07September2007, Friday, 930-1030 or thereabouts
Almost a wintry feel in the air this morning. A cool, steady breeze blows down the beach from the north. The surf is strong, loud and erratic. The waves roll in from many different directions. That's a quality of this beach, and of far northern California that you don't experience on the other side of the continent where I grew up. The beaches of my youth were regular. Waves were predictable. As a kid, I learned the mantra of the 7th wave being stronger than the rest. Even as a kid you could almost prove it scientifically. Not so here.
This morning the surf is a cacophony of movement and sound. Waves of varying heights, densities of foam, and speed, run over, around and through each other, before backtracking down the steep slope into the next incoming surge. The crash of surf is simultaneous with the tinkling backwash. The sea advances and retreats all at the same moment. Irregular. Erratic. Wild. Dangerous. Chaotic.
Far fewer birds patrol the sandspit today. Maybe a hundred gulls and a dozen pelicans. There's a hangover kind of feel in the air, as when a giant party or outdoor festival breaks into its post-frenzy laze. In fact, this past week there was a feeding spectacle off-shore as described earlier in this journal. But today, the dark gray carpet of sand is matted with the three-toed prints of thousands of birds. White shit balls up over the full length of the beach and shores of the estuary. Small clusters of birds congregate lazily like the group of faithful friends who gather in the kitchen to help the host clean the place up, hungover and hungry, but laughingly enduring the trailing headache of the holiday weekend bash.
It's probably not too far a stretch comparing this feeling to that of the remaining rangers at the end of a busy summer. The crushing rush of summer visitors has passed. There are quiet moments again in our visitor centers, time to talk to each other and talk with those who deliberately wait out summer to travel after the visiting hordes have vanished. These shoulder season visitors really are the ones to enjoy. They come here to be here, not just flying through on the way to 19 other destinations in their 9-day minivan road trips with road-weary toddlers and reluctantly-dragged teens. Time to talk and breathe. Kinda nice.
A tightly packed group of five common mergansers paddle purposefully upstream from the back of the estuary. Stiff rust-colored heads, mottled backs, narrow and sharply pointed bills.
An osprey glides over the mergansers towards the creek mouth. I catch him, then follow him in my binoculars. He leads me in a complete 360 degree spin until I'm forced to drop the binocs when the sun through the refracted lens fries my eyeballs.
Nearly an hour is spent sitting, watching, meandering, and quietly contemplating life in general at the mouth of the creek. Several other inspirations, confusions, explanations, desires and ideas end up on the index cards that make up my on-the-spot journal. Some of those brain farts will end up shared here eventually, I'm certain.
I notice suddenly, that not 15 feet from my driftwood bench, a small gull (likely an immature western gull though I debated possible ID's with a coworker much of the afternoon) stands and contemplates the world alongside me. How long has he (or perhaps she) been standing there? We share this patch of beach for another 15 minutes or so. I try to engage him in conversation about the day, life's questions, our plans for the day, the need to return to the real world. But he just stands and listens, absolutely unconcerned about this hairy, windblown, green/gray midlifer sitting on a log scribbling incoherent thoughts and stuffing them into his pockets. Is this little bird brave? Stupid? Injured? Looking for an easy handout like the tattered rag-pantsed bozos on the Plaza?
Perhaps, like me, he's just hanging out, taking a few moments to get away from the others, to recoup, breathe, do a bit of solitary thinking about what's important now that the urgency of schedules and responsibility have eased a bit. It's a good spot the two of us have found. And, I suppose a good spot is a good spot, whether you're gull or guv'mint flunkie.
Walking back to the real world along the back edge of the estuary, a sleek, black cormorant floats in the calm backwaters. He disappears silently into the green water, reappearing a safe, and surprisingly distant 50' feet away.
Hasta la proxima.