For vacation areas, such as the ocean, mountains, or lakes, the tourist season is filled with a happy energy, and a lot of people. The off-season is a different experience: solitary instead of social; calm instead of excited. The sounds of families or boat engines are replaced by seagulls or snowshoes.
These vacation areas are easy to overlook when out of season. But, to me, this is the time to enjoy these areas in a whole new way: you can travel further without hitting traffic and find new restaurants; you can shop in stores that are open without needing to move sideways down crowded aisles; you can stroll along the water without meandering around beach chairs. You have much more of the place to enjoy as you choose.
Off-season trips are a great way to see a favorite area in a new light. This not only can keep it fresh, but can also deepen your appreciation of it.
Recently, I stood on a bridge, overlooking a river flowing out to the ocean and butting up against an incoming tide. The sun hadn't yet cleared the horizon. The trees were bare and the summer homes were shuttered. No cars drove by. The only sounds were the water, the sea gulls, and the breeze. It was the first morning of Daylight Savings and the first with a warm and gentle wind that felt as if spring's arrival could be counted in days or, at worst, weeks. But not months. In an oceanfront community, this first day that feels like spring only happens once each year - and only in the off-season .
A couple days after Thanksgiving, I strolled alone in the pre-dawn light, on Maine's southern coast. I'd already taken a number of photos over the prior few days. I was wandering along the beach before finally finding an area in which the water of the outgoing tide was still just deep enough to reflect the sun once it crested the horizon. Plus, the large rock in the middle of a tidal pool might catch the soft glow of the early light or reflect off the water.
Liking this spot, I sat on a boulder, waiting patiently for the sun to make its appearance. Just a few people scattered themselves up and down the beach, mostly alone and giving each other their space. But, I noticed one couple gradually moving closer. Eventually, I realized our paths would cross, and worried it would impede my photo.
However, when the couple reached the water seeping seaward from that small tidal pool, they paused. I stopped lining up my photo on my iPhone, instead studying them through the screen.
The man let go of the woman's hand and looked at the water a moment. He picked his route, tiptoed quickly and delicately across, and turned back to face her. She hesitated, and turned to look at the ocean as if contemplating whether to enjoy it on opposite sides of the receding tidal pool. That's when I snapped a photo.
She then followed his path, where he waited to again hold her hand. Reunited, they resumed their casual journey down the beach. His finding a safe route across and to waiting patiently for her, her trust in following, and their holding hands all were small acts. But they also were insights into their relationship: a couple in love, each better because of the other; willing to help and to trust. In its own brief way, it was a much more intimate and beautiful moment than the sunrise that quickly followed.
My favorite mountain biking trails are luckily not far from home. The drive is quick but passes a couple of farms, apple orchards, and climbs a hill with a great view. A minute before the trail head stands this small, old barn. It's nothing major: a couple of stalls and some other stall or room on the far end. But it exudes a pleasantness. It's quiet, off the beaten path, somewhat forgotten, worn-down. I sometimes drive slowly past, wondering about its past, how old it is, and what its future might hold.
This summer, I saw the field behind it suddenly piling up with truckloads of clean fill. And when riding on the edge of the trails near this field, I saw clear-cutting well into the woods. So, sadly, a neighborhood of McMansions will apparently be erected, and this barn's days are numbered.
As autumn progresses and another riding season winds down, I won't drive that road much longer. So, on a recent cold morning, I decided to head up there for a sunrise. Sipping my coffee in the crisp air, and watching the sun break over the horizon on the far side of the field, I enjoyed the moment. This barn has stood for decades, been disregarded by an overwhelming amount of cars passing by, but is actually beautiful. When you stop and study, it has great grains in the untreated wood, character from the neglect, and colorful trees on the far side of the field. When the sun shone through the wood boards, it completed a picturesque but solitary moment. I don't know if it will remain next spring, and everything has a shelf-life. But I know I'll be glad that I chose to not drive by it this time, instead appreciating it and that moment.
Sometimes, change is only recognized afterwards; you look back and see that you'd crossed some line or you suddenly realize something's different. Other times, you can understand that you'rein a moment of change.
