Mikeal S. Dixon | San Josef Bay: Finding complete success in total failure

San Josef Bay: Finding complete success in total failure

February 13, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

One of the things I remember from math class is that if you stack just the right amount of negative factors into an equation your result will turn out positive. I am, by nature, a fairly positive person. I find that being negative takes far to much energy and rarely takes me anywhere I want to go. Recently, I went on one of those ‘photo adventures’ where nothing went as planned and few, if any, of the amazing images that were floating in my head came into being. But, like always, in the end a deep breath and a look back brings a smile to my face.

Friday night found me in Port Hardy, British Columbia, the northern most point of civilization on Vancouver Island. I had just spent a rain-filled three days on a photo assignment for my ‘real’ job. I was tired, wet and more than a little frustrated but Saturday was the day I was going to explore someplace new and take amazing photographs for myself.

The plan? The plan was to get up early, drive across 40 miles of ‘improved’ logging roads and arriving at the Cape Scott Provincial Park. I would then hike a little over a mile and arrive at the remote and ancient beaches of San Josef Bay just in time for low tide. I would then spend an amazingly productive day on and around the beach. I would capture all of the images that were on my somewhat atypical shot list. This shot list included images to be used later as backgrounds for composites that involve my grandkids playing with dinosaurs (you should see them in my head they are awesome), slow motion video of cashing waves and photos to create a series of images that my mind had already titled ‘Ancient Zen’. I would start the journey back  at dusk with a couple memory cards full of photos and video, several dead batteries and lots of empty Cliff Bar wrappers. What actually happened is a different story.

The forecast was for rain but it was supposed to be heaviest in the afternoon so I started west in the dark. I successfully found the turn off, navigated a fancy rental car over 40 miles of dirt logging roads and found my way to Cape Scott. After wandering around a deserted campground and driving through an even more deserted maintenance area of some sort, I finally came upon the parking lot for the promised trail head. I was definitely the only one around for a long ways. I packed up, read the information at the trail head and started off on the short hike. It was sprinkling, kind of grey and everything was dripping wet. Soon (1.7 kilometers according to the sign) the thick temperate rain forest opened up as the San Joseph river broke out and entered the bay.

As expected, the scene that opened up in front of me was out-of-this-world amazing and completely overwhelmed the senses. In short it was awesome. As I have learned to do, I found a soft rock on the edge of the tidal zone and looked over what was in front of me. I let the initial shock wear off and started looking at the smaller pieces that made up the whole … I started to let the place tell its story. There was an amazing old stump covered in jewels directly in front of me and I figured it was a good place to start. A few shots later I found an angle that I liked. The bay felt old, remote and untouched. It was a wild place and I definitely felt like I was only a temporary observer there. As I crossed the sand I came across the only other footprints on the sand. Finding only a few foot prints on a beach is a photographers dream, right? But, these were footprints that immediately brought to memory the ‘This Is Wolf Country’ sign I read at the trail head. I am not a experienced tracker but even I could tell a couple things. These tracks were huge. These tracks were very fresh and the claws attached to the paws that made them were very long. A thousand thoughts rattled around my mind. In various forms they alternated between: Holy cow that's a huge wolf … I'm going to die. And, wolves don't attack humans. And, lone wolf tracks crossing the pristine sands of a remote beach. How cool is that? I must take a picture. I set up and framed a shot but I must have been distracted because I didn't notice that the camera’s rain cover was hanging in front of part of the lens in every frame. I came to the conclusion that the wolf tracks were going away from me and headed back into the trees. I figured he/she was in the trees laughing at the nervous man in a black rain coat taking pictures of sticks in the sand. And, if I were eaten it would at least be said that I met my end at the hand, or paw, or tooth of a Canadian Grey Wolf on a remote beach on the western shores of British Columbia. That's kind of cool.

With my fate left to chance, I soon noticed the small, really cool sea stacks that brought me here in the first place. The rain picked up and it got darker. I took a couple random shots but it was soon a coastal downpour. I made sure all of my gear was protected, gave up on photography and just wandered around the sea stacks and sea caves for an hour or so. I don't know if it was the rain, the eyes I knew was watching me or both but I soon felt the urge to gather up and start my journey back. I wasn't to worried but I did look behind me a lot. That's what a good photographer does, right? I did pack my tripod, fully extended over my shoulder. I once told my wife while hiking in southern Utah that it was a cougar beater. I guess it could be a wolf beater as well. I also took a nice deep breath when I got back to that lonely car in the parking lot.

I didn't get any of the shots I went there to get but as I sat in a small restaurant called Captain something-or-other eating disappointing fish and chips, I smiled. For me, my personal photography is an excuse to explore this world I am a part of. It is a link to an experience. Pictures are an added bonus that records my memories and helps me tell stories. I was a little disappointed that I was going to return home without the pictures I came to get but I had acquired so much more. For example:

  • I was able to explore the culture and watch the people of a small port town filled with fisherman and loggers. Many of which were buying lottery tickets in hopes of a better life.
  • I traveled 40 miles of dirt road with the history of 60 years of logging presented to me on signs and in the landscape.
  • I broke every rule I ever taught boy scouts for many years as I hiked alone in remote unknown country.
  • Did I mention I saw wolf tracks in the sand of a remote beach on the western shores of British Columbia?
  • I once again drank unfiltered water directly from cold rain fed streams in a forest … And lived. I did this my entire childhood. I didn't know it was bad.
  • I spent time in a wild and ancient place that told stories of its resistance to settlement.
  • I watched, listened to and felt heavy rain as it rolled in off of the seemingly unending Pacific Ocean.
  • I survived and have mental pictures that will last forever.

For this old photographer it was as close as I'll ever get to competing in those crazy x-games events.

And now? After a week or two of rest … would I do it again?

Sign me up. Maybe I can get those dinosaur zen pictures this time.


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