Tag Archives: ocean

Sea lubber

Little by little. I keep telling myself that. Take it slow. Patience is not this patient’s virtue. I want to run, dive, swim underwater as long as I can hold my breath, and then do the crawl straight out to the horizon until I don’t feel the cold of the Pacific anymore. That’s my usual mode of immersion — well, okay, I do more of a shuffle-for-stingrays than a run. But lately, nothing has been usual.

My biggest fear about having surgery was not being able to swim. You might as well lock me up in a dungeon if you are going to deprive me of water. It’s my exercise, meditation, therapy, habit, and habitat. Keep me on land too long, and I dry out like a slug.

So when I first stuck my toes back in the Pacific after four weeks of exile, I could feel my flesh rehydrating. As I walked gingerly through the wash, the life force ran up my legs to electro-charge my failing heart and douse my brain with dopamine. Two days later, when I had worked up the courage to submerge, I lifted my feet from the earth and lay my body horizontal on salt water. The pain in my core vanished. Freedom from gravity, from the planet’s pull on mass, from the weight of the upper half of my body stacked on the lower half, released my poor, pulverized nerves. The cold Cabrillo water, with its healing salt crystals, worked its medicinal magic. I had been worried that swimming could hurt me, but instead — like it always does — it was my cure.

When I returned to shore from my first wade in the water, a shiny white object beckoned from the wet sand. I thought at first it was a shell, but it turned out to be a different piece of animal: the bone of the top bill of an aquatic fowl, like a duck. Of course, there aren’t generally ducks in the ocean. Gulls, herons, cormorants, pelicans, egrets, sandpipers, and willets — the local species — all have very differently shaped beaks. The mystery bone is a strange, macabre gift but beautiful: delicate, ivory, dotted with pinhole calligraphy. Another masterpiece by Mother Nature.

We are trapped in bodies, until we are not.

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Filed under Flotsam and Jetsam: The Life Aquatic, Uncategorized, Wild Things

A new day, a new dawn

It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new life.

The first few minutes, I think I’m crazy. The water at Cabrillo Beach is never what a sane person would call warm. A deep trough off the shore provides a steady chill stream. And then there’s the wind. The channel off Point Fermin is nicknamed Hurricane Gulch for a reason. If you swim in the afternoon you have to watch out for the windsurfers that tack back and forth, into the shore and out toward Catalina. This time of year, the sea temperature hovers around 57 Fahrenheit. Even with a wetsuit on, the cold stabs at your face and fingers. When I first dive in, “I can’t do this” is my immediate reaction — every time, every day — even though I know I can. It takes a good 100 strokes for me to acclimate. And then I can’t stop.

Water has always been my element. I stumble on land, am scared to be high in the sky, but take to the sea like a fish. Still, I never thought I’d be an ocean swimmer. Body surfer, sure. Lake swimmer, yes. But for the first several decades of my life, I stayed close to shore even when catching the big waves. Then I moved next to Cabrillo Beach.

Cabrillo is a half-circle bay bordered by the cliffs of Point Fermin on the west and an artificial jetty of rocks on the east. Actually, it’s two beaches: The outer one I just described faces the Pacific, and the inner stretch faces San Pedro Bay, aka the Los Angeles harbor. The inner beach, also called Mother’s Beach, generally gets an F from Save the Bay because let’s face it, it’s a city beach with little ocean current. Tankers barrel in and out. Boats anchored in multiple marinas dump crap, literally.

But the outer beach earns an A, thanks to that gulch. I paddle the inside but only swim in the outside.

Swimming is not just exercise; it’s meditation. I count my strokes like a yogi counts breaths. The strokes are breaths too, of course: nose up for air every four counts. I’m scarcely alone out there: The Cabrillo Beach Polar Bears, a club that sponsors a New Year’s Day plunge, keep an orange buoy moored several hundred yards off shore, with a thermometer letting visitors know yes, it really is still 57. Sometimes I run into neighbors out at the buoy, stop and ask them how their family is doing. The first several times I swam to the buoy, it seemed impossibly far, and I clung to a boogie board for safety. Eventually I graduated to no board, just flippers, then no flippers. Nowadays, I swim right past the buoy and keep going.

These days, I need that swim more than ever. There’s a kind of ecstasy I get, pulling my body through the water, watching my hands cut through the sun on the surface, or lying on my back and staring up at the sky. And then there are the days when I think I am alone out there, in my groove, a trance — and suddenly, a dolphin swims right underneath me, or I roll over and discover I’m in the midst of a chattering porpoise pod.

The joke in my neighborhood is that we live in a small town called San Pedro. When I look across the inner beach and see the cranes and cargo ships of one of the busiest ports in the world, I know that I also live in a big city called Los Angeles. But when I’m out there in the ocean, floating alongside the kelp forest, I feel one with the world.

Of course today was a day to feel wonder and unity: a new dawn, a new day, a new life — “fish in the sea, you know how I feel.” A day of unity, of the renewal of accords and the return of water rights, of embracing the great middle of our country and its edges, of poetry and music, of a cowboy’s grace, of seasons of love, of a Boricuan from around the Bronx block singing this land is your land, a land of hope and dreams. The first day a woman, a Black woman, an Asian woman, became second in command of the United States. Hallelujah.

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Filed under Flotsam and Jetsam: The Life Aquatic, Wild Things

In my element

Tomorrow I get to return to the place where I am literally in my element: the ocean. Los Angeles County beaches reopen for activities in the morning; I am grateful to the state, county and city for letting us see the light of day. I sincerely hope we don’t blow it; I’ll be social distancing and wearing my mask — when I’m not in/on the water, that is. I’ve been imagining tomorrow’s schedule for weeks:

7 am. Get up and take the dog for a nice long walk down at Cabrillo. Used to doing this at least twice every day, Alexander Hamilton has been perplexed why we have been walking every direction but the most obvious one — toward sea, sand, and sky — for the last two months. I suspect he will feel close to as much joy as I will when we stride past the beautiful mission-style beachhouse and say hello to the inner harbor.

8 am. Pull the kayaks down to the shore and paddle off. Waves and weather permitting, my husband and I plan to pack a lunch and spend a long day out on the water. We will be hundreds, if not thousands, of feet from other human beings, but hopefully not from the dolphins, seals, and maybe even whales. We may jump in and swim/snorkel. Bud will fish.

Sometime in the afternoon: Pull back ashore. Swim.

3ish: Reluctantly drag our butts back on land so the dog can get his exercise — at the beach again.

6 pm: Dinner.

8 pm: Evening walk on the beach. Who knows, maybe there will be bioluminescence?

Next day: Same thing all over again, but on the paddleboard.

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Filed under Flotsam and Jetsam: The Life Aquatic, Life During Lockdown

Post-Lockdown To Do List

When I get outta here, here are the first things I’m going to do:

1. Swim.

2. Kayak.

3. Walk to the end of the fishing pier at Cabrillo Beach .

4. Paddleboard.

5. Eat out at a different restaurant every night for a week and tip 40 percent.

6. See a movie or five.

7. Shop at House 1002.

8. Have a beer at The Sardine.

9. Go to Michigan.

 

 

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Filed under Life During Lockdown