My strong anxiety about tsunamis prevents me from ever being a beach bunny. Besides, there is nothing remotely bunny-ish about me. Not even when I was a much smaller person. Still, I have found myself drawn to the ocean. There are so many different places to experience it, under so many different faces of the sun, and under such different circumstances of turf. Most people dream of vacationing where the salt water is warm (full of dolphins, no doubt), the palm trees grow tall and proud with, perhaps, a coconut or two to sip from when the heat of the sun is a little too much for even the happiest of baked flesh. There are bitty bikinis to watch and glistening washtub abs…
That’s not the kind of beach I imagine when I dream of a little day by the ocean. I have been experiencing the Pacific coast beaches from San Diego up to Washington since I was a small child. The beach at Santa Monica is not my kind of beach. It’s all soft hot sand and warm salt water with palm trees swaying in the smoggy air (which, when I was there was actually pretty clear- I malign this beach!). The word that keeps coming to mind is: DOUCE. The French word douce. Gentle. Sweet. Mild.
I have always wanted something quite different in a beach. I want fog, or at least a bracing cold air, sand that starts out rough until it gets closer to the softening influence of the tearing smoothing waves. I want, when I put my feet in the salt water, to feel a shock of cold to chase away the worst summer day, to make me feel alive and awake. I want rocks to climb and sit on. I want tide pools and people still dressed in clothes.
I just now remembered what the water at the Santa Monica beach reminded me of – the dead sea. The temperature is like air. Not cooling. Not hot. It’s the temperature of the air it boils up into. This makes the salt water feel slightly oily. Much more so in the dead sea where the salts and minerals are so densely concentrated they literally coat your skin in a slick layer.
I did wonder very briefly if LA would have an earthquake while I was visiting. I often think about the wild and unlikely chance that brings visitors to places just before huge calamities occur. You can say that if you don’t live near the ocean that your chances of getting killed in a tsunami are incredibly small. And it is true. But if you visit the ocean you open up this tiny window of opportunity to get caught in a tsunami. A laughably small window of opportunity for the universe to swallow you whole. I always think of those people for whom the laughable small chance became life-defining or life-threatening.
People who get caught in London during riots. People visiting Haiti when the most recent earthquake hit. People visiting small towns in Iraq at the moment it becomes a target of the United States Military. People driving cross country who get sucked up by tornadoes. The person who, never having seen a real lightening storm, stands in the middle of their cousin’s Texas field to witness the incredible light display only to be struck down. Something that would never have happened in Santa Rosa California.
I have to admit that I am more scared of the ocean than I ever was before. I have always had a proper respect for it but wasn’t actually scared of it. Somehow I think a douce beach is more ominous than a wild cold rocky violent one. Those waves come up and seem so quiet and weak the way they roll out smoothly across the silky sand, then they sneak up and grab your ankle with surprising force and from the angle of the sand you can see how quickly it gets deep. My impression of the water on this beach is that it has an insidious force and an evil agenda.
That didn’t stop me from enjoying myself thoroughly. It was too warm for my personal comfort but I still love salt water. I still love seeing kelp wash up on the shore. More amusing when it washes up in a frightening heap at the feet of a tanned bikini-wearing smooth southern Californian. I asked the ocean not to swallow me up – that if it has to kill me some day, please let it be on a cold wild Oregon beach. Please let it not be hot. Please let it be overt rather than insidious.
I love the birds. I chased the gulls and talked to them. Which explains the distance the humans kept from me. The lady laughing at the sneaky waves grabbing her hems and talking to the birds. I saw a group of pelicans flying which stopped me in my tracks. I was also pleased to see the tiny little crabs digging themselves back under cover so fast it’s hard to catch them in the act. It’s what keeps the gulls glued to the surf. They’re trolling for bird snacks.
Today would be a good day to go to the beach at Pacific City where it’s likely to be much cooler than it is inland. Instead I’m going to make a batch of pickled beans and squash. I might even get enough blackberries to make a better second batch of jam.
I feel much better this weekend than I did on Friday. Thanks to you- my reader friends, and to a few other friends who helped me feel so much less alone. I deeply appreciate that. I hope that the next time you need the same you won’t hesitate to ask me for my ear and time. I promise it’s yours for the asking.