A perfect day at Ocean Beach! This is one of my favorite places in the world, yet I never seem to make it here unless I’m already in the area, out in the Western avenues of SF. (Maybe it’s that hardcore guilt my mother brought me up with, over “too much” pleasure.) It began as a beautiful (rare this year) summer day in my neighborhood, yet when I arrived here early in the afternoon, it was overcast and cool. I walked north on the beach, toward the Cliff House.
Turning south, I noticed the water came up almost to the seawall at Noriega Street, and the beach seemed eroded like never before: ripples of sand paralleled the shore, creating inland pools of seawater as the tide washed in and out. Litter at the water line, along with several dead birds (cormorants and a gull), and an unpleasant looking yellow foam that gathered and dried there rendered it dirtier than I’d seen for some time. Perhaps there was an upwelling, stormy waters churning up fish; lots of brown jellyfish and crabs were being picked clean by gulls on the shore. Armies of birds by the hundreds clustered together, watching the sea: gulls, ravens, terns, also sanderlings, willets, godwits, and curlews (three similar brown shorebirds, with bills that are straight, or curve up or downward), as if sentinels waiting for a signal. Dinner?
Then, a most magical moment. Although B. had told me he’d once seen them, I’d never seen for myself, nor did I entirely believe. As my eyes scanned the water and the horizon absently, not looking for anything in particular but hoping to catch whatever came along (as the birds do?), suddenly, a single dark fin breached then submerged underwater. My mouth fell open and I stopped, certain it was a mirage. But there it was again, carving a perfect arc through the serpentine wave. And again! Just as I wondered if I was seeing an individual or a group, 3 to 4 harbor porpoises arose and then dove in unison, taking my breath away. After six decades, they’re returning to San Francisco Bay.
I then came upon a couple watching a surfer in the distance. The man asked, “Hey, did you just see a bunch of dolphins? They’re out there, playing with his board!” Sharing their wonder, I mentioned reading about dolphins saving humans from drowning by pushing them to shore, and the woman said, “They’re probably just as curious about us. Amazing!”
Down at the other end, at Sloat Boulevard, the beach and cliffs were so eroded there was barely anything left. Back up at Noriega, it was uncrowded, so I plopped down at the foot of a dune. After walking for three hours, although I’d brought books with me, I just lay down on the warm sand, appreciating how it supported my back, and watching the sun sparkle on the water. There in the middle of the beach, the sea on either side, I felt like I was on a small island, surrounded by a very big ocean. Turning onto my stomach, I closed my eyes, lulled by the ocean’s roar and enjoying the hot sun on my back. Instantly relaxed. What a luxury, to do something for the pure pleasure of it.