I have been to Disneyland just once in my life - well, before this last October.
I know many people, even here in Utah, who make visiting the self-proclaimed 'happiest place on earth' venue an annual outing - and some even more. And I don't blame them for it. It is a fun place to be. There is something special the place has - whether it is the cast members who are busy cleaning up every last piece of litter, or simply the folk lore long ago attained.
But something that surprised me was that the happiest time on our vacation was not Disneyland. It was not on Space Mountain, Star Tours, Splash Mountain, or the Dumbo ride - as fun as they may have been. It definitely wasn't found on a It's A Small World After All (which, having never gone on the ride, still is my least favorite ride) or Pirates of the Caribbean (which, is probably my favorite ride, but was closed through our vacation period). Even as fun as the new rides at the relatively new California Adventure were, were not really all that great compared to the fun we had the day prior to entering the mecca of long lines and overpriced food.
It was simply, a day at the beach.
Or rather, a sunset at the beach.
We take family pictures every year, and we decided that we would plan on the day before we go to Disneyland that we would take some family pictures at the beach. Which is a great plan, but one that was really just a shot in the dark. I have taken all sorts of pictures over the years - but have never lived near a beach to know what to expect or what to look for. But we had our visions.
So being the photographer, I assign Tiffany the job of costume designer. She has always done a great job, and knew she would come through with flying colors again.
Well, instead of colors, she wanted white shirts and khaki pants.
Which is great, until you consider you are on a beach with young kids who really have never seen the ocean or waves before. How are you supposed to keep them from getting all wet and messy? (My trick - threaten their very existence - it worked - mostly.)
Being a Sunday, we went to church in the morning, visited the Los Angeles Temple in the early afternoon, went back to the hotel to change, and barely had enough time to get to the beach before the sun went down. Not being native to the area, we had no idea where to go to find the best location. The night before, having arrived early to our hotel, we ventured out to Huntington beach and let the kids put their feet in the water as the horizon swallowed the setting sun.
We opted to head that direction again and see what we could find along the coast. We ended up a half mile further north than we were the day prior and found a mostly secluded spot that allowed us to take pictures without a lot of people.
As we arrived, lifeguards and ambulances pulled up a few hundred yards away from us to take care of a victim of some sort, rushing away with it's lights blaring. Tiffany huddled the family together and offered a prayer for the unknown injured individual. Next time Tiffany tells you she is praying for you - know this - that she truly is.
Any ways, I digress.
After threatening the kids with their lives if they got wet or dirty, I set up the tripod and started to shoot. Some shots were candid, others, not so much, but most were just candid.
You see, in years past, family pictures were simply scheduled stress. The kids never listening, or if they did, their siblings were not. We have a famous picture we took about 7 years ago where I am yelling at Dallin to look at me to ensure the picture turned out. The picture looks like familial bliss! Though it couldn't have been further from the truth. The hope as a photographer is that I can make it look that good, no matter the situation.
So I was hoping to make some more magic this year.
Only, I didn't need any. The kids were happy, enjoying playing in the sand while the ocean breeze blew in their faces. The few family shots we took were not very contrived, and in fact, in many ways natural. As the sun continued to set, and as we had enough pictures for what we wanted, we allowed the kids to get a little wet. Which turned into a lot wet.
And as they did, Tiffany and I sat back, and enjoyed the view. Not of the sunset. Not of the waves. But the very lives that we get to be a part of each day. And then it hit us.
Disneyland would not match the happiness and joy that Tiffany and I found in that moment.
Not even close.