Monday, April 18, 2011

New Ways to Look at Old Things

Walking the same stretch of beach daily tends to at times put me in a rut where nothing seems new or worth looking at. I have been feeling just a bit blase about our beach for the past couple weeks. As the weather has begun to brighten and spring has begun to assert itself, the beach seems to have lost some of its charm. But that feeling can change at a moment's notice, as yesterday's walk reveals.

This past weekend, we had one day (Saturday) of brilliant sunny skies and temperate breezes. Alma and I actually spent a little extra time down at the beach on Saturday. We took a blanket, a Frisbee and Alma took her drawing pad. We planned to do the same on Sunday and I scrambled madly Sunday morning to get all the weekend errands done so that we could head to the beach early and spend more time there.

The skies seemed to be cooperating Sunday morning and the temperature started to climb as I drove to the grocery store, gas station and post office. But after we had eaten lunch and were in the car driving down to the beach, we  noticed that thick clouds had started to fill the sky. We did not think too much of it until we got down to the beach and found no parking in our customary areas.

This time, however, instead of driving north in Santa Monica in pursuit of either a reasonably priced lot or a long-term metered spot, we decided to drive southward further into Marina del Rey. At the intersection of Washington Blvd and Ocean Blvd., we turned left and headed south on Ocean Blvd., running parallel to the track we customarily walk. We drove about 10 blocks south and there were no parkng places on Ocean Blvd. where we might normally expect to find at least one or two spaces. This I ascribe to the weather having been very nice before we headed out. Many locals decided to make a day of it at the beach and we simply arrived too late to find any of the free parking.

After we had driven south about 10 blocks, we came to the Via Marina jetty. Ocean Blvd. curves sharply to the left, away from the Pacific, and running perpendicular to a causeway for the sail- and motor boats that have slips in the Marina. I had never seen this particular stretch of Ocean Blvd., even though I have lived here for almost 20 years now. So Alma and I were pleasantly surprised to discover that the city has created a sort of mini-park along the causeway. Actually, it's more properly speaking a grassy promenade with some benches placed at regular intervals for promenaders to sit and take in the view.

Even better, though, was that this stretch of Ocean Blvd. was lined with metered parking slots. Interestingly, the meters allow for a maximum parking time of only 2 hours. Why is this important? Because cars must circulate in and out of the parking. We jumped into a spot that was just opening up as we arrived. I keep a plastic cream cheese container full of change in the car for just such occasions when I find myself parking at a metered spot. Good thing too, because these meters cost $1.50/hour. So I plugged in $3 worth of quarters, enough to get us the maximum of 2 hours parking. As my regular readers will know, this is a bargain by local standards as parking in the beach parking lots runs anywhere from $5-$20 on weekend days.

At first I was reluctant to do park in a 2-hour slot, because Alma and I had planned for a longer stay at the beach. However,  by this point, the weather had become far less ambiguous. Those clouds we had seen filling the sky as we drove to the beach had now become a solid grey marine-layer laden sky. No more brilliant sun or bright blue skies. So Alma and I made a decision that we would pay for the 2 hours of parking and simply confine ourselves to a standard beach walk of the kind we take daily.

However, we got to walk along the promenade back to the beach about 3 blocks. Along the way, we met some wonderful dogs, among them a beautiful Border Collie with its long nose and mournful eyes and a couple  yappy after-thoughts of dogs. I also got to see some beautiful sailboats going out to the ocean and back into the Marina. I find that I like the 'idea' of sailing a sailboat, although I would definitely be a horrible boat owner, as I do not enjoy working with my hands and dread the 'idea' of maintaining a boat.

When we reached the beach, we now walked northward briskly towards the Washington Blvd. pier. We had to walk briskly, as we only had 2 hours on our parking meter and the parking enforcement people at the beaches have a reputation for being merciless to parking scofflaws. Parking tickets run between $50 and $75, so it pays to keep one eye on the clock. We actually walked along the row of houses that front the sand. There are some beautiful houses there (with pricetags to boot) and I enjoyed seeing the variety of architectural styles. (When we pass that way again, I will ask Alma to take some pictures of the architectural highlights.)

We made very good time and reached the pier after only about 30 minutes of brisk walking. Now at that point we could have continued walking northward to the breakwater, the way we customarily do. But I suggested, and Alma agreed, that we instead walk out onto the pier.

The Washington Blvd. pier juts out from the beach into the ocean for a distance of 30-40 yards. At the end there is a large circlular area bounded by a waist high fence. At the end of the pier, I would estimate that you are about 40 feet above the surface of the roiling ocean waves. The beach and ocean look quite different from the end of the pier. We could see many swimmers and beach goers but they looked like little insects from our vantage point. The water at the pier's end looked a deep, dark green. The dark green lightens up when the water is about 10 yards out from land, probably because reflection of the sand underneath  lighten the more shallow waters.

We met several people, older guys and a couple young boys, who were fishing from the pier. They were actually catching small fish, although I doubt the fish were edible. And, really, who would want to eat any fish from those waters, if they knew what Alma and I have discovered there (like used diapers and medical syringes)? The feeling I got is that most of the fish were being thrown back in.

We spent about 30 minutes on the pier and then walked back along the surf's edge. We saw one sad item during our return walk. A seal or sea lion had washed up onto the surf's edge and was struggling about. There were already a couple onlookers there when we arrived and one of them said that the creature was sick and that help had already been summoned, words confirmed by the lifeguard who drove up shortly after we arrived. Apparently, there is some person who specializes in marine life rescue but he or she was stretched thin, as there is a lot of beach to cover and only one person available on Sundays.

I suppose all wild sea creatures must go somwhere to die and must land somewhere when they are too ill to continue. Still, it is distressing to see a magestic creature lieing helpless in the sand, able only to weakly wave a single fin. Even though the surf continued to wash over this creature at regular intervals, it was unable to lever itself back into the water. I would have gladly given it a push back into the water -- don't like to see any animal suffer --  save that the lifeguard said professional help was on its way. Although Alma and I are usually highly suspicious of anything anyone in nominal authority in Los Angeles tells us -- Los Angeles being full of flaky self-proclaimed experts -- we find that the lifeguards at the beach are generally pretty eco-conscious and bio-friendly, so we deferred to this lifeguard's words.

We arrived back at the car with 15 minutes left on the meter! So we took advantage of the remaining minutes to sit on one of the benches that line the promenade, admire a few more sailboats and greet a few more dogs. What a nice surprise yesterday turned out to be. Good thing, too, because today the skies are full-on cloudy and grey. I suspect there will be no beach walk for us today.

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