Moi, Missing Murres

Sometimes "next time" takes forever to arrive

Of course it’s about seeing the beauty of it. But sometimes, it’s about getting shots of it, too, without which said beauty could ill be shared, here or anywhere. And when you’re as OCD as moi about getting shots that measure up to the natural beauty they’re intended to reflect (to the extent this is even humanly possible?) … well, then time spent in such pursuit truly becomes a lifetime affair. Fortunately for me, there are worse things to obsess about.

Because five years ago, I messed up big time. On that day long ago, as thousands upon thousands of common murres flocked to nest in penguinesque fashion at Yaquina Head, I arrived on scene sporting a brand-new camera bursting with myriad new-tech capabilities, all head-spinningly newfangled to me. Like some wayward wizard waving a brand-new wand possessed of more new-age power than he could even imagine (let alone control), I intrepidly waved that new camera high and low and left and right and all around that incredible scene, managing only in the end to miss the magic of the moment absolutely. As clearly as I could see in my mind’s eye the “floating murre shots” now approximated above, I simply could not conjure up the correct combination of noveau knobs and switches and drop-down menus to modern-camera-capture it. I messed up so bad, it was a miracle that innocent people standing nearby weren’t turned into newts.

“No biggie,” I ruefully rationalized afterward, as awareness of my missed opportunity grew … I’ll get it “next time.”

In nature photography generally — and especially at Yaquina Head, where the only constant is ever-changing weather, most of it foul — “next time” can take forever to arrive … if ever it does.

While plaintively beseeching the Universe to grant me another chance, I could almost convince myself that but a few simple ingredients were necessary to manifest my prayers anew. “All” I really needed was an unusually fair-weather spring season … a few tens of thousands of floating seabirds … a sky blue sea, preferably rolling gently … pristine sunshine on a cloudless morning … and no breeze blowing more strongly than a baby’s breath. As these were precisely the rarified conditions on the incomparably perfect day I was now kicking myself mercilessly for missing, I resolved to guarantee the final ingredient for success myself — patience eternal as necessary — and optimistically commenced to wait for nature to wave her wand, and work her magic, once again.

A year passed, and any hope of recouping “next time” quickly was quickly dashed when too few murres returned even to reproduce successfully, let alone fill my viewfinder with the holy grail of shots driving my quest.

When season two rolled around the following year, my work schedule maddeningly kept me away. And my damning sense of guilt silently grew.

Season three briefly teased hope when the murres arrived en masse, but days upon weeks of wet, windy gray weather followed, completely fouling any hope of photography. Insult to injury grew when the inevitable odd sunny day dawned at last — only to reveal an ocean absolutely bereft of floating murres. From somewhere, I swear, I heard Alfred Hitchcock groan in sympathy.

When season four arrived in concert with the covid pandemic, complete with Yaquina Head lockout, it felt like the full weight of the world was arrayed against me, courtesy of karma. Forget “patience eternal” — four long years was plenty long enough to leave me wondering if I’d ever get a second chance.

Forever might be a long time coming, but when the subject is nature, never say never. This year, at long last, I squeaked out a reprieve. It wasn’t much, compared to the incomparable day I missed five years ago, but this spring I managed to “be there” when — for the scant few minutes on just two days during the entire month of April — weather and birds and light came together at Yaquina Head to produce the extravagant sight you see above. And this time, at least, I was prepared with a wand I could properly wield.

So, hooray! “Mission Accomplished,” right? Well … let’s not be hasty. Getting the shots above did mitigate years of anxiety … but when I close my eyes, I can still see the image of that perfect missed day burned five years ago inexorably — and probably eternally — into my mind’s eye.

Thus in all likelihood, expect to see me scanning the waves for floating murres at Yaquina Head again next season, still waiting for a “next time” that, in absolute honesty, I pray never becomes a “last time.”

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