Stuck in a Moment?

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.I’m feeling that prickly sensation of mild sunburn on my forehead and the backs of my legs. After two weeks out of the water and away from Baja, it’s good to be home. I wasn’t so sure that I’d be feeling this way though. I wasn’t sure I was going to want to come home.

I’ve not only been MIA from this blog for a while, but I’ve been feeling MIA from life a fair bit too. I’ve been struggling, depressed and lonely. I’ve been fighting with the realities of my lifestyle.

I’m pretty sure I can hear you thinking where do I get off feeling this way? Believe me, I’ve been told many times and am usually very aware that I have every reason to be content, that I live a life most people would give a few fingers for. My ex, in his eloquence, is fond of saying I’ve “got it dicked.” And I usually can convince myself that’s true and find a reason to be content, if not outright happy. But there’s something missing and so much of what is obvious from the outside looking in just masks the difficult realities of my lifestyle. To compound the problem, I feel a tremendous amount of guilt any time I feel dissatisfied. Feeling guilty about how I’m feeling does nothing to help the situation.

When I find myself in this place, I do my best not to wallow or let it drag me down into a pit of self-pity. What I do instead is gratefully acknowledge everything I have, eat right, drink less and try to figure out what fundamentally is making me feel like crap so I can fix it. The fix is always one of two things – an attitude adjustment or something external I can change. Typically the former approach is enough to turn things around, but when the depression is the result of too much partying and surfing, and not enough sleep, changing my external circumstances can work wonders. This time though the only cause I could come up with was that I had been living in isolation for eight months and needed to get out. Getting out, however, requires funds, which are in short supply (for now, she optimistically writes), so I turned to my ex who’d been asking me to come help him with a landscaping project on Maui. He’d fly me to Hawaii in exchange for help with his project, some baking and home cooked meals.

The remarkable thing is that as soon as I booked my tickets, I felt better. Instantly. Days before my scheduled departure. I woke up early, enthusiastic for what the day would bring and looking forward to what lay ahead. I thought, “!s that all it takes? Something different to look forward to?”

As the plane took off and banked North in the direction of San Francisco, I felt a elephantine weight lift and my mood shifted skyward with the plane. Less than 24 hours in San Francisco and I started to think, “Maybe I should move to California and get a real job, get involved in some kind of community work…rejoin civilization.” Yeah, I can barely believe it either.

And then, rather than laugh at myself, leave it at that unbelievable thought, and return to my unreal life, I said out loud to three well-connected people, “So if you know anyone who’s looking for someone to house sit, a writer or editor, or anything really, let me know.”

On Maui, I began the process of formulating a plan that would make my new dream come true. I even came up with a way I could have my cake and eat it too. “I’ll get a writing job that only requires that I be in the office periodically.” And there were thoughts of landing a regular house- and animal-sitting gig.

The time on the island went fast. Too fast. I kept thinking up reasons why I should stay longer. “We didn’t accomplish enough on the project.” “I should go to this writing workshop that’s scheduled on the Sunday after I’m supposed leave.” “I didn’t get to have good pizza.” “I really should go see friend X.” But I had responsibilities back home that couldn’t wait and some disturbed weather off the coast of southern Mexico suggested a tropical storm might form sooner rather than later. I kept to the original plan and promised myself I’d return to the City by the Bay this fall or winter.

The flight from Maui to San Francisco, via Portland is not short. I had plenty of time to get caught up on my reading. I’d packed my Kindle in my checked baggage by mistake, so I read the only thing I had handy – Volume 24.3 of The Surfers Journal. And as I read from front to back cover, three quotes in three separate articles resonated with me, revealing a theme that shed light on the source of my dissatisfaction.

It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re no longer part of mainstream life.”

Day after day, no matter how perfect the waves get, there is a feeling of remoteness here, a sense that the rest of the world is moving along, more engaged, more connected, and more interesting.”

I felt a pang of recognition delivered with the pointier end of a stick as I read the last one:

If every day is a holiday, there are no more holidays.”

There they were, hard, sharp, and undeniable on the page – the three main reasons I was feeling down, along with their remedies:

Isolation, remoteness, and monotony versus engaged, connected, and interesting.

I feel, often, like I am on another planet or could be, for all the interaction I have with people. The little bit I have is limited in scope and time. What I’m struggling with, bumping up against, is the need to feel connected, deeply connected, to other members of the human race and to feel engaged in some cause that benefits others. But I’m scared by what that means. Really scared. That ache-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach scared. It’s the changes I’d have to make implied by this realization that scare the living shit out of me. And then I think, “What if this feeling is something that will pass and I end up regretting it for the rest of my life?” After all, we’re talking about walking away from what, for the most part, is a pretty amazing lifestyle. Then I worry that I’m looking in the wrong place for a solution to my dissatisfaction – external conditions. Maybe I just need to “do the work” and everything will turn rosy again. Maybe, just maybe, I’m “stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it.” But the memory of the epiphany I had on that plane tells me that’s just wishful thinking. The prospect of leaving this surfers’ paradise is daunting. But if at the other end I find meaning and fulfillment, the choice seems pretty obvious. Nevertheless, I don’t know. I just don’t know. Do you?

