It’s difficult to know just how important your foot is until you lose it.
I still have my foot, so “loss” is an exaggeration (I am given to them). But it is ensconced in a black velcro-driven boot for the next little while. It’s been on for nearly 3 weeks now but due to bad behavior I am back on rest. If I am good, I will get to graduate to a fine looking velcro-driven shoe! Meanwhile my house is littered with single shoes for the right foot. When I get the left one back I will have to have a match-up party because I don’t know where the mates are.
I fractured 2 bones in my left foot in the line of photographic duty. Had I actually acted on the little voice in my head I wouldn’t be in this predicament. I hear those voices a lot, calling me to do this or that, but I often ignore them. Most of the time whatever consequence there may be I don’t see–leading me to conclude that the voice of intuition is hit or miss. Actually, it is a rather alarming thought to consider that overriding that voice could have an effect on someone else, as I said in a conversation with myself just this morning. What if, I said to self, that voice is always right but the only time I know it is, is when the effect affects me? I’m now going to change the subject. I have become uncomfortable with this line of inquiry.
Right. Line of photographic duty. Yes. So there I was, up at my usual haunt, Salt Point State Park, on a beautiful November Monday. I had been up there on the previous Friday and had had a little adventure on that day as well, though nothing was broken as a result, except maybe my common sense.
I like Salt Point when it is overcast. The flat light makes it easier to make photographs suitable for the gravure printing I do. The somewhat truncated tonal range makes the positive easier to print in the darkroom, minimizing the dodging, burning and other contortions required to wrangle the image onto a piece of ortho litho film. The Friday was overcast. Perfect! I thought. I drove the requisite 2 hours to the place, hung out my California State Parks Pass on the rear view mirror and hefted my 5×7 gear and tripod. It is .9 miles to my favorite spot and it takes me about 20 minutes to get there, depending on the distraction quotient.
The tide was ebbing–about halfway–but holy man, the ocean was high! I clambered down the rocks to my spot and was astonished and awed by the dance of the sea. Salt Point always gives me a gift I thought, whether it is the formations, the crashing waves, or the light. Today’s gift would be unique. I wanted to take a shot of a rock wall with fascinating striations and inclusions, but it was too near the roiling water. My spot comprises a fairly small piece of outcrop extending maybe 50 feet from the bottom of the hillside. There is a gap between it and a farther outcrop creating a trough about 10 feet wide. The waves hit the first formation, spray up, pour over the rocks, and run down into the trough. Periodically, one wave hits the outer rock while another is still swirling around in the gap. The double volume of water means a spray onto the second formation where I shoot. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Sadly, I did not.
I had seen more than one spectacular crash against both sets of rocks. Earlier there had been couple entwined with each other on top of a rock watching the waves when they were unexpectedly doused. The woman lept up looking quite frightened, trying to both escape the water and hang onto her man. I was scared watching them on that narrow high ledge, and became extra vigilant. I decided to shoot as far from the edge as possible. I pointed the camera toward some undulating ripples of stone and watched the waves carefully. Then under the darkcloth, focus, dart out and look at waves, tell self it is fine, you are far away from the danger zone, apply loupe to ground glass etc etc. Boom! I exit the darkcloth in alarm and see the biggest wave yet shooting spray high into the air. I realize it will easily reach me. There is nowhere to retreat, nor time in which to do it, so I hold fast to the tripod (yeah, it’ll save me all right!) and close my eyes. The water hits the camera, drenches me from head to foot, and swirls around my feet and up my calves, trickling down into my boots and soaking my socks.
I am a bit shaken.
After a few moments I do what I have to do: I dry off my lens and I take the picture, which, in an almost predictable irony, turns out to be the best of the day. But I also pack up everything and head back. I wasn’t done. I am annoyed. I decide to come back on Monday.
The next day I download an app that tells me all kinds of info about tides and swell and wind speed and temperature and moonrise. According to what my feeble brain could understand, it appeared that the swell would not be quite so high on Monday. I opt to take the Big Camera this time, a first for this location. I am hoping a change in size will help me see things a little differently and provide a new size for my gravure plates.
I carried just 4 holders–2 each of 4×10 and 8×10. That was still 8 shots, which, at my speed, would account for several hours. They wouldn’t fit in my pack so I slung them in a bag over my shoulder, put the tripod over the other and my backpack inbetween. I got to my preferred location at about 1:30. There was little wind, the sun was shining (drat) and the sea swell was mild.
Because I am a special kind of ignorant, I was surprised at how much I needed to alter my compositions for 8×10. Duh! If you set up like 5×7–which I have been doing for over a year–then you will have all kinds of extraneous real estate. In any case, I shot an 8×10 and 3 4x10s in fairly rapid succession. I did one 8×10 on the edge of the trough (nerve-wracking!) only to discover that a) my shutter didn’t work and b) there was water behind the front lens element, courtesy of Friday. Likely they were related, eh? Cleaned the lens, shutter started working again, but I had to re-do the shot just in case.
