Single-Image Sunday: Last Light is First Light   19 comments

I’m a photographer who gets way more pumped up about the photography than the camera equipment.  But I do occasionally get jazzed about gear.  When I buy a camera or lens brand new, its first light is something to be celebrated.  I buy used quite a lot, so when I get something that has never seen light enter it, I want to make it special.

I had just arrived in the little town of Pacific City, Oregon.  I was late because of too many little detours along the way.  Having not visited the piece of heaven called the Oregon Coast for a long time, I was very excited.  I missed sunset at Cape Kiwanda, but while searching for a place to camp, I came upon an arm of the Little Nestucca River estuary that looked quite nice in the evening light.  Since I got my kayak, I’m constantly on the lookout for cool places to park and drop it in the water.  It was too late for that, but estuaries are one of my favorite environments (see below), so I stopped.

Though I really couldn’t afford it, I recently bought a new lens.  It is a 21 mm. f/2.8 prime lens made by Carl Zeiss: manual-focus only, all metal construction.  The very last of the day’s light was backlighting some flowers blooming on the bank of the estuary, so I decided this would be first light for my new lens.  The exposure was long at 25 seconds, so the flowers have a little bit of blur from the small breeze.  But the sharpness and color rendition are Zeiss-like for sure!

Estuary of the Little Nestucca, Oregon Coast.  21 mm., 25 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200.

Estuary of the Little Nestucca, Oregon Coast. 21 mm., 25 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200.


Estuaries are where rivers meet the sea.  All sorts of interesting things take place in these transition zones.  They’re not just fascinating in a biological sense, but also in a geomorphic and geological sense as well.  Abundant sediment from the river gets strung out by waves and longshore currents into spits and bars, forming embayments.  Sedimentary features of estuaries show the influence of tide, delta and waves, with of all sorts of burrowing life marking the strata.  And so ancient estuaries, while fairly rare, stick out prominently in the ancient rock record.

But it’s the mix of freshwater and marine life that makes modern estuaries so interesting and productive for fishing.  Life is in delicate balance, and because humans like to settle along estuaries, they are under threat worldwide.  With the salt-tolerant grasses and other plants forming shelter, estuaries are nurseries for a huge number of species.   Pollution hits the young especially hard.  Sediment tainted by humans covers oyster beds, killing them.  Overfishing and pollution both reduce crabs and fish dramatically.

I grew up near the shore of the biggest estuary in North America, the Chesapeake Bay.  I remember fishing and crabbing as a kid in the summer.  I can still feel the cool mud squishing between my toes as we walked from crab line to crab line.  For us, a crab line was simply a thick piece of string, one end tied to a stick sunk in the mud and the other tied around an old piece of chicken (which we’d get from the store before they threw them out).

You threw the chicken in the water from shore, let a little time go by, then while one person waited with a long-handled net, the other slowly drew the string into shore.  As soon as you could tell there was a crab (or crabs) dining on the chicken, you scooped them up.

Later that day you steamed the crabs live in a big pot with Bay Seasoning, the live crustaceans making a huge racket.  Newspaper was spread on a picnic table.  Wooden mallets in hand, we would feast on fresh Maryland blue crab!  Sadly, these days crabs can’t be caught by kids along the shore using such simple methods.  And the oyster beds are a tiny fraction of what they once were.

Let’s hope humans can get their act together before these precious ecosystems are rendered sterile.  I would love it if, one day in the near future, young boys and girls could once again tramp down to the bayshore and make memories crabbing and fishing.

19 responses to “Single-Image Sunday: Last Light is First Light

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  1. That is one fabulous shot Mike! I envy those who grow up in such an environment as you did. My only experience with blue crab was when we lived and worked in Maryland for a couple of years.

  2. Beautiful photo. I love the flowers in the foreground.

  3. Beautiful photo, as always, Michael. And what an intriguing method of catching crabs – I certainly learned something new from you today, and for a change it wasn’t about photography!

  4. What an achingly beautiful photo! I hear you about the estuaries. My grandmother lived on one in the West of Ireland and my sisters and I used to wade out at low tide to shrimp. So many wonderful sense memories, not the least, the taste of those tiny little crustaceans, boiled pink and nutty sweet.
    Curious to know if you have any recommendations for good hikes. We’ll be visiting Oregon for the first time later this month and staying in Mazanita and Mosier for a couple of days each before stopping in Portland. All the best, Melissa

    Melissa Shaw-Smith
    • Thank you Melissa, very much. Manzanita is very beautiful and a perfect place to spend time at the coast. Hike up Neahkanie Mtn., from the trailhead that is up a little dirt road from Hwy. 101 just north of Manzanita. Either come back down the same way and then do the following in another hike, or just continue down the other side, cross the highway and out to the edge (it’s not Moher but it’s spectacular). Then down to Short Sands Beach and on out to Cape Falcon, and back. If someone could pick you up at Short Sands it would be a perfect traverse of about 7 miles. Otherwise Cape Falcon is a short hike from Short Sands. Definitely check out Short Sands Beach, which is a short walk from the highway and a great place to picnic. Little Mosier is perfect for the Gorge, but also for Mt. Hood. Drive south from Hood River on Hwy. 35 and do the Tamanawas Falls trail. Another very pretty place not far from Hood River is Lost Lake. You can rent a canoe, and it’s a fantastic place to watch the sunset with Mt. Hood. A trail circles the lake or goes up Lost Lake Butte. If you have a fair amount of time and want to check out off-track places in the Gorge I’d pick up a little book called “Curious Gorge”. Have fun!!!

      • Thank you so much! Really appreciate you taking the time to pass on this fount of information. And can’t wait to explore your state. If you’re ever in the Hudson Valley, NY, the Berkshires of MA, or Ireland, I’d be happy to reciprocate. Happy trails! Melissa

        Melissa Shaw-Smith
      • Other than working one autumn in western Connecticut, New England is really a blank spot for me. I’ve been to Ireland once but would love to go back (it was really a trip for my mom and her geneaology). But I know exactly where I’d live if I could, about halfway between the Dingle and the Ring of Kerry, sort of a quiet little agricultural area, a real “banana belt”. I’d love to show you personally at least a bit of the Gorge but I’m going to be out of state for quite awhile, just left (sadly).

  5. This is one of my favorites!

  6. Absolutely stunning! Lovely composition 🙂

  7. Beautiful spot. And a wonderful shot to remember it by.

  8. What a stunning image! And the post evoked some wonderful imagery.

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