by Rivalyn Zweig
If photography is all about the light, then ‘Magic Hour’ is the ‘ultimate’ of phenomenal light– the incredible glow of light that photographers covet. The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are both called ‘the magic hour’ because when the sun is low in the sky, the soft, diffused light casts a spectacular warm glow. It also casts long shadows and highlights textures, but mostly, though, it’s about the glow. It makes you want to wrap yourself up in it. Something magical, like a superhero’s cape.
One wintry Friday, it’s the hour before sunset, but it is windy and sooty grey. There will be no warm, marvelous glow in this overcast, threatening sky. I quickly head toNorthwestHarborfor a much needed walk anyway. No ‘Magic Hour’ photo-op; no cameras.
AtNorthwestHarbor, a thin finger of land separates the Creek from the Harbor. This is a rare vista in theHamptons. No buildings, no lights, no wires. Pristine. One can imagine what this place was like a few hundred years ago. Just a few years ago, a dozen wayward dolphins were mysteriously lured and then stranded in the Creek.
Perhaps the dolphins sensed something extraordinary about this place and didn’t want to leave. But then again, they were lost.
As I turn a corner on the reedy sand path, I find the Harbor totally enveloped in a charcoal smudged mist. A sudden seaborne wind surprises me and whips sand into my face. From this stretch of the harbor, called Stratton’s Beach, I can barely see the Cedar Point Lighthouse in the distance. My vision blurred by the darkening of pre-storm nightfall, I quicken my step but stop in my tracks at an unfamiliar sight. A large grey lump is heaped against the tallest sand dune. Rocks? This lump is not a rock. This lump, is a small, young seal, far from the shore, and not moving.
I fumble for my cell phone to reach Larry Penny ofEast Hampton’s Natural Resources Dept. He’ll know what to do. But it’s Friday, after4 pm, and there’s no answer. A few calls later, a friend gives me the number for the Riverhead Marine Foundation, which has a 24-hour answer line. I connect with a human, who tells me to wait there, with the seal, until someone returns my call.
So now it is me and the seal. The seal and me.
I have never been this close to a seal. I don’t know if it is sick or injured or why it is in a heap, far from shore. I move closer, nervously. The seal sensing my presence, starts to move. It is alive! It lifts its head and looks directly at me with soulful dark eyes; its lashes crusted by sand. My heart melts at its seeming helplessness.
I am curious, cautious, concerned but also… afraid.
The last time I saw seals in theHamptons, was many years ago. I lured my daughter, then, age 7, to get up early on a winter Sunday to see migrating seals on the rocks off Montauk. The walk was very long. The wind was snappy, and the few seals on the distant jetties, were a disappointment. It was a long walk back and it was a long time before we went on another winter walk together.
This time, however, it’s a very close encounter, and I’m alone.
There is no playbook. No guidebook tips on ‘what to do when encountering a stranded seal’. While waiting for a call back, my black fisherman’s hat blows out to sea. In its recovery, my feet get wet and rather chilled. I stamp my feet to keep warm and try to take cell phone photographs. My fingers freeze and the wind slaps me around. Brrrr. How long do I have to wait for phone instructions?
What do I do now? I remind myself to do what I do when I face sudden challenges, or need to fill an anxious wait. Talk. It may be a girl thing, but it works for me.
So I talk to the seal…
I’m not going to hurt you. (Pause)