I had a great summer this year. Every Friday off of work, telecommuting on Mondays, more time to enjoy photographing sunrises and to de-stress from work with friends and family. Amid some bigger challenges going on, there were so many little moments that were really great.
As we walked our dog, hunted casually for beach glass, and walked seemingly forever in our shorts and flip flops, we sometimes chatted and sometimes allowed ourselves to get lost in our thoughts. It was a great opportunity to reflect back, to appreciate the moments I had, was having, and to get closure on a wonderful but brief chapter in my story. Walking off the beach into a captivating sunset, it seemed easier to now seek out new moments as we soak in the beauty offered by autumn in New England.
In early fall, there's that point when you recognize the warm days begin to wane. The sun rises later, sets earlier, nights are cooler, and there aren't too many hot afternoons left to enjoy.
After the adrenaline of mountain biking through the woods one one of these types of days, I was driving home in a slightly different route than usual. I noticed a house I rarely pay attention to. It's old, made of stone, might've been a barn before being restored, and is beautiful. It's front was obscured by a mature hydrangea tree, with another large one by the road.
Spontaneously, I pulled over. After snapping off a couple of quick photos, I just stood. The house lay in shadow, but the late afternoon sun was still shining down on the hydrangea blooms which were now coloring from a healthy white to the burned orange of autumn. I slowed my brain and focused on smelling the outdoors, feeling the sun on my face, and opening my eyes to admire this small scene in front of me; letting my thoughts slow and senses take over was both a calming and invigorating moment.
This summer I've roamed the mid-Cape and a bit of the lower-Cape in search of sunrises and scenes. Recently, I found myself at Breakwater Beach in Brewster, at almost dead-low tide, with the sun almost visible.
As I spied some boats, listing on their sides in the sand, and with no more than a few inches of water covering the beach for a hundred yards out or more, I realized I was afforded the chance to photograph without being stuck fully on dry ground.
I lined up and took my pictures, and lost myself in the moment. But one really cool aspect was watching the sun break free from the horizon while I was ankle-deep in the salt water. Feeling the sand between my toes, smelling the ocean as it gently surrounded me, and splashing slightly as I moved from one position to another, my time felt somehow better spent; more experiential, I guess, from immersing myself in more than just one sense.
As the summer season and these opportunities wind down, this morning became a highlight I'll recall during the colder months to come.
I was up again before the sun, quietly easing from my bed and the house to avoid waking anyone. I headed down to a new spot to photograph that seemed to have some potential.
I was the only person there, originally, and scouted the area to figure out the shots I wanted and places from which to shoot. I'd photographed several when a couple of people arrived.
A guy set up on a bench well off to the side. A woman had an impressive-looking camera and was pretty confident in her shots as she meandered. After a bit, I gave her some space on a long boardwalk out over the marsh so I didn't photo bomb, and I set up nearby for some other pictures.
She was walking off the boardwalk and I couldn't help but ask if she were on Instagram, as I'd be interested in seeing what she captured as a comparison against mine to learn from. After she was reassured that I wasn't a freak, we wound up in a great conversation, with her sharing her passions, the story of how she came to be there at that moment, and asking questions as someone less familiar with the area.
I shared some of my own details and wound up in a great fifteen-minute conversation at 5:30 a.m. with a total stranger on this tiny, otherwise-deserted little beach. It's chance encounters such as this that feel like little bricks in the foundation of a good life.
One of my favorite pictures of my girls and their friends... This picture, to me, captures the essence of childhood summers.
Summer still has weeks to go. On this picturesque day, after hours of fun, the crowds have largely left for their evening barbecues or dinner at a local restaurant. But my kids were still going strong. Each was simultaneously part of a group and alone with her thoughts. The sun cascading across the tidal pool, leaving them as a silhouette seemed fitting - the details are much less consequential than the vibe.
I didn't call for their attention and tried to blend in with the background. Other than taking this picture, I tried to just appreciate that these kids were pleasantly lost in their own heads, sharing a good experience, and that I'd helped create the environment for this moment to happen.