In need of an adventure, we went to find the pianos that had been left on the beaches of Hwy 1. The pianos were left as an act of peaceful artistic rebellion, connected to Oakland by the pianos, but disconnected from the violence of recent days. You can listen to the story here: http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2013/07/19/104136/-pianos-beach
Hwy 1 is close to where we live, but we never go. It’s been so long since I was there that I forgot how it’s always winter. San Francisco fog is a toothless sissy relative to the Hwy 1 & Pacifica fog, laughable in comparison.
We left our sunny, warm little island home, descended into fog to find carload after carload of families shopping in the little towns, eating the local, organically-grown salad greens and artichokes, admiring Californians’ knack for arranging terrariums with air plants sticking out of them and our creative use of succulents .
Although the radio story made it sound like people were driving along the coast and were like, “hey! Was that a piano on the beach? We better go back and check that out,” we didn’t see any pianos. Heck, one of the beaches mentioned in the story didn’t even have an obvious road near it. Maybe the GPS and the damn Apple maps were to blame. Nonetheless despite the damp cold and gray, the parking lots were full of cars, so we figured we’d just follow a line of traffic. What would sane people be doing on the beach in this weather if not gathering around a piano?
We pulled into a parking lot and found ourselves in the middle of caravan of Indian families. The children were running between the women, who had returned to the cars and were trying to get the sand off themselves and the children, and the men. The men were in a group by the bathrooms, their large bellies pushing open the unbuttoned shirts, their laughter echoing off the concrete building.
We walked to a path in the plant-covered dunes, waiting for an elderly woman with sore feet to be assisted, almost pulled from the path back toward the cars. We walked to the edge of the cliff to look out over the beach, unmarred by pianos. There were several groups of people lining the edge of the water staring out at the ocean.
There was a dead sea lion at the edge of the water, being pushed onto the beach by the tide. A group stood, their backs to us, directly in front of the mass, watching the waves push it to shore and pull it back to the ocean.
“You know one of my skulls at home is a sea lion skull that came from this shore.”
“Yeah, back when Scott and I were first friends, we were walking on this beach and found the body way up past the water line. About 50 feet later we found the head all picked clean.”
Coincidentally we had mentioned Scott on our drive up to the beach, with Michael wondering if I ever heard from him. A sudden marriage, followed by a house purchase and a baby, and Scott’s life has been transformed. I presume Scott is either immersed in or subsumed by family life; so goes the march of time. I trust all is well, the old ways replaced by the richness of new life. Like a sea lion without its head: there are larger concerns at some point.
From the edge of the cliff, we backtracked to the parking lot and went down the stairs to the beach. At the base of the cliff there were several tents full of families. A tent full of young people swayed and bucked in the intense wind. They huddled inside wrapped in blankets, shrieking with laughter. A couple of little kids scampered around the outside, running back toward the tent’s opening at the sound of merriment.
The group of sea lion watchers had moved down the beach and we took their place, watching the massive tube-shaped creature roll in and roll out. Its skin was blotchy, perhaps covered in barnacles, naturally mottled, or discolored by death.
Slightly south of the rolling body, a bunch of kids ran shrieking into the waves after a soccer ball one of the fathers threw in. It disappeared under the breaking waves, springing to the surface as the wave withdrew, with screaming children in splashing pursuit. In and out the waves crashed, pushing the sea lion ever closer to the children who maintained their position in front of their family, oblivious to the sea lion’s approach.
We were hypnotized for a while by the ocean. What an amazing ecosystem. It is full of sea lion blood and skin and bones and the place where we dive face first into the waves looking for shells and chasing soccer balls. We swim amid the remnants of lives that used to be, in the medium of lives becoming, all co-mingling with every wave.