In Cannery Row, Steinbeck writes about The Hour of The Pearl, or "The interval between day and night when time stops to examine itself." This is the time just before dawn when the streetlights on The Row go out and the world is silent and empty except for an old Chinese fisherman "flip-flopping" in from the shoreline with his basket, and few cats who "drip over fences and slither like syrup over the ground to look for fish heads." Last weekend, I woke up early and went to He'eia Kea Pier to watch the sun rise over Kaneohe Bay, hoping to catch a bit of that brief, magic interval with my camera.
These photos seem to do that. The light was perfect, dramatic, powerful, vivid. The world appears frozen in a kind of still brilliance. But the photos are misleading, as sunrise photos usually are. The actual world of the pier in the hour before sunrise was nothing like Steinbeck's Hour of the Pearl. When I arrived (at 5:45am), the sun was still almost an hour from rising, but in the darkness, the pier was already overrun with activity.
Fishermen, with their boats and trucks and trailers, were all lined up waiting their turn to launch. Headlights swept back and forth as the trucks jockeyed for position at the ramp and the air was filled with the constant drone of back up beepers and revving diesel engines.
Despite the fact that this wasn't quite the same as Cannery Row, I did find cats. But they did not ooze through the silence as in Cannery Row. These cats were the lost and the haggard, stalking suspiciously through the chaos of the early morning rush.
There was also a fisherman, and he happened to be Chinese. But instead of a dripping basket and a pair of flappy-soled boots, he had a cooler and wore rubber slippers.
That morning wasn't quite the hour of the pearl, though it would be wrong to say it wasn't magical in its own right. It's true there was no magic silence or calm before the breaking of the day, but He'eia Kea Pier is not Cannery Row, and expectations based on fictional novels rarely translate to real life anyway. Instead the hour before dawn at the pier was something else, something more invigorating and raw. It was the hum of human life in the darkness at the water's edge. It was the hour of the fisherman.