Fresh from the notebook I wrote in while in Southern California three weeks ago. With Rosemary, I returned to my former home in Dana Point, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, to renew connections with people and familiar places. My studio apartment on Seville Place behind the Dana Point Nursery is unchanged from the outside. However, the ocean side of Pacific Coast Highway barely has an inch of undeveloped land, a big change from the 1980s. The winter blossoms and year-round greenery gave us a spirit boost, as did the wide views of the blue ocean and tall sky. In a couple of intensive writing sessions I wrote as fast as I could, keeping my eyes on the scene in front of me. With a bit of revision, what follows is very close to the original notebook pages.
Laguna Niguel, Monarch Bay, Salt Creek Beach
Sage scent on the beach trail at Salt Creek.
Ant line of black-speck surfers two sets out.
Photographers in parkas and knit caps.
Succulents, eucalyptus, royal palms, bougainvillea, red hibiscus, platoons of orange-and-blue bird-of-paradise blooms.
Tsunami Warning signs: If there’s an earthquake . . .
Catalina coming out of the cloud bank.
Wave spray looking south to Dana Point. Stepped-up Laguna hillsides to the north.
Gray Whale Migration Zone.
Bottle-green, translucent glassine blue-green waves shattering white foam on rocks.
Blue-blue sky. Temps going from low 60s in morning to 70 degrees in the afternoon.
Dawn gray blue western light horizon behind triplet of tall palms.
Waves like a radio noise, calm “white noise,” rustle-and-slap, then shoosh. Wave sound like storm wind in tall trees in the eastern forest.
One-time Ruby Lantern resident of DP now flight attendant in from Minnesota living in Laguna Niguel walking Salt Creek beach with woman friend offers to take a phone-picture of Rosemary and me with waves rolling and bursting to suds behind us at the south end of Monarch Bay.
Helicopters up and down the coast and out to Catalina.
On the HBO cable the old series John from Cincinnati, quirky three generations of a surfer broken-dynasty family and their local helper crew with paranormal parrots, post-trauma issues, sideways logic to live the day, even levitation, and maybe an alien all the kooky characters in absurdist play at make-believe Imperial Beach.
Sea birds, gulls, cliff swallows, pelicans, crows, hawks (maybe red-tailed).
“Get wet” = go surfing.
Volume of water, undertow, recedes, slides back, lip of the wave, lion roar of the waves, dull roar of the lion waves, margin to margin, lip-flip-slap, short boards, wave break, unbroken horizon, swell, high water, ultra range, The Surfer’s Journal, wind over the water, sea bird skimming over the sea-top, sweep, swells sent from mid-ocean, foamy fringe on blue spread, shore riding, bubbles bursting, Pismo Beach, Doheny, La Jolla, short board, spray, surfer, marine view, body surfing, water-men and -women, sea colors like blended Civil War uniforms (blue-gray), Point Panic, Del Mar, Huntington Beach, Pacific Beach, Imperial Beach, Ocean Beach, big wave riders, morning glass, matador-style surfing, Malibu, Hang Ten and Catalina surf wear, surf culture, forty fly-specks on the swells, the silty chop, phosphorescence, phosphorescent, pre-dawn foam, waves.
January quiet, off-season, the dozens of pool long-chairs in ranks like blue soldiers with coiled umbrellas like rolled banners of flag-bearers waiting for the parade to start.
Sensory memory, the sage in my nose, ocean smell, sea/salt/sand.
Marine helo choppering to Camp Pendleton with its eleven miles of military coastland that stretches east for more than twenty miles, maybe forty says our Uber driver, the narrow waterfront west of Freeway 5 and inland scrubby, taupe desert acres blending to brown hills, the vegetation olive-to-dusty green, and in the distance beige buildings for troops, for warriors, and armor, red-tiled or darker-tiled roofs, overall sand-colored like camouflaged fatigue pants, neutral patches in between greens and blacks and browns.
Surfers in black uniforms, nobody wears electric purple wetsuits, some of the surfers out of California central casting, thin, good-looking, young, sun-gold highlights in blond or blonde hair cut just at the cool angle so it falls perfectly when soaked, both guys and young women, a few boys and a couple of older men, one who looks like Tom Hanks from the side carrying his board from the parking lot across the street, through the gorgeous park, its sloping green lawn with every recreation option serviced, basketball court, cement picnic tables and benches, built-in cook-outs, lamp posts and dog-bag stations to keep the place clean, no litter to speak of, recycle-and-trash receptacles placed for convenience, public access to the beach a holy right in the state, lots of runners in twos and ones along with pairs of walkers all ages, many of the surfers do the surfer trot on the way to the water, a jaunty run not sprinting but hustling along, small leaps in between, moving steadily to the edge of the tide wash and then hopping three-four times and putting the board in and lying on top to paddle out.
