25 October 2007

A self-appointed inspector of the mouth of the creek

(Though I still need to read the book in its entirety) Henry David Thoreau tells us in Walden, "For many years I was a self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms, and did my duty faithfully, though I never received one cent for it." What a wonderful notion for the curious, the intellectually attention-deficit, and the idler: to become the self-appointed inspector of something, anything.

In the spirit of Mr Thoreau, I hereby annoint myself inspector of the mouth of the creek. The creek, more than 60 miles in length, a creek that in most other parts of the world would be called a river, sits a short few minutes walk down a quiet beach from my office. For six years, I've wandered that beach and watched the creek through its seasonal changes of direction and strength. I've looked at the mouth of the creek in the fog, the rain, and the summer sun. I've seen it through early mornings, shared lunches at its opening, sat naked on its sands, stood and teased the seals swimming in its calm estuary.

The spot most exciting to me is the dynamic line where the swollen river collides with the white-capped surf of the world's biggest ocean. In contemplating my fascination of the westward moving river current crashing into eastward driven whitecaps, I draw corollaries with my historical curiousity of cultures meeting for the first time...the colonial periods and places and moments where native America first encountered Europe (or China, Russia, Scandinavia). A moment, never repeated twice, where entities, foreign yet familiar to each other come together in an instant. Probably reaching for too much too soon here, but it's a theme I've thought of pursuing at some point, in more depth. But perhaps another day.

Thus, what follows here now, and will, with any perseverance and hopefully a bit of joy, is the first of my days chronicling the mouth of this one creek. I'm not planning on explaining it scientifically or historically, though those threads may enter from time to time. I won't search too hard to name and quantify and classify it all. This is not a scientific endeavour. Simply, I wish to describe (or practice describing) what happens on a small plot of the planet, hidden from all but a few eyes, but one I can get to almost any day of any week in any year. (And pictures will follow once I figure out how.) The figurative end of summer seems like a good place to begin. Shall we?

30August2007, Thursday, 3:30-4:30 pm, or thereabouts
A couple hundred gulls hang out together on the dark gray sands, between the office and the creek's mouth. Patterned footprints decorate the sand. Splotches of bird shit, white to the sky, but rolled with sand, dot the beach. Mostly western gulls - gray back and wings, bright white heads and chests, with a red spot on the base of their yellow beaks. Almost indistinguishable from the California gull whose beaks are dotted with adjoining red and black spots in the same place. Perhaps they're all California's, not westerns, or maybe they're mixed all together. I'll figger it out.

A few Caspian terns mix with the gulls, their black capped heads and brilliant dark orange beaks highlight them against the crowd of gulls.

Heerman's gulls (ok...I did look that one up), all gray, darker gray on back and wings. black-edged tail feathers, are also plentiful.

Finally, brown pelicans, endangered as they are, are numerous here. They glide silently over the waves, tumbling awkwardly from the sky into the lagoon waters at creek's end, or flop to the sand amid the flock of gulls and terns. In the lagoon, the pelicans appear to bathe in the freshwater. Oh so graceful in flight, they look like old men with bad limps walking across the sand spit.

Two young sunbathers - the first I've ever seen seriously attempting to tan themselves on these usually cool beaches - sit in low beach chairs on the north side of the sand spit, one in a bikini, the other a strapless tank suit. Young blondes is about all I can tell from here, through the binoculars. Perhaps they were drawn here by the hottest day of the year, yesterday, when we reached a sunny and warm 74 degrees.

Warm sand on bare feet. Fine grain, dark gray sand mostly, with some areas a larger, crunchier, less than pea-sized pebbles.

A cool breeze, steady off the ocean, is just enough to cause my eyes to water from the spiralling winds behind my spectacles. (What's the name of that spiralling effect anyway?)

The fog has hung a couple miles off the coast nearly all day, teasing us with the suggestion that the sun will disappear sooner than we wish it to. In fact, high fog is already drifting across the beach just to the south, lightly veiling the tops of the green bluffs behind the office.

The creek has dead-ended into this sand spit for several weeks now. There's not enough water in the river to push the sand bar out of its way, and not enough of an ocean current to bend the sand back into the creek either. A stretch of sand - the spit - bows upward at its center, equidistant from both sea and creek. Wispy crinellations of dried sea foam stand as evidence of recent saltwater incursions over the top of the sand spit, perhaps at the last high tide.

The lagoon created by the fresh mountain water of the creek pooled and patiently waiting autumn's release into the ocean, is calm. Tightly spaced ribbons of current push the water into this leftward bend of the estuary, only to be stopped at the lowest end of the sand spit.

I need to ID a few of the landmarks...a few of the rocks and hills....to use as landmarks in this tiresome screed.

The gull and pelican populations at the head of the creek, across the spit, grow slowly over the hour I sit here.

Fog now obscures entirely the top of the hill to the south, a hill once enclosing a small Indian village, and later the early highway into this little valley.

A turkey vulture soars high over the top of the hill to the north, the passes silently over me and the mouth of the creek. Two harbor porpoises, trapped in a gill net til dead, washed up on the beach just south of here two days ago. Perhaps the vulture is heading that way. Perhaps for more than his second feeding.

Through the binoculars, a mass of pelicans perch on the white poop of the largest offshore seastack.

An osprey, with its prominent black eye patch, flies over the mouth of the creek, then slowly glides out to sea.

Thus was my hour at the mouth of the creek. Hasta la proxima.

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