“in the sight of… this company” and the Webcam

[This was originally posted on August 21, 2011, but had to be “reconstructed” following the crash of a MySQL server at my Web hosting service.]

After my post last summer about storm watching in Tofino, BC, I found two Webcams that show a real-time view of the Pacific Ocean along the west coast of Vancouver Island. One of these is closely centered on the Amphitrite Lighthouse near Ucluelet (about 40 km south of Tofino).

The other shows the beach on Cox Bay in front of the Long Beach Lodge Resort just south of Tofino. This one was appealing enough that I linked to it through B.B., a simple Webcam viewer that runs under Mac OS X. So now, whenever I feel like it, I can sit in front of my iMac screen and watch a high-res, if slightly staccato, Pacific surf. Relaxation, fantasy, beauty, escape, inspiration — any and all, depending on the weather, the surf, my mood, the time of day.

Combine this image stream with Apple’s screen capture tool (Grab) and you get wonderful examples like this from last month:

I have saved shots of sunrise, sunset, clouds (as above), sun, and fog. Of course, what I’m really waiting for is the upcoming storm season to see what never materialized in my visit a few years ago. In the mean time, I occasionally open up B.B. just to see what the day is like a continent away. When I did that this afternoon, there was the not uncommon overcast sky, modest waves, surfers, walkers, dogs… and an odd-but-purposeful arrangement of… what? They looked like white buckets, until I got past the mystery element and realized what their real size was likely to be.

In fact, they were chairs in five rows of four each, duplicated on either side of an aisle defined with four aligned pieces of driftwood. At the ocean end of the aisle, was an arch draped with some kind of flowing fabric, and just beyond that a small table covered with a white cloth. Unless I missed my guess, there was going to be a wedding!

A little before the hour, people were in and around the chairs, and at 1:00 PM sharp local time the bridal party began to appear in successive stills: the minister/judge, the best man and groomsmen, the maid of honor and bridesmaids, then the bride and her father. I called my wife to watch with me as it unfolded.

Because of the refresh rate (roughly 25 seconds), we could only infer some of the steps you would expect, for example, the minister/judge turned to the maid of honor for the rings(s), but did he also turn to the best man? Even at the distance of the camera, however, there was no doubt about the you-may-kiss-the-bride moment, the subsequent signing and witnessing at the little table farther toward the water, and finally everyone going inside the Lodge for the reception. (In the interest of full disclosure, the image of the empty chairs was captured afterwards.)

All of which raises some interesting questions, in no particular order: Was there music from a portable system or a loudspeaker on the roof of the Lodge? Or was the sound of the waves the perfect and intended soundtrack? What did the surfers and other passersby think? Or is this such a common event in Tofino that it was just part of the backdrop? In that sense, were we also merely passersby? Or did someone else, somewhere in the world, also happen to be watching? Were the bride and groom even aware of the Webcam and that their witnessing “company” could potentially have numbered in the tens or hundreds or more? Or were they not only aware, but had they also invited absent family and friends to watch? At the most general level, what will the bride and groom think and feel if they ever read this blog post?

These questions are a digital-era reminder of this excerpt from a wonderful piece written about 15 years ago by Cullen Murphy, then Managing Editor of The Atlantic Monthly:

Anyone who has been associated with the planning of a wedding has at some point been struck by the contrasting world views of the couple at its core and the professionals on its periphery. For the couple, the wedding is a putatively once-in-a-lifetime event, the happy if unpredictable culmination of parallel chains of causality over the millennia. For the florists, the photographers, the caterers, the clerics, the bakers, and the musicians, the wedding is just a day on the job — no different, really, from thousands of other days…. It is at once disconcerting and reassuring to realize that situations of unique personal moment are to a large degree also matters of routine — that surrounding every existential exclamation point is a group of competent professionals to whom the occasion is merely a comma.

And finally, what about that act of watching? It didn’t feel voyeuristic but rather opportunistic. Admittedly somewhat more intime than watching vehicles on the Golden Gate Bridge or ships in the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal. But really, in the end, just one small drop from the digital fire hose of words, images, and sounds available to us online at every instant of the day and night. Whether we signify it as a mere , or an existential !.

Addendum #1: Vicarious (non-)storm watching

Addendum #2: Riders of the Last Spark

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