Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Old Man and the Sea

Originally posted at JPG Magazine dot com on 17 April 2008

My friend Mike and I are both retired military and living the expatriate life in Okinawa Japan. Avid amateur photographers, he and I now make it a point to get together at least once every couple of weeks to go out shooting our cameras. We usually get off some pretty good shots but sometimes, more often than not, it's an excuse to get away from our wives and regain a little sense of sanity in our lives.

Both of us recent converts, we wish we had taken up the hobby much, much earlier on. Often we lament the fact that if we had saved all that money we wasted going out drinking and chasing women in our wilder youth, we'd both be professional photographers now and sporting Nikon D3's vice the cameras we now have. Admittedly, his camera equipment is quite a bit better than mine. Fortunately for me I am learning a lot more about the craft just from getting out and about with him.

We tried to make an early start of it that day but the weather that morning was threatening. Instead of going out and facing the possibility of getting soaked, we retreated to what I will refer to as his study. There we got out our laptop computers and started to edit photos we each had taken only a few days before and posting them on some of the various sites we both visit. By lunch time the threatening weather looked to be over. But it was still overcast and getting warm. We decided to wait until after 3pm when the lighting would be better and the probability of finding a shady spot to wait would be greater.

When 3pm came along, we went out to a spot where he goes and quite often gets some really great shots of egrets feeding along the shore and ospreys soaring overhead. We picked a spot under the brush near the shoreline and waited. This spot gave us a pretty good view of the bay and the sun would be off to our right. This gave us a great chance for a shot at anything coming from the north and east. After about an hour or so, it appeared that the God's were conspiring against us. I had about an hour drive back to my home as well as a whole list of "honey do" things to pick up before heading back.

As we made our way back toward his house along the shoreline to drop him off, he suddenly perked up and said to me "Doc, get a load of that!" He had spotted an old man, probably well into his 80's walking along the beach with a cast net slung over his shoulder. Mike's practically deaf from his days in the military so he tends to speak more loudly than normal. He's got a booming voice to boot. He practically popped both my ear drums when he excitedly said "pull over hear, we gotta get this, this is a story for you man! This is old Okinawa!"

We pulled off the narrow beach road and got both our cameras out. We stayed in the car so as not to disturb him. The old man walked the water's edge looking intently into the waves. He'd walk a few steps and then stop for a moment. He'd look a little more and then continue on. It was obvious that he was following a small school of fish swimming along the shore. We hadn't shot a single thing all day and now here we were sitting in the car like private detectives on a stake out. Our camera shutters were clicking like mad. It was as if we had been waiting and watching for a cheating spouse to leave a motel with someone to whom they were not married.

To our delight, the old man didn't seem to mind that we were taking his picture at all. He glanced our way on several occasions and slyly smiled back at us. It was the smile of someone who knows something you don't. He walked up the beach about another 20-30 meters and paused near a large rock. On more than one occasion it appeared as though he was readying himself to cast the net, only to relax his shoulders and lower it. We observed this scene repeat itself at least a half dozen times before he turned and returned to his bucket that contained his supplies and his catch for the day.

Although we didn't actually see this old man cast his net and bring in a big catch, it was a thing of beauty to watch this old master studying the waves and stalking his prey. We both realized that we had the opportunity to see a master in action. Our afternoon out wasn't really a total waste after all.

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