Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 22, 2016

Sea Surface Full of Clouds

If I travel about 2 miles due south of my front door, I run out of continent. From a bluff about 200 feet above the Pacific Ocean, I see this:

IMG_0188 Santa Catalina Brad Nixon (640x473)

That’s Santa Catalina Island in the distance, one of the Channel Islands, 22 miles (35 km) away (the dark shape below it is a container ship).

Catalina Island Map

The red circle indicates the end of Western Avenue where my trip to the ocean ends. Most of the photos in this article were shot from approximately that spot.

The island’s 22 miles long and, at its widest, 8 miles across. Approximately 4,100 people live on the island, primarily in the lone incorporated town, Avalon. You can reach Catalina in about 45 minutes from San Pedro, Long Beach and a few harbors to the south. It’s a fascinating place to visit, but that’s a subject for another article.

There’s a lot to see in the vicinity from which I made these photos. I’ve written about some coastal defenses from previous wars, including a now-abandoned Nike missile base from the Cold War. Nearby is the 1874 Point Fermin Lighthouse. I wrote more details about the lighthouse at this link.

Point Fermin Lighthouse Brad Nixon 5706 (640x503)

The lighthouse is open for tours, although it’s no longer a functioning lighthouse.

Depending on the luck of the day, one might see a whale spout, dophins, sea lions, and a wide variety of birds, including gulls, cormorants, hawks, osprey, kites, peregine falcons, American kestrels or brown pelicans:

Pelican flight Brad Nixon 5794 (640x480)

Catalina Island has at least one nesting pair of bald eagles, and one is occasionally spotted on the mainland, but I’ve yet to catch a glimpse.

The view alone, though, is enough, if you see nothing else. It always brings to my mind the title of Wallace Stevens’ poem, “Sea Surface Full of Clouds.”

White Point Santa Catalina View Brad Nixon (640x478)

Depending on the clouds, wind, swell and chop on the water, and time of day, we may see clouds reflected in the ocean, as Stevens’ title suggests, in an endless variety of ways.

IMG_8238 Santa Catalina Brad Nixon (640x480)

Sometimes there’s a layer of fog , and we don’t see the water at all.

IMG_8283 Santa Catalina Brad Nixon (640x480)

Sunsets can be lovely, especially when the sun sinks below the horizon of an ocean, but as every photographer knows, you really need a few clouds to make something more than an orange ball out of a sunset.

Santa Catalina Brad Nixon 1 (640x478)

That scene is something like what I envisioned when I read Stevens’ poem long ago, before I lived by an ocean to actually witness it:

… Then the sea
And heaven rolled as one and from the two
Came fresh transfigurings of deepest blue.

The Point Fermin Light and selected other photos from Under Western Skies are available via Click on the lighthouse photo or click here to view the Underawesternsky portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2018. Excerpt from “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, Vintage Books, © Wallace Stevens, renewed 1982 by Holly Stevens.


  1. Congrats on those photos.
    Spectacular! 👍 🤗 🌅


    • Merci.


    • I feel constrained to say that Mother Nature provided all the sets, lighting and special effects. I was simply standing in the right spot.


      • True enough. However, one must first have capacity to appreciate what is in one’s own backyard and, second, have the ability and patience to capture the event at the right time. Few have those qualities.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pretty!


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