Sneaker Synchronicity

Nearly every October, the City of San Francisco afflicts its citizenry with the screaming lunacy of the Blue Angels. (A friend describes them as a motorcycle gang in the sky, which, I think, nails it.) I think it’s best to restrain one’s hatreds, but the Blue Angels are one of the few things I will admit to feeling contempt for. It’s been my practice for several decades now to skip town the days of the horror show. A few years ago, Judy and I and a few like-minded friends started up a tradition of going up the coast to Drakes Beach to spend the day in the sand, eating, talking, and swimming. Sometimes I bring a book, and I decided to do so this year. I wanted something lightweight (meaning, not too heavy for my daypack), something I could dip into if I felt the urge to read, but could quit easily. I studied my shelves for some time before settling on a book of poems by Gary Snyder. Short nature poems at a wild beach. Perfect.

Drakes Beach

Drakes Beach

Drakes Beach is narrow and ends abruptly at the base of a long wall of sheer white cliff. You can tell from the sea weed and the channels in the sand that the waves sometimes come up all the way to the base of the cliff. But they’ve never done it during any of our outings—and I’ve been there 15 times or more. I’ve sometimes wondered, in my ignorance, if it was something that happened only at night. When Judy and I arrived around noon, none of the others had shown up yet. The fingers of the waves were coming in closer than usual. Judy asked me, “Did you check the tides before we left?” I assured her that I had, although I couldn’t remember exactly what I’d read. It seemed to me that high tide was supposed to be at 2:40 pm. But that was for the Golden Gate. I’d understood the book to say that there is a one hour 20 minute time difference between the tide times at the Golden Gate and at Point Reyes Peninsula—where we were—which would put high tide at 1:20 pm. At 1:15 the waves were still a reasonable distance away, so we relaxed. I pulled out the book of poems and began reading. I kept one eye on the waves, though, and, while I couldn’t be sure, it looked as though they might be coming closer.

Other people on the beach were becoming uneasy. Not that there was any danger. It was more a question of “Are we going to have to move our stuff?” A small group of picnickers passed by on their way up the beach, and one of them stopped to ask me if I knew when high tide was. I told her what I thought I knew, but had to admit that I wasn’t sure. She had an accent, so I asked her where she was from. She said France, which led to a brief conversation. While we were talking, I remembered reading that the Coast Guard had issued a warning for sneaker waves that day. I asked her if she knew the term “sneaker wave.” She didn’t, so I thought I ought to explain it to her. She had difficulty understanding, and was more concerned with catching up to her friends. She let me think she’d understood and then left. A few minutes later, a guy approached me and asked if I was waiting for a particular wave, a wave that had a name. His question made no sense to me. I thought he was just being goofy, and I was a little rude until I realized that he was French, too, a friend of the woman, and was seeking clarification on what a “sneaker wave” was. As we talked, the surf kept throwing out an occasional longer wave. Last gasps of the high tide? Playing it safe, Judy and I moved our stuff a little closer to the cliff and onto a slightly elevated portion of the beach. The way the waves were breaking, I felt certain we were in a place that would stay above it all. I spotted a park ranger coming down the sand, so I trotted over to ask if she knew when high tide was. She said 2:40, which meant I’d misunderstood the tide log. It was obvious now that we were were going to have to abandon the beach entirely. Right at that moment, two of our friends, Bruce and Michele, showed up. As Judy and I greeted them a huge wave reared up, smacked down on the sand, and started rolling toward our stuff. The four of us hoisted everything up off the sand just in time. We were luckier than most. Up and down the beach, folks were mourning over their soaked picnic supplies. Just then the French girl walked by. “That was a sneaker wave,” I shouted.

As we were leaving, Bruce noticed that we’d missed one item, the book of poems by Gary Snyder. It was sitting in a shallow pool of seawater. He picked it up, handed it to me, and I saw the title again: Regarding Wave.

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19 Responses to “Sneaker Synchronicity”

  1. Tim Mueller Says:

    Great title! Kept me guessing ’til the end.

  2. Glenn I Says:

    that’s poetry!

  3. unhoppy Says:

    “On the beach near where I live, a rocky promontory presents a square, blunt face to the sea. At high tide, a big wave sometimes charges the cliff, climbs halfway up it, then turns and rushes back to the sea. Twenty yards out, it meets the incoming wave, and they defeat one another in a great clash of spray. Both waves simply disappear, and for a few moments the sea lies still and hissing. It is that state of quandary that I am trying to describe, but I can’t get it, I can only feel it.”
    from Rian Malan’s book “My Traitor’s Heart”
    This is my favorite piece of writing. Mark, your beach story reminded me of it so I wanted to share it. “My Traitor’s Heart” is a good book. It’s about apartheid. I read it back in 1991, so it’s been a while, but the piece of writing with the wave metaphor is still my favorite after all these years.

