Searching for rocks along this Central California beach has become my afternoon pleasure. I walk for a peaceful hour along the wave line, searching for rocks that the tide has brought in from the ocean or pulled out from the dunes. If I am lucky, it will be low tide, and the beach will supply an abundance and variety that sparkle in the retreating waves.
We are lucky today. Walking through the dunes from the street to the sand, I notice it is low tide. I reach the water, tuck my hat close against the wind, aim my eyes downward, and search for the eye-catching rock, the one that glimmers in the sun, or sparkles with foam from the ocean. People passing by may wonder why my attention is pulled to my feet when the surroundings are so glorious, and at times I feel guilty that I am not honoring this haven with my full attention. But the rocks and their beauty are also insistent. I let the sound of the waves envelope me as I focus feet-ward.
Sedimentary, volcanic, igneous. I have heard all these definitions before. Perhaps I could name a few, but the pristine color and smooth surface is what I really want to admire. I do spend a moment wondering where these specimens of the earth came from, and what adventure caused them to look the way they do.
Today, I get lost in the search until the rumble of a strong engine comes alongside. The beach is seldom crowded, and cars are not allowed, so I look up at the unexpected noise. A harbour patrol truck slows and the driver points to the ocean, then speeds down the beach. Looking into the waves, I see the partner harbour patrol boat racing parallel to the beach. I want to think they are saving a sea lion or errant pelican, but right away I think another shark has probably been sighted and the patrol is on the way to warn surfers to get out of the water.
A jet-ski joins in. I have only seen one jet-ski on the water, so I assume the harbour patrol has the only one allowed. It flits in and out of the waves, circling around the boat. Shark sightings are fairly common here in Central California. I have seen the patrol boat come to warn surfers once before. The surfers had seemed to linger that time, not overly-excited about retreating in the face of deadly sea creatures, but most heeded the warning eventually. I scan the ocean, which is rough today, and even though it is sunny and warm, I don’t see anyone in the surf.
Until I walk farther down the beach, and see one brave/foolhardy soul entering the water. I think maybe the patrol truck had passed by before he arrived, and he doesn’t know about the shark. But maybe it’s me who has got things wrong and the commotion isn’t about sharks at all.
I look up and down the sand. A platoon of horses and riders enter the beach and start their slow walk, in and out of the surf. Horses on the beach are more common than sharks in the water. A young horse accompanies this group, maybe its first trip to the beach, and they lead it into the water.
I cross the rubble of a rock pile, the ocean having pulled apart a large dune and its rocky contents. It’s my last chance to hunt for smooth or colorful pieces of the earth and I get momentarily diverted.
Ahead, just beyond the surf, the patrol boat is waiting, then speeds back my direction. The truck does not return, but I hear its loud motor in the road alongside the beach. The lone surfer is still battling the surf for a chance at dominating a wave. The boat approaches, but I lose sight of both as I reach the yellow flags that signal the walkway back to the road. The dunes close in and I can only hope the surfer stays safe.
I look for the signs that are posted after a shark sighting, but there is nothing. Then I wonder what the patrol could have been monitoring out there. I remember the patrolman pointing out past the waves. Whales. I bet it was a whale coming too close to shore. This place has so many curiosities and wonders. And to think that all I was looking for were a couple shiny rocks.