By 3:30 I was down to one 4×10 and I started to scout for a shot. I crossed what for me is a psychological border between the side of the outcrop I usually shoot and the side I walk over to get there. There on the seldom-shot side I saw a magnificent scene, perfect for 4×10. Rushing back for my kit, I turned my ankle. Crap, I said to myself, I better be careful. If I break anything down here I’m screwed. I had seen all of 2 people in over 3 hours–and they were together. Oh wisdom of the little ignored voice, I hail thee.
As quickly as I could I shot a scene of what my friend David calls his mushroom rock. Ha! It is obviously a sentinel of the sea– a head shaped hoo-doo with a distinct profile. There was a tide pool and a sunlit ribbon of rock meandering through it. I had never seen the phenomenon before–and probably never will again because Salt Point is different every time I go. If I got that shot, I thought, it’s gonna be a winner, and this 8×10 and 4×10 business could be the beginning of a beautiful new relationship with the place.
I packed up, put my sunglasses on, and started the trek back to the truck, immediately breaking one of my cardinal clambering-over-rocks-and-other-uneven-surfaces rules. My sunglasses have progressive lenses which distort objects leading to misjudging vertical distances. The rule is to remove them. Wearing glasses, it should not have come as a surprise that I saw a brand new ledge on the first rock I needed to climb, one that I had never noticed before. Funny, I said to myself, funny I didn’t see that before–it’s in just the right position for my left foot. I don’t remember seeing it on the way down, or in fact ever. It’s so handy! But instead of alarm bells going off as they should, my little brain was aswirl with the question of whether or not I had bagged that last shot. Did I or didn’t I? So, I grasped the rock and put my foot on the alleged ledge. Assuming all my considerable weight, augmented by equipment, my foot slid off the ledge-that-wasn’t and down the rock, twisting in my boot. It was most unpleasant. I sat atop the rock (how did I get up there?) telling myself to breathe. The pain subsided and I resumed the climb-except that my appendage couldn’t take any weight without vigorous protest. This was not only unpleasant, it was inconvenient. I tried using the tripod, but it wasn’t much use. Instead, I combined hopping, butt sliding, whining, and walking on my heel to get up the rocks.
It was comical really. I would look at a pile of rocks and nearly cry wondering how I was going to get over it. But I had no choice. Even if someone did come along, how could they effectively help me, aside from taking the equipment? Help me crawl? When I got up to the path at last, I could walk on my heel, but uneven ground meant touching the bottom of my foot, which didn’t feel nice. There was one more set of rocks to climb and I remember sniffling and saying to myself how angry Sir was going to be with me for being so dumb. A runner came up behind me and passed, the only person I saw in my nearly 1 mile hobble and shuffle back to the parking lot. It did not occur to me to stop him–I was just thankful I hadn’t been talking to myself at that moment, having my own whiny little pity party.
I have never in my life been so happy to see my truck Wanda. Among her many stellar qualities, she has a clutch, a feature I was not quite so enamored of today. I had to figure out how to press it for the 2 hour drive home. The alternative was to wait until Sir got home from work an hour hence and have him drive 2 hours up the coast, trade vehicles, and then 2 hours home on top of the hour and a half commute he’d already had. No. Not an idea I really wanted to entertain. Finding that pushing with my toes was effective enough, I texted Sir saying I had hurt my foot and to get himself something to eat out of the freezer. I confess I did not change gears quite as often as I might, but I managed.
The next day I got the wonderful boot I am now sporting. I had to take a week off work to rest. (Incredibly boring since I couldn’t really do anything. At one point I entered the darkroom and the boot got hung up in midair on the industrial Velcro that holds the door shut. There it was suspended and firmly caught while I tried to balance well enough to bend over and pull it off.)
The good part is that the larger format was a success and that last shot of the day turned out nicely. The bad part is that I cannot take walks, drive very well (I can’t feel the pedal through the boot), shoot landscape, or really be on my foot much. It started swelling the other day which necessitated another x-ray (it is healing) and an admonition from the doctor to stay off it until my podiatrist appointment in another week. I wonder if walking to the store, driving my truck, getting up and down at work, shopping, and laundry had anything to to do with it? Or possibly just neglecting to elevate it altogether…?
I’m taking this as an opportunity to make prints in place of my obsession and anxiety driven pursuit of negatives. The negative, I need to remind myself, is just the beginning of a process that is limited only by my imagination and I am not going to get world famous while all my ideas still reside in my head.