    • Tim Mueller Says:

      I beg to differ. In my mind, “My Traitor’s Heart” is not a good book; it’s a great book. I just read it for the first time last year, so perhaps, like wine, it’s getting better with age? That is a wonderful image that you have quoted here. It’s a great addition to this marvelous post!

    • markbittner Says:

      I am intrigued. I’ll have to find it.

    • unhoppy Says:

      Tim, I apologize for my understatement. Yes, it is a great book.

    • Tim Mueller Says:

      Aaaah, no apology necessary. I simply think it’s the kind of book that everyone should read. Plus, I’m taking an online class on hyperbole, so I’m always looking for the opportunity to use it.

    • unhoppy Says:

      I saw that word ‘hyperbole’ again in the review of Pelican Dreams. “Her narration, at times, involves a bit of hyperbole. Irving tells us, near the beginning of the film . . .”

    • Tim Mueller Says:

      I don’t think the reviewer understands what hyperbole is. He says:
      “Her narration, at times, involves a bit of hyperbole. Irving tells us, near the beginning of the film, that she knows what flying feels like because she regularly dreams about it. Later, she quotes an avian veterinarian who has assured her — on what evidence, it is not clear — that pelicans also dream.”
      To say that pelicans dream is certainly NOT hyperbole; instead it evokes elements of the fantastic, fabulistic or surreal, but ONLY within the context of a documentary. Sleeping dogs who twitch or moan or bark while sleeping are said to be dreaming. Are they the only “non-humans” who have permission to dream? I think not. Goldfish? Butterflies? Why not. Perhaps what we call “Reality” is merely the dreams of earthworms. In which case (to quote Woody Allen), I paid too much for my car…

    • markbittner Says:

      One of the great sicknesses of our time: Anthropocentrism.

    • unhoppy Says:

      It didn’t seem like ‘hyperbole’ to me either, when I read that review, but ‘hyperbole’ is a new word for me.
      Yes, anthropocentrism. A sickness in perspective. And if an idea isn’t scientifically proven it is not valid. Another sick idea that is often used to justify.

  4. Garry Says:

    The blue Angels. What’s not to like c’mon man!

    • markbittner Says:

      I dislike (a mild description) everything about them. I live right under their flight path and they scream horribly and shake the house and terrify the animals. Plus, I’m opposed to the militarism that this country has become so infatuated with and that the Blue Angels represent. That’s it in a nutshell.

  5. Garry Says:

    You know your views are a lot different than mine. I am trying to see things from your point of view but I have to admit it’s hard. I think I have become more open minded over the years but I think we must be made a certain way. I think some people are just different from other people. I am trying to learn to accept that but it is very hard.

    • markbittner Says:

      As far as my views go, I’ve had different views over the years. They have changed, although I’ve been with the current set a long time now. I think we’re surrounded by a lot of misinformation and it takes a tremendous amount of digging to find out what’s true–about anything. We are all unique in some ways, like every ripple in a stream is unique. But more fundamentally we are all part of one big whole. The thing is to be constantly looking for what’s true, to challenge your own beliefs, and to meet people who challenge your beliefs. I had to go through a lot of humiliation before I was able to discover the ideas that seemed so clear to me that I wouldn’t back down no matter who I was with. And if someone else had a truer version, something that really RANG true, then I would consider it.

  6. beachmama Says:

    I’m so pleased to see that I am not alone in disliking the Blue Angels and all the disruption . . . not only do I dislike the noise, the crowds, and the pollution but I’m not keen on what they stand for either. I much prefer to walk the beach near our home and listen to the pounding surf thank you very much : )

    Love your writing Mark and cannot wait for your book. It was fun meeting and talking with you after seeing ‘Pelican Dreams’, a film I hope everyone has the opportunity to experience . . .

    • markbittner Says:

      I looked at your blogs and enjoyed them very much. Judy and I are also “imperfect vegans.” Our preferred retreat from the city is the Point Reyes area. We used to housesit for a couple that lived outside of Inverness, the starting point of many wonderful bike rides. Back in the early 1990s I was a fanatical bicyclist. My longest ride was 132 miles in a single day, from San Francisco to Valley Ford, across to Petaluma and then back. Bodega Bay was always calling to me, but I never got up the will to ride there and back. (My rule then was not to use any motorized transportation whatsoever.) I love the area. Especially the Highway 1 corridor. From Mill Valley all the way up to Leggett. It’s going to be an important part of Street Song.

  7. unhoppy Says:

    It’s my day off and it’s cold and sunny outside and I am listening to an ocean waves CD and pretending that we (me and my bird) are at Drakes Beach. 😊

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