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A span for all seasons

Those few minutes on either side of 7 a.m. are unlike any other in my day.

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    April 2012: Sunrise over the East Bay Hills.
    Photos by Bradley Jay Owens
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I’ve been taking snapshots of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge since 2006. I take the photos from the end of Pier 14, a pedestrian pier that extends 637 feet into San Francisco Bay and happens to be an easy detour on my morning bike commute.

Light and weather vary with the seasons, so the bridge itself is like the morning traffic on its upper deck – reliably present, never quite the same. Stormy days make for more dramatic photos, but I try not to skip the days when nothing obviously picturesque is going on. There’s value in just showing up. 

If I’d skipped a few more days, I might have missed two women rowing, a ferry’s sinuous wake, or 30 brown pelicans, flying low and soundless, more like shadows than birds.

Some days I can see, before I arrive at the pier, that a photo opportunity is taking shape: The bright red of a north-bound cargo ship appears unusually vivid on a morning after rain; an isolated area of fog turns golden in a cruise ship’s lights. I’ll sprint if that’s what’s called for, and I might, or might not, make it to my spot in time. 

Even when the photos don’t come out the way I thought they would, I don’t regret the chase. Those few minutes on either side of 7 in the morning are unlike any other in my day. It’s easier to pay attention then. Even so, the lens sees differently than I do, catching light in ways I can’t predict. Often, when I pull the photos up on a computer later, I see details that escaped me at the time. 

This practice isn’t one I planned, or one I recognized as more than a diversion on my way to work, until the day a fisherman was standing in my spot. I hadn’t known, until that moment, that I had a spot, or that I thought of it as mine. I don’t. It isn’t. But those minutes are. The photos are a way to share them, and I’m glad I can. But even if I didn’t have the camera, I’d ride out on the pier to look. 

Wouldn’t you? 

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