Black OysterCatchers: Crescent Beach
Orcas Island, Washington
By Mingus O'Bannon, Mar 07, 2013
In miserable end-of-winter drizzle I kneel an hour in beach sand and rocks, framing my first shots with a new camera. It doesn’t take long for bare knees to ache cold among beach shrapnel of crushed razor clam shells, broken bivalves, and the detritus leavings of crabs, shrimps, and assorted invertebrates.
The whole world tilts and our little bay begins to ebb. This is the time Oystercatchers feed best. With a chisel like bill they pry limpets from exposed rocks or poke in sands for immature clams or the mad diversity of invertebrates squirming and worming an attempted escape.
I’m alone on the arcing shore of Crescent Beach save one rough figure, head down at the far western edge of now exposed land. This other person turns out to be a bulky woman with sprouts of salt and pepper tangles on her chin. She walks over to me from a long way off. In layers of gray shirts and dirty jeans she stands above me. She relaxes a little when I answer, “Yes, I live on the island.”
We talk about Oystercatchers and cameras and school children walking among nesting pairs just over on Skull Island. It’s amazing the birds abide these intrusions and thrive. She wipes her hands on the hams of her legs. Fog clings to her eyebrows. Without good bye or exchanging names she walks down the beach and crosses the road to her pickup.
I don’t get the shots I want. The camera’s too new. I’m too impatient. The tide slides away from me. Gulls, crows, and two Oystercatchers follow the folding edge of water toward the horizon. A gull drops razor clams from ever greater heights, then dives down to check the damage for a meal. I think of the tide. I think of the gull. I think of Sisyphus. I think of the lady with dirty hands and I think this winter must have an end.