn’t move closer. Just like my eyes, the only zoom is my mind.
As I become more open to the world, I notice that the words others use to describe it have become more calculated. Every word online, it seems, is uttered for the benefit of the platforms. Through the feed, which is how we experience the “now,” words are designed to provoke outrage. Images are almost perfect, each one laser-printed to perfect saturation, built to get likes and followers. Like a polluted stream, it flows past us.
Faster and faster it goes, when slower is what I want everything to be — especially my photography. I have lost all interest in perfection. The representation of reality is meaningless. From politics to stock markets to fashion, we find ourselves trapped in a reality that is nothing more than synthetically generated memes in obeisance to the hyper-capitalism.
For me, the camera has become a way to try and escape this world defined by unreal reality. When I find something that I see in synchronicity with my inner self, I want to use it to paint that moment. I want to get lost in what I can only imagine. My journey is taking me deeper and deeper into these imagined landscapes.
This is a constant quest. As I looked out in the Pacific Ocean beyond Bolinas, the feeding frenzy unfolding in front of my eyes, I imagined it as a pastoral activity in the distance.
The ocean had a green-blue color, not the ominous dark blue that one encounters during the winter. The sky was gray, but somewhere beyond, you could feel the sun slowly slithering into the ocean. My desire was to simply find a way to create an abstract representation of this circle of life, continuing nature’s cycles. It was a childish attempt to achieve what Henry Miller once said:
"The world is not to be put in order. The world is order. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order."
September 8, 2020. San Francisco