HEADER ART BY JOHN JORDAN

The characters and events described here are fictitious and any similarities to any other persons or events, real or fictitious, are sheer coincidence. Eventually these stories will be edited and prepared for publishing.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

OIL ON THE BEACH

"Safe Harbor" Oil on canvas by Ronnie Layden - 2013 
Summertime in Santa Barbara, California,1975: Just north of town, if you knew where to turn off from the main highway, there was a bumpy dirt road that led to the edge of some high sand-stone cliffs along the coast. A clearing among the eucalyptus trees served as a parking lot and from here a steep trail led down a gully between the cliffs to Mormesa Beach...

A local secret, Mormesa Beach was undeveloped and hard to get to. The trail was basically just a gully in the sandstone that had been worn there by the rain. The boy and his mother would go there and camp out for days at a time. The first time they went there was a party--the parking lot was nearly full of colorful, dented vehicles typical of those you saw hippies driving around in during the seventies. As the boy made his way down the path carefully, carrying a brown grocery bag with tortilla-chips and some other goodies, he felt as if he was passing into a secret world. Mormesa Beach was just that--the rest of society hadn't found Mormesa Beach yet--it was a sanctuary for the Santa Barbara hipsters--there they could go naked, trip on acid, frolic in the waves, and make love on the beach with no interference from the police or the rest of the "straight" world.

The boy was nine years old now. He was strong enough to swim out to the big waves and body-surf back into shore. There is something so pure about body surfing: First you fight your way out through the pounding salty foam; then you dog paddle around watching and reading the swells, trying to get into position to catch the biggest one. Your teeth chatter a little from the coldness of the sea and you try not to think about what could be swimming around underneath you. Finally, a good swell approaches--the water around you starts to pull you towards the rising mountain of water as you begin to kick your feet and swim as hard as you can.  Now, the wave starts to break just behind you, you take a deep, long, last breath...you make your body as stiff and straight as you can, with your head down and your arms stretched out in front of you, forming a "V" shape. The wave breaks and you accelerate towards the shore; you hold your eyes shut tight to keep the stinging salt-water out as you and your wave roar like a jet-fighter towards the shore. You want to lift your head above the water and take a breath but the savage wave is still carrying you on, and you know you will be tumbled mercilessly if you do...instead, you continue to hold your body straight and stiff, lungs bursting, waiting until your momentum slows and you are not sure if you are still moving forward. Then you feel sand underneath you as the water recedes, and there you are on the beach again.

As the warm, California sun dried him off, the boy gazed down the beach. Strewn along it, every ten or twenty feet, were large black stones. The boy went over to one; picked it up and examined it. It was sort of and oblong saucer shape and kind of squishy--kind of like Play-Dough. He ran over to the fire to show it to his mother. "That's tar from the oil-spill," she explained.  Looking down at his right leg, the boy noticed that he had black stuff stuck between his toes and on the back of his calf. He was astounded--he couldn't believe that humans would do this to themselves; to Mother Earth; and to his magic beach. Perplexed and upset, he decided he would roast a hot dog on the fire, but first he had to get this gooey, icky, stuff off...! Someone had a can of charcoal starter and used the fluid to wash the nasty tar off but he soon stepped in the stuff again and it seemed like there was just no way to avoid the stuff.

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