Yesterday started weirdly even for me: awake around 2:30am and stepping out into blackness and perfect silence at exactly 3:30, since one of the features of my variety of insomnia is that I fall sleep easily but wake for no reason anywhere from a few to five or six (if I’m lucky) hours later. Wide awake, painfully awake. And it’s usually futile to lie there waiting for sleep to seep back in; might as well do something useful.
For the last few weeks it’s been particularly bad. I do have a lot on my mind, and for part of every day there’s a knot of mild anxiety in my gut that vanishes completely when I’m lining up a shot, or enjoying a particularly sublime dawn, or thinking about long-term plans — even ideas for blog posts, believe it or not. Another annoying feature of my psychology is that my mind likes devising and settling into its own idiosyncratic rhythms. One day it figures, “This waking up hours before dawn caper is working out pretty damned nicely. Think I’ll do it every day until I tire of it, screw what he wants.”
On the plus side, I don’t need to set an alarm, and it’s perversely satisfying to beat the freaking birds to sun-up; if only I could whistle. Yesterday I smiled as I imagined myself tracking down the local butcher bird nest, creeping up under the tree and shrieking “GOOD MORNING, BASTARDS!” till they dropped to the ground in fright.
It’s stuff like that that keeps me going sometimes.
Anyway, it turned out beautifully, as it usually does, and I’ll have some pictures to share soon. But on the way home, with my energy starting to drizzle out, I remembered it was Halloween, Kate’s favourite holiday (her words), and a day I’d hoped to celebrate with her before our plans were disrupted. All those homegrown pumpkins (powdery mildew got most of ’em anyway), her family coming over with their kids to trawl her neighbourhood for free junk food, a licence to scare children without social sanctions. It never used to be a big deal in Australia, but is increasingly popular as decades of American TV and movie excess overrun our cultural borders. I started thinking about some small but appropriately spooky gesture I could make to share this unholiest of holy days with Kate in spirit.
I could post a spooky picture, but all I could find in my files was this:
And maybe this:
And then there’s this:
But damn, that stuff ain’t spooky, really, that’s just daily life. And then I had a chat with Kate on Skype (14 hours behind in New York, so it wasn’t Halloween there yet), and my standard nap, and when I woke I had an idea of sorts and I was on the road again.
I stopped in at the local supermarket, where an early influx of Christmas junk had lately sacrificed the limelight for hordes of stuff featuring spider webs, witches’ hats and a cornucopia of bright orange cucurbits in various stages of demonic torment. The staff, some scary on a normal day, had presumably been directed to adopt ghoulish attire and makeup, and I was surprised to find that the Halloween section had been thoroughly picked over. I wasn’t going to spend $12 on a (Chinese) Jack-o’-lantern piñata, and the few remaining costumes, sadly, were all for five-year-olds, not 50-year-olds (ageism in action), but I quickly (and cheaply) improvised, stopped in for a can of Black Douglas Whisky & Dry next door, and headed for the waterfront.
By the time I reached the pier…
..my can was empty and the Halloween spirit was moaning enthusiastically down my veins.
Suddenly my whole world began spookening up…
..but the winds hurling spray from a turbulent sea over lucky pedestrians, myself included, were no less ferocious as I left the path and began rock-hopping around Shorncliffe.
Crouching behind the only available shelter, I dug out my prizes, a 5-cent balloon and some tapered candles, and began assembling a budget-priced Haunted Grotto:
Sadly, it’s most difficult to light a candle in a 20-knot nor’easter, and I had to save the candles for my next romantic dinner with myself. Not to worry, the festivity of my Halloween party for one should be obvious:
I was having a rollicking good time, but it wasn’t to last. Jack’s remarkable resilience in these hostile conditions could only last so long, and with an emphatic pop he rejoined his kin in the spirit world:
Well, the party was just about over and it was nearly time for twilight and the traditional walking of the Earth by the Undead, no time to be dawdling on slippery rocks in salt spray-laden winds. I rounded the headland…
..passed another photographer, fellow Denizen of the Dark, aiming at Baxter’s Jetty at the Cabbage Tree Creek mouth, and squatted down on the bank for a couple more shots — these are five-, six- and eight-second exposures respectively:
Home was half an hour away, and all the way I could hear the shrieks and laughter of children: Halloween parties, almost non-existent when I was a kid. I even encountered, for my first time ever in Australia, a couple of costumed kids and their parents going trick-or-treating — appropriately enough on the street with the Spookiest House in the whole area:
There aren’t many kids on our street, yet I still passed a large group of pint-sized pirates, witches and their ilk going down the road happily twirling glow-sticks. The times, as Principal Skinner famously remarked, they are becoming quite different.
That was a 13-mile day, but I still made it to the sea before dawn today. On the way I picked up a splendid remnant of the night’s celebrations, and found more reminders scrawled in the sand…
..where I joined a fellow beach-goer…
..to plant my prize in a suitably dramatic location and await the show:
Seabirds in their hundreds were foraging as the tide receded. I believe these are bar-tailed godwits, which winter here after a journey from the tundra that is reputedly the longest known non-stop flight of any bird and also the longest journey without pausing to feed by any animal:
Up came the sun…
..and when the first part of the show was over, I retrieved my trident and moved south a little ways for another angle:
A man walked into frame, and positioned himself perfectly with his coffee:
“This is awesome!” I said to myself, quite satisfied with the development; unpredictability is one of the things I love about photography. He watched, fascinated, for a while, and then said, “What are you taking a picture of?”
“Well, the sunrise — and you.”
“It’s a wide-angle lens. You’re giving me an excellent silhouette.”
He didn’t know what I was talking about; he was swaying a little, and his “coffee” was in fact a large glass of beer. It was 5:13am.
He continued watching me while we talked and I peered through the viewfinder. He said he worked in a local pub, had finished at 12:30 and decided, “I’m gonna have a beer!” Five hours later, it evidently still seemed like an excellent idea. I asked where he lived and he gave me the names of two adjacent streets (?), then confessed that, “Jeez, it’s bloody beautiful down here! Look at all those bloody birds! I don’t usually come down here, eh? I’m gonna have to come down here more often! Look at that, it’s bloody marvellous!”
I left him there, still marvelling, and wandered up to Mug Shots and my reward. We all celebrate Halloween in our own way…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote