Saturday, November 6, 2010


Alma and I started walking on the beach each day in early June of 2010. We began in order to get exercise and so that Alma could get sunlight. There is nothing like living with a working visual artist to hammer home the fact of the absolute necessity of light. I knew this in the abstract from having studied art history. But a real, live breathing artist gives the primacy of light a whole new meaning to a lay person.

Neither of us had exercised much in the past 10 years but, after we each quit smoking in April, Alma had noticed her weight had gone up 10 pounds. My weight was probably also going up too, although I did not weigh regularly. Our family doctor did not warn either of us about the weight gain that would happen when we quit smoking and it caught Alma by suprise and an unpleasant surprise at that.

You might be wondering how we came to walk on the beach each day. We did not suddenly wake up one day and say to ourselves, "We must start walking on the beach every day." Nor did we wake up one day and say, "We must start exercising every day." Neither of us practice that popular Southern California pastime of working out at a gym. As for myself, truth to tell, I hate the idea of exercise for exercise's sake and will do anything I can to avoid it. But a walk along the beach with a beautiful woman at my side? That hardly seems like exercise for exercise's sake. As for Alma, the bone structure in her ankles has started to deteriorate as she ages. Alma thought that losing weight would lessen the burden on her ankles and make her sexier in my eyes.(The latter is not true, by the way, as I would think her sexy at any weight.)

But why the beach? One thing you should know about Southern California is that it is, geologically speaking, a desert. So when the skies are clear and the sun is shining, the light is absolutely brilliantly hot and bright. After it has crossed its daily azimuth (or is that apogee?) and moved into the afternoon hours, the sun shines intently over the Pacific until sunset when it sets on the far western horizon. That is, provided the skies are clear.

As it happens, though, we had suffered through a very gray winter and spring here. Images of the Rose Bowl Parade on January 1 notwithstanding, Southern California is often prone to a phenomenon known as the "marine layer," a cold, cloudy sky that extends from the coast inland to the north-south 405 Freeway. Often this marine layer will burn off by noon, leaving blue sunny skies for the remainder of the day. But there can be days, and even stretches of days, where the marine layer hangs around all day, never burning off or clearing out, such that the skies remain cloudy and the temperature unseasonably cool the entirety of the day.

Every weekend day from January to June of 2010 seemed like a day where the marine layer never cleared out. (Indeed, this persisting marine layer phenomenon would last through much of the coming summer. The weather has been nicer this past week than it was all summer long.) As a visual artist, Alma needs light and lots of it. Yes, we had light from January to June but it seemed to come on weekdays, when I was working, and not on the weekends, when I had free time. Every weekend day, it seemed, was grey, cold and cloudy.

After this 'grey sky' situation had lasted well into May and listening to Alma's frustration that we had not had any usable sunshine, I finally said, "You know, there is no reason why we could not go down to the beach after I get off work." That is how it began. We started going down to the beach each day after I got off work.

At the time we began walking, I was still employed. So our walks of necessity would have to happen after work each day. Because Alma does not drive and it takes 3 buses and at least an hour to get from our home to the beach, it made sense that I would drive us together and go to the beach with her, rather than her go by herself while I was at work. We live about 5 miles from the beach - about a 15-minute drive in normal traffic. Until July, I would arrive home at about 5:30 p.m. each afternoon which left us about 90 minutes of sunlight. (The sun  sets at about 7 p.m. in June and July.) We had some mad scrambles at first, trying to coordinate schedules to allow for adequate time at the beach. But, after a couple practice runs, we settled on Alma readying herself and waiting for me at an intersection two blocks from our home. At 5:30, I would pull up to that intersection where Alma would be waiting streetside. Alma would hop in the car and we would zoom off to the beach, hoping not to encounter any traffic. For the most part, this routine worked. Traffic always seemed normal and we would typically arrive at the beach between 5:30 and 6 p.m., park and walk for the next hour. Alma got a daily blast of direct sunlight and we each got an hour of concentrated exercise.

In July, my hours changed so that I arrived home at about 3 p.m. This removed a lot of the time pressure from us and allowed us to begin exploring the beach in more detail. Of this I shall have more to write in the days to come.

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