As yet another massive storm pounds our coast, New Orleans refugees have piled into our house and kept me turned on to the progression of the water’s attack. One of them is, in fact, an urban planner who has all kinds of great levy stories and the kind of engineering tales that I live for. Apparently all of the drawbridges along one stretch were lowered to prevent their being torn out by the storm winds. As a result, the rising water is getting caught up on the bridges and causing even more problems. It might even be worth letting the wind have a crack at them except that now… wait for it… the drawbridge controls are under water.
I have to admit that when there are two groups of people watching something like that happen, and one is weeping about the property destruction, I’m with the other that is throwing a hand into the air, laughing, and saying, “of course! Why didn’t we think of that!” Oh science.
The other problem I’m having is that every time I see the ocean waters, I can’t stop thinking about surfing or diving into it.
Just a week ago in North Carolina I was doing my best to catch rides on an ocean that was so sleepy I could have napped there all afternoon. Then tropical storm Fay swung by Florida and stirred things up. We got rip tides and some pretty fierce wind that at times turned the beach into a sandblaster and, best of all, brought waves! Of course, they were choppy, mean, random waves. Just getting out past the break was an effort that left me exhausted, my poor arms unable to move. The trick was that once I got out there it wasn’t the calm pool for floating and relaxing I’d had in California. Just to stay in one place I had to keep paddling with my feet and struggling to stay balanced on the board. The whole thing was exhausting, before I ever even tried for a wave.
The swells were coming in a constant stream of short chaotic spikes and as soon as I’d try for a huge, rising swell it would reach me and drop off like it had given up. There wasn’t any sweet spot and if there was one, the current was sweeping me so fast down the beach that I would never have been able to hold it. Then suddenly, after all of the struggle, I caught a ride. It was short and quickly threw me over, but for a moment I was back on top of the world, tearing towards the beach. I was already shouting as I burst up through the surface and, with a rush of fresh energy, I was ready to do it all over again. On one day over the span of a few hours I probably got, at most, three rides and yet somehow it was enough to keep me coming back for more.
Back home in Austin I’ve been told that the surfing in the gulf is pretty much the same, with the addition of stinging jellyfish and waste oil. But even here it inspires the same level of nuttiness, including a guy who wants to have his Texas and surf it too. He’s been working on raising funding for a massive surf park with wave generators. Am I going to become one of these guys? Or just another chump with a trailer by the beach on the west coast? Only the song royalties for Mr. Rat can tell.
During the North Carolina trip, when the storm fueled ocean was at its most extreme, I decided to go out for a swim. Struggling to walk out into the writhing ocean I had an interesting realization, as one often does when returning to the embryonic fluid from whence his species came. I loved letting the ocean throw me around. I was tossed into the air, pulled under the waves, and yanked along by fierce low currents. I tried to stay reasonably close to shore, though, and there would always come a moment when I would touch bottom or suddenly realize that it was no where close. If I had to, I’d fight my way a little closer so that I could feel my foot hitting the sand.
In learning about Harry Harlow’s surrogate mother experiment the image that, for some reason, stuck with me was that of the little monkey who’d established a connection to the soft cone mother figure. Having done so he was then excited about exploring his surroundings, and wandered freely. Every now and then, though, he would return to cuddle the cone for a moment. He would routinely spend a few minutes there before heading back out to explore.
Both of these work as great metaphors for the way I live life. I love exploring the world and sometimes letting it throw me around like storm waves. But between bouts of this exploring I need to return to touch the soft sand of Austin with my toes or reconnect with my family and friends. At one time I found this dichotomy odd. I thought it didn’t make any sense that I craved novelty and radical experience so much and yet have lived in the same city for years. Now it’s all clear. I’m just a monkey after all.
[ed. dude, what about the toe story?]
Oh, the toe? I did promise the story. During one of my wild leaps up onto my board to catch a rare, rideable wave my right second piggie whacked into the surfboard. While I was grinning, riding and thrashing along, the back of my mind registered a quick note to self: pain. It wasn’t until I crawled exhausted onto the beach much later that I stopped to check it out and noticed that it had turned black. The thing about broken toes is, well, there isn’t much you can do about it but wait it out. It certainly isn’t worth not surfing and I was already wearing sandals everywhere I went. I re-injured it trying to put a shoe on the other day, but at least it’s a familiar toe color again.