I moved out west for the usual pioneer reasons. Also, I liked the way the neon looked in the rain. I quit my newspaper job at the Reston Times in Virginia, where a light in the lives of dejected photo staffers was the deli on the ground floor, the Brown Bag Cafe, unfairly known as the Brown Bug. The woman there knew my name, though I can no longer remember hers. Upon hearing my plan to move 3,000 miles away for dubious job prospects, she said, “Errykaaa, you are young. It is not whether to jump, or not jump. You must jump!”

So, Vincent Ferris, one of the first friends I made out here, has jumped. Seattle was “like living on a couch in Mom’s basement,” he told me. So he moved 3,000 miles AWAY FROM HERE (?!?) to New York City, to share a house with seven “anarchists.” The fridge is full of food found in Dumpsters. They’re “freegans.” Several have court dates for Occupy-related activities. Vincent was literally breathless with excitement. Panting.

   “I just want to, you know how you grow up with pictures of New York. I’m having this dream of walking around New York, taking pictures. Stuff one would have daydreamed about, I’m making it happen. Imagine, like, Robert Frank or William Klein, shooting these marches. I feel connected with this movement. I’ll ask questions later. To say ‘These people need a shower’, to have a point and a concise argument, that is so left-brain. It’s emotion that would make someone occupy a park and stay there. This is: you’re not gonna eat your vegetables, and you’re gonna stay at the table until you don’t have to eat your vegetables anymore.”

But enough about Art. The reader is interested in train wrecks. ‘Tis the season!

Stanley on the undercut.

When I first got my beach property, my neighbor Stanley told me to go get a tide book, and if the tides are ever 9 or 10, to come here and watch them from a ringside seat. It is sound advice, observed by many, and so you will see the trucks of Watchers convening around the destruction at the appointed hour, a 10.5 tide at 12:33 p.m., for instance.

Red house, 10/28/11

This was a cute place, the people were nice, and were connected to the aforementioned, excellently crafted, departed fort.

November 24, 2011.

It fell in on Thanksgiving day. It is a lonely, frightening feeling, to come across a body. I can’t get used to it, can’t get over it. I am one of these people who pay to get on a rollercoaster, then close my eyes.

There were still bowls of pieces of uncompleted puzzles by the window. They weren’t finished!

Unlike a natural disaster, it happens here more or less on schedule, so you can put your boots on and stroll down the street to see some doom from a safe distance and snap some photos.

It’s a social occasion. Hip cats are strolling around, out for a walkabout, raising the bar of Washaway fashions, working the room in a Gore-Tex cape, soon to be seen on runways in Milan.

But it’s a wake, too. Like an Irish wake. There’s some laughing and joking and who knows what beverages in the coffee cups. Pictures fail, and words do, too. There is no way to capture the roiling white water, rolling around giant trees you could never budge.

The sound is terrible. The wind howls, and the crash and crack of a house breaking IS heartbreaking. Somebody loved this.

“Boy, that’s somethin’ else.” “The power of nature.” “At least it wasn’t their primary home.” “Still sad, though.” “That’s somethin’ else, to see that water.”  “Yep.”

Looking inside is vertigo-inducing. I know this picture isn’t sharp. That’s how it looked, like a hallucination, a bad dream.

The watchers take pictures, and I do too. It gets my adrenaline all wound up until get so upset I have to get away and be by myself.

It’s important to bear witness. The job of an artist is to feel things, express feelings. Unfortunately, it’s not always the slacker job it’s reputed to be.

An artist named Mark has a place that will likely fall in next. He was getting ready to evacuate. He told me he has 18 cats. That makes me picture the closing scene in “Logan’s Run” where the old bearded guy is living in D.C. with a zillion cats, having escaped the apocalyptic culture where everyone dies at 30. But I digress.

At any rate, one hopes for an accurate head count of evacuees.

It’s said that the camera can be armor, that the act of looking and composing with a machine creates a psychological detachment from what you’re seeing. Certainly war correspondents need to do this, and I have, more than once, encouraged shy photography students to think this way. It doesn’t always work.

As Betty Butler wrote in the now-nonexistent Beach Gazette on January 7, 1987:

“Were the crowds of people who gathered along the bank to watch the waves undermine the barn’s foundation and send it splintering into the sea awed by the vivid display of the ocean’s fearsome power? Did they feel compassion for the family that had to endure the destruction of their lifelong home, while a festive crowd of onlookers cheered the building’s collapse?

“Some who were drawn to this dramatic spectacle were sensitive to the loss and pain…they winced as the old barn shuddered and the roof collapsed and left soon afterwards. The others, well, the others were there for the show.”

Butler adds that Washaway “serves as a lesson that, once forces are set in motion, mankind’s best efforts to contain them are puny and ineffectual. Our society has shown an arrogant display of contempt for the natural balance…If you believe that technology will bring about a last-minute rescue, you’re a gambler, and the stakes are the world.”


About washybeach

Washaway Beach This Week is a blog by photojournalist Erika Langley. See more work at
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3 Responses to Watching

  1. bob says:


    I thourgohly enjoy your blog. It is “spot on” with this experience, and very compelling. I look forward to the whole experience.


  2. Clyde says:

    Tell Stanley hello from South Carolina and we on this side of the world are prayerfully sympathetic to the outcome that is truly inevitable. As with all “humanity” there will always be the grotesque onlookers who watch with pure excitement waiting and even longing for the unfortunate outcome the can not be superseded by all our best efforts. But for those of us who feel the great lose of those who worked so hard to scratch out a small piece of something to call their own, something to leave behind for future generations to enjoy, we share a heartfelt sympathy and wish the best for all involved in living through natures most terrible wrath

    • bob merrill says:

      We purchased our “Castle by the Sea” in1992. Just a little summer place to visit a couple of months a year. We immediately fell in love with the whole area, the people, places, and things we could find beach combing. We are not in the same situation Erika is at the moment, but just around the corner, so to speak. We are best friends with Erika, and as most people who have met her, fell in love with her instantly. She will chronicle this erosion as only she can, and the rest of us will enjoy her blog.
      I wanted nothing more than to pass this little cabin on to future generations for their enjoyment, for it is truly a “magical place”. But, we have realized that we are just a tiny little participant in this scene. This beach has been eroding since they have kept records. It will continue to do so. If we live out our life here, in paradise, so be it. If not, we will toast it going over the edge with a bottle of Krug, and be thankful for the years we spend here. Such is the way of the world.


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