By John Warden
This article was first published in the fall 2016 edition of BC Nature Magazine.
Before we actually moved to the Island, my wife and I rented a vacation home near Sooke, B.C. for several years. We’d stay for the month of June and most mornings, I’d start my day by looking out the patio doors, onto Sooke Basin. The doors and windows though seemed to separate me from the view, so I’d step outside where I could become part of what I was seeing. Then, as often as not, I’d be grabbing my camera gear and setting up my tripod down on the beach and suddenly I’m lost to the call of the light. Other writers and artists speak of the call of the wild, for me though; Emily Carr phrases it most poetically:
Something has called out of somewhere and something in me is trying to answer. It is surging through my whole being like a great river rushing on.
Light is the trigger that launches another journey in my vision quest, to really see, with heightened awareness, the awesome beauty of the natural world around me. Some days, my vision quest only takes me as far as stepping outside. Others days can find my wife Debra and me wandering along the coast.
French Beach is always a favourite destination, especially at low tide when the tidal shelf is exposed. One morning, intending to access the beach from the east end of the park, we turned off of Woodhaven Road onto Seaside Drive and, there was the light, streaming down through the mist. A radiant array of beautiful light, shining down with a silent message... “Look, here’s something special.”
Juan de Fuca Provincial Park is another favourite and one morning we headed for China Beach, hoping for fog. Sunny days are great for action shots and for emphasizing the texture of surfaces, but I was looking for the softer side. I was looking for the dreamy and the feminine, where the sun’s light is filtered and diffused. We followed Highway 14 west from Sooke in low hanging cloud but, as we approached China Beach, the sky was clearing. By the time we parked and were halfway down the footpath to the beach, we were back into cloud and it was a remarkable. The sun was painting the spaces between the dark trees with rays of light. Sunbeams were radiating through the mist, transforming the forest into an ethereal place of awe and wonder. I was set up on the trail with my tripod, camera angled up into the trees when a man and his wife edged by me.
“What are you taking pictures of?”
“It’s the light. Isn’t it amazing?”
Then Debra called from the beach. “You should see the light down here”.
I was torn. The light was already fantastic here on the trail; could it be any better down below? Sure enough, the light was incredible. The fog was glowing with an otherworldly light. Looking out onto the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I saw that there was no sky, no mountains and no boats. Just a single line of glimmering surf, rolling out of the fog, simple and beautiful.
We walked along the shore as the fog turned to mist and then disappeared into sunshine and blue skies. It had been a morning of beautiful light, a blend of the physical and the spiritual, part real and part mystical. We had followed the light into moments of magic.
Light is always around us, but we don’t usually notice it, until it’s hard at work, penetrating fog and mist as sunbeams. And then, it’s marvellous and mysterious.
A third favourite destination along the west shore is Muir Creek Beach where the waves have exposed 25 million year old fossils in the siltstone cliffs. This is a place that oozes history, layer upon layer of history. That particular morning though, it was the light that was calling to me. A trickle of water, falling from the cliff above the beach, had captured the sunlight. I paused for a long, slow look. The water and the sunlight were a directional synergy and Emily Carr speaks of this as well:
Direction [is] what I’m after, everything moving together, relative movement, sympathetic movement, connected movement, flowing, liquid movement.
I took a number of slow shutter speed shots, trying to extend the movement of the falling water, composing the movement and in doing so, adding a layer of emotion. The falling, moving sunlight became a portrait in natural design.
We ascribe all kinds of wonderful qualities and values to light and I’ve used many such adjectives to describe my enlightening experiences along the west shore. Light, though, goes about the business of illumination without regard for our tributes or even our presence. It has no consideration for whether we take the time to see it, or appreciate it, or not. Our thoughtful presence though, can add value. Without us, there would be no one to see that yes, here indeed, is something special.
Carr, E. (1966). Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr. Toronto / Vancouver: Clarke, Irwin & Company Ltd.