Bump in the night

On my trip to Bodega Bay I wanted to get some night shots. After my day along the headlands, I drove to a nearby restaurant to have dinner. Then, as darkness fell, I headed out back to where I had been previously. As the last remnants of the sunset faded away, I climbed down a rocky path to the beach lit only with a small flashlight in my hand.

I set up my tripod and camera near the water’s edge and started my time-exposures. I turned off the flashlight so that my eyes would become accustomed to the darkness. In a few minutes, even the faintest stars were visible to my eyes. The Milky Way became a glowing mist against the darkened sky. What little light there was reflected off the sea, and I could also just barely discern the white sands of the beach from the silhouette of the darker rocky crags of the surrounding bluffs. I used the flashlight to check my settings a few more times while shooting but stopped because I didn’t like having my eyes re- acclimatize to the brightness and the darkness each time.

I’ve taken night shots before and enjoyed the serenity that the night brings. I was usually with another person or two, though. Being by myself on the darkened beach lit only by starlight, my mind began playing tricks on me. There was no one else around, no cars in the parking lot other than mine. I think part of it was the roar of the wind and pounding of the waves against the shore. There was enough noise that I wouldn’t be able to hear someone or something approaching from behind until it was too late. I kept looking over my shoulder periodically.

I felt a little too exposed out there, so I decided climb back up the bluff to where my car was parked. If anything, it was darker there than on the beach. There was no pristine sand or vast ocean for the little light to bounce off of, just a starlit sky and the surrounding inky blackness.

I continued shooting. Part of it was that time-exposures take just that: time. For 30 seconds to a minute for each shot there is plenty of time for one’s mind to think of things both rational and irrational. I’ve been in many dicey places and situations in my career with nary a worry. But in the darkness in the middle of nature my mind began to race. I tried to suppress the thoughts, but they kept coming back. It didn’t help that the man accused of murdering a Fort Bragg city councilman was still at large and reportedly hiding out in the countryside. I knew that Fort Bragg was more than 100 miles away, but my mind made the illogical small-coastal-town-to-small-costal-town connection anyway.

I was fighting that the feeling that there was something out there in the stygian darkness. At first I envisioned a lurking ax murderer. Then my imagination turned to the absurd and thoughts of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” filled my head.

I finally finished shooting and had enough of the hair-standing-on-the-back-of-my-neck feeling, so I packed up my gear and started up my car. Flicking on my headlights, I started to drive out of the dirt parking lot. About 10 or 15 yards from where I was shooting, I saw three pairs of glowing eyes staring back at me from darkness. I hit my high beams, and there were three young deer grazing along the side of the road.

I gave a short beep on my horn to them, more out of embarrassment at my paranoid thoughts than anger at them, and drove on.

So, my instincts were, in part, valid. There was, indeed, something out there beyond my range of sight. Fortunately, it just didn’t live up to the hype that my mind was conjuring.

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