12 December 2007

Redwood Creek: One Tuesday in December

Tuesday, 11December2007, 930ish in the morning:

I finally get out for what’s become an all-too-rare walk on the beach this morning. The first thing to strike me, besides the strong and cool breeze on my ever-thinning locks, is the large rock just off shore – some call it Little Girl Rock – sitting atop a becalmed sea. The ocean, after several days of storms and wild surf is quiet again. Long swells of regularly spaced waves stretched out the full length of this three or four miles of beach beat out a smooth, regular rhythm on the shoreline.

Little Girl Rock sits atop the blue waters like an anchored ship in port. It’s shore-side peak rises like a unfurled sail drying in the shelter of the high bluff of Orick Hill. There’s no ring of splashing ripples around its rocky hull this morning, no cresting breakers splashing white foam high up its face. It sits quietly, still in a near-waveless sea.

Near the rock’s base, not far out from the mouth of Redwood Creek, five surfers float on long boards. Watching them, you see that the water is not as smooth as glassy as it appears from farther away. They rise and fall on the gentle swells and duck beneath early cresting waves.

Every few minutes a taller set of waves roll in. I get to see what I rarely see surfers doing here: standing up on their boards and actually surfing, riding the six to eight foot waves ‘til they bail out on the sand bar that fronts the mouth of the creek. They’re not simply floating and waiting as they usually do, though that’s never seemed like a bad way to spend a day either.

I’ve never surfed, so I certainly don’t understand the science behind knowing where and when the surfable swells are best along this 100-mile Humboldt coastline. But someone out there does. The five already on the water at 930 am become thirteen by 10 am, new arrivals approaching from both north and south sides of the creek.

Five or six crab boats dot the horizon, none of them too close to the shore this morning. A couple of crab pot buoys bob in the waves, originally confused by this amateur naturalist as floating critters ‘til the binoculars prove otherwise. It’s not quite the forest of colorful lobster buoys in Maine’s Blue Hill Bay, but enough of a presence to briefly transport me east to the summer morning moan of lobster boats hauling in their traps.

The mouth of Redwood Creek is its usual maelstrom of gravity-pressed creek crashing into the persistent pressure of the Pacific. About 100 gulls dot the southern bank of the creek; perhaps a dozen others surf the back and forth waters at creek’s edge. A solitary gull stands atop the larger rock at the mouth, a winged harbormaster for ships, surfers, seagulls and seals.

Turning east to the estuary, the bright sun reflecting off the lagoon waters and the stiff breeze pouring down the creek quickly have my eyes watering. Four small wading birds whose identity is disguised by my weather-induced tears scamper along the shoreline. (Probably western sandpipers, but could just as easily be semi-palmated sandpipers.)

A dozen seal heads pop out of the water, staring me down. I look away briefly, trying to clear my dripping eyes to see the birds. When I turn back to the seals, maybe 30 or even 40 shiny gray heads stare at me.

I wander across the dry channel separating the main stem of Redwood Creek from the south slough. I wasn’t seeing birds at all until I scared up a couple buffleheads hiding in the shadows of the grassy shoreline. A few more coots dot the calm backwaters as well.

Hasta la proxima.

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