Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dune Report

"Brisk" ... "Bracing" ... "Blustery"

All words used to describe last night's walk on the beach.. Wind gusts from the north-northeast at up to 40-50 mph. Steady breezes of 20-25 mph.

When we got home from our 3-mile walk last night, I was curious to see how hard the wind had been blowing. I came across this online alert from the National Weather Service:

355 PM PST MON NOV 8 2010

Walking on the beach in such stiff winds differs significantly from most of the beach walks I detail. Most of the time, the ocean and beach are very placid. The breezes, such as they are, typically blow gentle and warm. But last night's walk was entirely different. It was nature "red in tooth and claw" (or the nautical equivalent thereof). A wild, savage beauty.

I never intended this blog to become an episodic chronicle of our daily adventures on the beach, a sort of "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" day-by-day account. Actually, though, my very first post "Inspector of Sand Dunes" (November 3, 2010) did suggest that this would be  my purpose:

During this year, I hope to publish daily accounts of my wife Alma's and my perambulations upon Venice Beach as we gather materials for her art and exercise to defeat the nicotene demons.
But as I have begun to post daily, and as I have continued to re-read Thoreau's Walden, my purpose has changed and evolved. I now realize that I do not want my blog to be merely an online diary or journal of day-to-day events. Yes, I want to focus on the beach and our walks there and how those beach walks affect Alma's art and my healing. But I also want this blog to provide a snapshot of what it's like to live with an artist and how doing so changes one's way of seeing and being. Finally, I want this blog to offer a profound meditation on the world we live in now and the world I would like to live in. For those of you tiring of the blow-by-blow accounts, have patience, for you will see a change come upon this blog. For those of you who enjoy the blow-by-blow accounts, do not despair, as they will not be departing entirely

Along those lines, I shall henceforth publish periodic 'Dune Reports' that attempt to capture events of specific beach walks. I think once or twice a week should suffice for your inspector's reports on the condition of the dunes. The word "dune" is actually something of a misnomer, as I understand the term, for a dune is a sand formation that has been shaped by the wind and elements over the millenia. As it happens, the beaches at Venice, Santa Monica and Marina del Rey are regularly groomed by members of the municipal Beaches and Harbors Department. Although the grooming happens very early in the mornings apparently, the sand is raked almost every day. Frequently, at night, we can still see the tracks of the tractors they use to rake the sand.

Last night, we began our walk at 4:15 and ended at 6:00 p.m. Now that Daylight's Savings Time has ended, the sunsets happen at around 5 p.m. each day. By 6 p.m., it is now fairly dark on the beach. We typically walk a south-north route, starting by walking 1 mile south, continuing next with a 1.5 mile leg north, capped by a final .5 mile leg south back to our jumping-off point. (This augmented 3-mile trek honors the blog having received its 5th follower a few days ago.) After we finished the first southward leg and had turned northward for the second leg, we could both feel the extra effort walking into the stiff northerly wind required. At one point, while we were still walking southward on the first leg, we crossed paths with someone walking north who had not come prepared. This person, a young Asian lady in her 30's I would guess, had both hands over her ears and looked like she was in extreme agony. Alma told me I looked like an old sea dog as I strode along.

The sand on the hard pack had crusted over because of all the wind yesterday. A few words on the geography of the beach: From the parking lot and paved ocean walk the first 30 yards or so are what Alma and I call 'soft pack,' sand that is loose and that readily gives way under foot. Walking in the 'soft pack' generally requires far more effort than walking in the hard pack, which begins about eight yards from the water's edge depending on the position of the tide. In fact, when exercising, Alma and I recommend that people walk in the soft pack because it requires so much additional effort to move one's feet along and through the sand.

Typically, the transition from soft pack to hard pack manifests gradually and you have to look for it to see the transition point. Not so last night, however. Whether because of the violent winds or because of the driven waves, the sand transitioned abruptly from soft pack to hard pack with these little hard-edged walls or 'shelves' of sand about 1 foot high. Alma took the position that these shelves were created by the wave action, whereas I argued that it was the wind constantly eroding loose granules of sand that caused the phenomenon.

Sand Shelf - November 8, 2010

Alma pointed out that she needed to take pictures at different times to capture the orange and blue color contrasts. According to Alma, the vertical shelf was orangish in hue, whereas the softpack further away from the ocean was a beautiful dark blue. Well, I could see the orange in the vertical shelf but the 'blue' Alma claimed to see, I did not see with my naked eye. However, when you examine this photo, sure enough the soft pack to the left of the vertical shelf appears blueish in tint.

As we walked on the hard pack, we could see loose sand granules blowing over the hard pack. It was a very beautiful sight -- it actually looked like sheets of sand were swirling about atop the hard pack. That loose sand seemed to hug the ground closely. None of it got in my eyes and Alma did not report any in her eyes either.

Last night's was the first walk on which we found nothing to bring home with us for Alma's art. Perhaps, as Alma pointed out, the blowing sand had covered anything of interest. Fewer and fewer people are coming to the beach each day as the days shorten and winter approaches, so there will be less and less detritus until next spring.

But if we did not find anything usable to bring home with us, we saw sights that made the walk worthwhile. We had a minimalist sunset. The gusty winds accompanied clear skies so, except for a smattering of clouds directly overhead and a few heavier clouds in the far west, there was little for the sunset to project onto. But the clear skies made for excellent shadows upon the sand. As you can see, your Inspector of Sand Dunes casts a mighty long shadow, as does his illustrious sidekick and brilliant artist companion.

Even with a minimalist sunset, though, the pinks of the sunset reflected onto the wet sheen on the hardpack closest to the water's edge. The spirits alive in the world and the universe use the beach as their canvass.

After we reached the end of the 1.5 mile northward leg and had turned and begun the final .5 mile leg southward to our jumping off point, we both noticed the tiniest sliver of moon visible in the west-southwest quadrant of the clear sky. Alas, Alma had used up all the memory on her phone by that point and could take no further pictures. With the wind at our backs, the sound of the waves crashing to our right and the crescent moon visible ahead, we finished our walk and headed back to the car.

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