(where you were in your life, 2 stories interacting, a dramatic moment)
While anchoring a large canvas with my foot I keep my painting from sailing off the rock. Trying not to get the fine reddish dirt in the paint I lean over and dig my brush into a pile of ultramarine blue. My oil paintings are getting too blue. Being from Northern California, I have gone overboard with blues. All that sky and water. I set up an area to work in before the tourists start their day. A photographer for the daily newspaper walks up to see what I am doing. She takes my picture for the weekend edition. I guess that’s cool. I’ll send it home. Something for my family and friends to talk about.
The ocean is new to me. I’m used to lawn not sand. I don’t want to sit and be all sticky and gritty. But my children age 8 and 11 want to surf. While shopping in The Village I had seen a card posted on an announcement board, “Ocean swimming lessons for children, call 946-6342.” This is the way I found Tim, a blonde Greek Godlike young man.
I can smell the ocean. Most of the time the breeze is moving in the other direction and you smell the sweetness of tropical flowers in bloom. The board by the lifeguard hut says twenty foot visibility, no chop, 68 degrees. Good, the water is warm, no surf. Pelicans are on the rock and cormorants are diving for fish. Maybe I’ll see some fish today. I can already see the orange flash of a Garibaldi making her nest by the rocks. Tim arrives, wearing a full wetsuit and fins. I don’t get any. I’m supposed to follow him with a mask and snorkel. When I want to see something from the ocean floor I tell him. He’ll dive, bring it up and show me. The idea being, I won’t be scared when I see nature up close. I gingerly step in, push-off and go, following Tim’s yellow fins. Next, I try out my equipment. Breathing with a snorkel is impossible! Inhale, exhale, nose, mouth; water is everywhere. I haven’t even had a mask on before. I can’t remember what to do. The water is so salty! I start looking around. There’s a whole new world down there. I point, then watch this beautiful man dive to fetch eel grass, kelp,and barnacles. How weird, there’s a lobster. It has no color. It’s gray-brown. You dummy, it hasn’t been cooked! I stick some pinkish purple kelp down the front of my bathing suit. After smuggling it home I can copy it’s beautiful color and delicate lacelike appearance. We decide it’s a good day to go over to the right and swim through the cave. A bunch of lanky teenagers have gathered on this outcropping of rock called The Clam. A rite of passage down here is to jump off The Clam. Looking through my mask I see a baitball of transparent smelt, eel grass gently swaying back and forth and the sand. I like this. Carefully, we float over the rocks through the cave. Tim says, “Be careful when you come out at the other end.” I thought I knew what he meant, but I didn’t think he meant what actually happened. I slip out rolling over on my back so I can look at the rocks, no one is jumping. The boys are dancing around, getting up their nerve, girls giggling behind them.
There’s a cold spot. I’m out in the ocean. I can’t see the bottom. It’s deep and dark. Where’s Tim? Where do I go? There he is, but ,oh, what’s that? There’s a rock. It’s so smooth,. It’s very big. It’s moving! oh, no it’s a very big fish. I think it’s a whale, one of those gray whales. I can’t find Tim. He must be on the other side of this guy. The mottled gray whale breaks the surface, submerges and appears again.. I tread water. It’s the only thing I can do because he’s circling me. Up, down, like a sea serpent this undulating smooth shape swims around me. He’s so close I could reach out and touch him. A little wrinkled eye looks at me. Barnacles attached to his smooth head are hard and glass like. You’d think they would hurt. My heart is going to pound right out of my skin. Is he afraid? I am. Looking around I see I have no escape so I decide to enjoy this moment. I calm down my heart and mind. It’s quiet. The only sound I hear is the water shushing when he dips and rises. Ducking under water I see his flippers, then his tail flukes. The whale must be about the size of three or four trucks lined up, one behind the other, just a baby. Heavy, I wonder how much he weighs. After an unknown amount of time, my curious visitor straightens his path and glides out to sea. Tim is gone. I swim back with a story to tell. Someone said Tim left me to follow the whale, but I know I was the only one there. Standing against the sun-baked wall I shiver uncontrollably until the sun’s warmth penetrates my body.
In my studio the lacelike piece of seaweed is floating in a bowl of water, the newspaper clipping lies next to it, abstract paintings of The Cove are stacked up in the corner. And, there’s a newly stretched canvas hanging on the wall.
The idea for posting this story came from a blogger named Fritzz, http://flickrcomments.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/story-challenge-letter-w/. The above is about one of my water experiences. I became an avid ocean swimmer after that day.