Thursday, July 24, 2008


I wake at 4:15 am, still on Rio time, and try to go back to sleep, finally getting up at 6:30 and driving to the beach.

I deserve an early morning jog because I've just returned from two weeks of travel; I need to reconnect with this bit of earth and sea before returning to the drudgery of normal life.

I expect the Santa Monica beach to look a bit drab after Rio de Janiero, but I'm not prepared for ugly.

Overcast with heavy morning fog, the sky and sea are grey and flat. I can see nothing in either direction--no mountains north or south, no Santa Catalina, just the pier in grey to the north and the line of low buildings stretching south to the Venice breakwater.

It's a very low tide, so at least there's a wide strech of firm, walkable sand turned solid by the repeated wash of small waves. The waning moon must be pulling from the west, moving toward a noontime plunge into the ocean.

The water is dirty brown green, and when each wave finally peters out on the flat expanse, it's pushing yellow froth that remains on the sand after the water recedes. The bubbles collapse and leave a line of yellow circles, an archipelago marking the waves' furthest advance.

Why do we pump our sewage out a few hundred yards from shore? I wonder. Isn't this supposed to be a civilized place? Rio has favelas but keeps the water on its beaches clear and clean, except in the inner harbor where ships dock and unload.

At the breakwater, I startle crabs who scramble sideways across the rocks to escape my view.

A woman is dancing ankle deep with the ocean waves as her partner, so I attempt a samba.

There's beauty in every corner of the world, I tell myself, but it's hard to be back in Santa Monica after the stunning morros and beaches of Rio.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fourth of July

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** At sunset a huge smoke plume from fires north of here obscures the Santa Monica Mountains: Big Sur and Goleta are still burning, as well as areas in the Sierras and around California.

I also see a black layer of smoke at the foot of the mountains, extending from today's fires in Malibu eastward toward Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica.

The air is pungent with fires and firecrackers, cigarettes and marijuana.

Tonight's tide is two feet lower than on July 1, giving me enough room to jog on wet sand, but at 8 pm there are still hundreds of people on the beach. The air is 75 degrees, the water probably close to that, though the sun has set.

I dodge soccer balls and frisbees, sandcastles and excavated pools, families, children, lovers, elderly women walking alone.

I'm wearing a light jacket that has two inner pockets, my cell phone in one and my car keys in the other, but it's too warm so I tie it around my waist, hoping nothing will be bounced out of those pockets.

About a hundred yards down the beach, I realize the phone is missing. Yikes--all my phone numbers, four days before I leave for a big trip. As I turn and start running back, the keys fall out of the other pocket and a big wave erases footprints where I had been walking.

My cell phone, somewhere down the beach, being washed out to sea? Not again--this happened two years ago. How could I be so careless?

Slowing down, I study debris on the beach in the growing darkness: clumps of seaweed, food wrappings, the handle of a broken shovel.

Suddenly I see a young Latino man coming toward me with his hand outstretched, my cell phone lying in it. I must have just jogged past him.

"Oh, thank you so much!" I cry, taking the phone.

He smiles and turns back. I open the phone and yes, it's still working though a little wet and sandy. He must have picked it up quickly, before a wave covered it.

Brimming with relief and gratitude, I start jogging south again, keys in one hand, cell in the other.

The Venice breakwater is fully visible today, though tide's still high and I can't walk out there.

I take a photo of the red and smudgy sky and start jogging back, illegal firecrackers exploding around me on the beach and in the sky. I'm jittery, startled by each one, resolving to jog in the morning on the next Fourth of July.

Dogs, also illegal, and their owners appear on the beach as usual after dark, and the scent of marijuana wafts past me more often.

A thin white sliver of moon appears in the sky, turning orange as it descends into the smoke. Later I check and see, yes, we are two days past the new moon.

I stumble into a hole filled with loose wet sand, probably dug for a child and just now sloshed with sand by the waves.
The sky glows a deeper rose now, and the ferris wheel on the pier in red, white and blue changes from a pinwheel to a rotating Gothic Cross to a rumpled American flag pattern. With blue and red in the sky, white in the crashing waves, I don't need any more spectacle than this.

At home John and I celebrate the Fourth by eating hotdogs grilled outside, and I don't tell him about losing my cell phone.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Very Pacific

The bowl is full this evening, spilling onto sand, almost lapping the wooden ramps of lifeguard stations. I've never seen a tide this high.

There's no room for jogging, just a choice between deep dry sand and sloshy ocean transgressing the North American continent.

It's 8 pm as sun sinks behind the Santa Monica Mountains, red sky smudged with grey by fires further north.

How pacific the ocean is at this moment, though still capable of sudden, sly swipes toward my shoes. Dimly after sunset I see two surfers bobbing in small waves not strong enough to ride them to shore. One slosh of salt water forces me to sprint a few yards inland on deeper sand.

The Venice breakwater has become just a broken string of small rocks occasionally disappearing in the waves. Sea stars and anemone stretch, crabs stalk far below water, enjoying the rich diet this tide brings them.

Instead of walking there, peering into crevices and hopping from boulder to boulder, I'm standing forty yards away where shore is tonight, the higher bank of sand now under assault.

Early July sky stays bright long after sunset. At 9 pm Scorpio still is invisible except for the red glow of Antares, and Jupiter is the only planet I can see among the planes taking off from LA International Airport.

A mile north the new ferris wheel changes from turquoise to red to a patriotic blend of color, anticipating the Fourth of July.