At noontime forty surfers in line of sight, most sitting on boards awaiting THE wave of the next three minutes, there are always more, the sun keeps giving, and then as if agreed-to one of the surfers will pop up, stand, and grab the top of a bulging wave to skim it left or right depending on the break, squeezing every last gallon of foaming energy out of it, sometimes skipping off but more often taken down in the collapse of the curl, a few with art-and-science skills can dance-step into a 360-shift and drain another ten feet of the ride, and then it’s back on the board body surfing to the jumping-off point, all of this by feel and look, no directional signs 150-300 feet from shore, a lot of waiting around as in making movies, patience, patience, patience, and then in a flash up and sliding not walking on water, carving the run into the flow, not much tube here but you can get ten feet if you crouch and duck under the break, the widening whitening arch.
The wave builds, fills to over-topping, spills at peak fullness and flips itself forward curling into suds-wash like a billion champagne magnums popping at once white and foamy—plenitude, the glassine plenitude full to overfilled can’t push itself forward another inch, runs out its silver-blue string, the shiny water translucent in the mounting roll, light through liquid bulge that smashes on itself in the heave-and-slide in the push from behind and gravity-pull to land to the edge of the water’s reach as far as it can extend this hour of this day the tide clock run by the moon’s cosmic working mechanisms keeping time keeping lunar time on the wet watch on the sea lane on the ocean drive all these sets wave sets sequencing in from what appears to be a mega wave machine on Catalina Island that keeps churning out hydraulic rolls like fabric sticking its long and ever-longer tongue out of power looms in Lowell textile mills or red-hot sheet-metal peeling off a roller in Pittsburgh or Tokyo steel mills, endlessly rolling in not-really rolling but rather rippling in the long view slightly heaving in the medium-blue expanse only changing shape approaching the shore where the tonnage of liquid runs out of room, the swells sensing the finish line and gathering themselves up for the final push, why not make a splash at the big wrap-up, the blue swells up, light sees through making a green-glass like empty Coke-bottle sheen for the big finish, the lean over forward arching holding its form until the thing cannot contain the thing itself and it comes apart comes ahead in a baritone bash the crystal green waterfall falling over and sliding slapping itself in the face and bottom, up and down its line the length of the swell, now dissolving into airy agitated residue in the shallows and running forward with its last gasp not really a gasp but a stirred swirling sea-soup soaking the beach until the edge of its energy plays out and immediately reverses and an opposite reaction draws the last of its sauce back to the greater water where it mingles, gets consumed by the oncoming rank—where does the end of the wave go?—just pushed around in the last fifty yards all day?—the same final plunging water shoved back-and-forth for the next twelve hours until the whole business re-forms itself, reconstitutes, at low and medium tides, resupplying its aqua army for the next natural assault on the coast.
Waiting for the “green flash,” a pod of twenty surfers in line with the tangerine-on-silver blue step-way from horizon-slipping sun, a sherbet-orange orb glows below mauve and rinsed gray layers of western sky radiating from the sun right and left, the lines of pale raspberry and peach, the sun taking itself away not moving at all, the whole show a trick-to-eye with Earth rolling ever so slowly out of line with the one true star of our lives, all the sky-blue lines between apricot stripes turning more intensely watercolor azure, the beach sand turning blue, too, the wet patches of sand as sky-blue as the blue above, now gold burnishing yellow-gold washed-out layers under the plum shades, violet shades, blended into horizontal peach smears, and the last blast an electric-pink day-glo flamingo, a ten-percent slash strip between metal-flake blue Pacific and the darkening sky, all the surfers, the last left carrying their boards up the beach another day, walking on the silver blue-stained sand that under their bare feet is going dull gray in the dim light—
the pink stripe pinker as the last slag-gray layers close up and seem to push the pink into a squeezed tube just where the sun was last seen as if the fire extinguished its flame-pink, the end game of one more once one more planetary crank, the complete turning motion which is tough to get one’s head around, now the pink panties silk washing to a line, a magic-marker bold felt-tipped pen line that doesn’t stay put but sharpens to a fine-line of peachy pink, soft, a shadow of the red once there, striated, periwinkle crayon color, and brushed wide strokes south-to-north lighter toward Capistrano Beach and darker north toward Laguna Beach, a relative sliver of rouged peach where the sun slipped into its slot like a candy-wafer coin and not full round like the once-a-month pale orb overhead, the moon this time rocking on its lovely curve, white nail-clipping pinned up on the unseen other seven-eighths so that the section illuminated gives no hint of more to come, more at large, resting there like a punched-out smile tilted goofily to the right, in a side-leaning head really a broad smile a long white smile as if the lights are out and you see the glowing toothy grin, and if you squint you can make out a smudge of cloud around the frozen smile as if there’s a larger head or face obscured, a mask a face with a bag over with a cut-out smile lit from inside but it’s not Halloween, a long way from jack-o-lanterns even though it’s that attitude, that carved chuckle under which crosses a helicopter blinking red top and tail on the way to Costa Mesa—
for the surfers there has been no green flash to speak of or to not be spoken of, the secret private millisecond gem-green glint in the final fraction of sundown.
—Salt Creek Beach, Monarch Bay, California, January 8-9, 2019