Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Beach and the Five Senses

Most of my reports of our walks on the beach have, until now, concerned what the eyes can see. This focus on the visual makes sense, because Alma is a visual artist and this blog is in part a record of her creative process and how she sees the world around her. But the world of Venice Beach touches far more than merely the visual.

Here is an unpleasant truth about the beach. Sometimes it smells horribly, like something has died. Well, the reality is that something has died (or is constantly dying): the kelp that washes up on the beach and the occasional bird or fish. But the rancid smell becomes especially pronounced when one is around any of the man-made formations: either the Villa Marina jetty, the Washington Boulevard pier or the breakwater a half-mile north of the pier. The water is less turbulent there and that relative stillness and fewer and smaller waves must allow for the bacteria to proliferate that produce the smells.

Below are pictures of washed-up kelp and a dead or dying jellyfish:

In fact, I cannot say that any of these segments of Venice and Santa Monica beaches we regularly walk ever smell absolutely delightful. At least, though, when Alma and I walk the open beaches, the sea breezes blow constantly, refreshing the air we breathe and preventing any buildup of noxious scent. And there are times when the temperatures are especially mild that a balmy breeze seems to waft a pleasant tropical scent through my nostrils.

In the summer, the sand warms beneath the sun's rays, such that we can almost always remove our shoes. Walking through the soft pack bare-footed produces pleasurable sensations of the warm sand massaging our toes, feet and ankles. Only rarely does the sand reach temperatures where walking on it at length risks burning the soles of our feet. The Beaches and Harbors maintenance folk drag their rakes and harrows through the sand each morning, leaving vehicular tracks we can step into and out of. The sand is packed down a little more firmly in the vehicle tracks than in the surrounding unblemished sand.

And, of course, we walk the beach in part to collect material for Alma's art, so we continully engage our sense of touch whenever we pick up objects on the beach abandoned by man or washed up the sea. Often the object has become partially embedded in the sand, so reclaiming it requires moving sand away from it or pulling it out of the sand.

I find, though, that I respond most to the sound -- the white noise of the waves, the muted sounds of sea fowl, the even-more-muted sound of people talking at a distance. The white noise overwhelms almost all other noise. Even the high-pitched keening of children and gulls takes on a 'far away' muted quality because of the dampening effect of the white noise from the waves' breaking on the surfline. The annoying distractions of the frequent helicopters and planes flying overhead from the Los Angeles International  and Santa Monica airports, even that sound becomes muted before the ever-present and unending white noise of the waves.

I did not intend this post to catalogue each of the five senses and I have left out taste, as we engage that sense only in drinking juice from the sports bottles we prepare before walking. But walking on the beach engages the senses, all of them, and not solely the visual.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so very surprised that when you were talking about the waves that you didn't mention the endless pounding rythem they create against the shore. I have also noticed the taste of salt on my lips when I've been down on the beach which I think has been half the reason I've been craving salt off and on.