Bad Karma

A few weeks ago I drove down to Aberdeen to photograph the annual shorebird migration. Originally, I thought I’d been pretty lucky. A high tide drove the birds close to shore, and a sunny day provided fast shutter speeds. There was even a wide variety of shorebirds. Only when I got home did I discover that the flash card had apparently been incorrectly formatted, and none of the shots could be saved. Not deterred, after checking the tide charts, I returned to Aberdeen last Wednesday expecting better luck. I should have known better considering my past experiences there.

I worked as a caseworker in Aberdeen after my Vietnam tour of duty many years ago. At first I laughed off warnings about the rain since I‘d been raised in Seattle. I shouldn’t have. I’ve never experienced rain clouds at nose level before, and I hope never to do so again.

I spent a dismal nine months there, suffering from repeated bouts of colds and flu, and finally an ulcer. I always figured that my ill health was due to the political battle over Vietnam and my work as a welfare worker, which proved more frustrating than I could ever have imagined. Rather than helping people, I felt like I was slowly but surely being sucked down with them.

Even then Aberdeen had an unusually high welfare load, largely due to the number of workers who got injured in the timber industry, but also the result of the high level of rural poverty. Even then jobs were scarce, and the timber industry demands back-breaking labor. Those who were weak or injured got thrown aside by the system.

I met my first wife there, but even that eventually ended up as the greatest tragedy of my life when my marriage ended in divorce after seventeen years of marriage. Perhaps I should’ve listened to our landlady who waarned our horoscope signs were in conflict.

Unfortunately, Aberdeen hasn’t faired well since then, either. All one has to do is visit the area to understand where the anguish in Curt Cobain’s music comes from. This was the little town that couldn’t. Driving through the town forty years later, it seems to have shrunk rather than grown, and though there are a few new stores and restaurants most of the town looks like it has been caught in some kind of time warp.

I’ve always thought that population growth was the bane of western Washington, but after looking at the Aberdeen-Hoquiam area I wonder if slow decline isn’t even worse than rapid growth.

Needless to say, the photographs I took Wednesday are some of the worst I’ve taken since I started photographing birds. While it was encouraging to see the large numbers of shorebirds migrating, it was nearly impossible to get a decent picture of them.

Most of the time they were simply too far away to get a decent picture

and it was impossible to focus accurately on the spectacular waves of flight when they were spooked

I’ve always dismissed superstition as irrational mumbo-jumbo, but after my experiences in Aberdeen I have to wonder if the place isn’t jinxed for me.