Tropical Storm Hector: Day 4

View to the point at 8:30am. There’s blue sky up there!

This is the fourth installment of a series of blogs describing my experience of events surrounding the first measurable rainfall we’ve had on the East Cape of Baja in four years.

Last night I fell asleep instantly and was haunted by dreams of unrequited desire after speed reading Chapter Six of 50 Shades of Grey. I woke up at some ungodly hour and upon opening my eyes, was relieved to see stars twinkling outside my window.

This morning there are big grey and white fluffy, not-at-all-foreboding clouds riddling the sky and the sun peaks out every several minutes giving me a sense that we may be over the hump.

I start the kettle for coffee, open all the windows to let the air circulate and check the status of my internet connection. Only two green lights peer back at me, “Damn!” I’d hoped to get the latest on road conditions. Next I check Zee’s leg for infection – so far so good – and I notice she is putting more weight on it, a very good sign. I still have to beg her to come outside with me to do her business though, which tells me she is still in some pain.

I begin the process of assessing the property for rain damage – there are two large and deep erosion channels, both of which threaten to undermine the integrity of expensive infrastructure (a stone wall and a walkway).  I put the caretaker Felipe to work filling the holes with large boulders and rocks, the only sure way to dissipate the destructive energy of running water.

A dark cloud passes overhead sending a fine mist down over us, but it is short lived and the clouds are slowly dissipating. I feel a surge in the humidity as the sun’s rays make passage and strike the moist ground. Cicadas buzz and a cactus wren calls with her harsh, metallic “char, char, char” call seemingly adding to the intensity of the tropical sun. I inhale the moist air, rich with the scent of wet detritus in the sandy soil, which, thanks to the sudden availability of moisture and the sun’s heat, have begun to break down. The air on my skin feels soft and my body drinks the moisture in. The sun feels good on my damp feet.

View to the point at 10:30am

By mid-morning the sea is beginning to clear further out and currents are creating patterns of clean azure blue and green sediment-laden water. I watch on and off throughout the morning as the water circulates and moves creating different swirls of green on blue. I find it fascinating how dynamic the system is.

The internet comes back on long enough for a series of messages related to road conditions to be exchanged between me, my neighbors and people in town. It is possible to get to town with 4-wheel drive, but it is a long, slow process. The drive from here to town that normally takes 50 minutes now takes close to three hours. I still won’t be going anywhere soon. Why risk breaking an axle or getting stuck? And the only vehicle I have with four-wheel drive is an ATV. Thankfully it looks like Zee won’t be needing any veterinary attention.

Blue, green, yellowy beige, white…the sea was a feast of colors.

By late afternoon the clouds have cleared except for a tiny line of white fluffy cumulus sitting along the eastern horizon. The threat of more rain, worse roads and more mopping has finally passed.

Clear skies overhead and a mountain of garbage underfoot: In amongst all that brown driftwood and detritus is a maddening amount of garbage.

This evening I try to take the dogs for a walk on the beach. They are unaccustomed to the rain and have mostly remained indoors for the past three days. In the end due to injuries and perhaps a hangover from the rain only Dakini and Peanut join me. The beach is transformed. It’s been scoured by the storm surge and great swaths removed by the rivers of runoff  leaving a steep shelf of sand scored by large crevasses. Furthermore, it is riddled with the flotsam and jetsam of nature and man – wood, leaves, coconuts, pieces of cactus, pieces of partially decomposed organic matter are mixed in with all manner of plastic – plastic bottles, bottle tops, plastic electrical conduit pipes, plumbing pipe, flip flops, running shoes, children’s toys, candy wrappers, potato chip bags, grocery bags – you name it. I shake my head when find a discarded oil filter.  And there is glass – glass jars, glass bottles, broken glass. These all represent a threat to man and animal alike and need to be collected. Birds and fish alike mistake colorful pieces of plastic for food and after consuming them often die from intestinal blockages.

We certainly have our work cut out for us.

Changing Currents

Artwork by Kevin Tole
During the seven years that I have lived here on the beach, there was always a rip tide that flowed South to North along the beach. It’s strength varied with the size of the waves generating it, but under average conditions I could swim out front without too much concern for my safety. I’d just jump in as far South as possible and then let it carry me back to where I was even with the house, get out, walk South and repeat. Alternatively, I could swim out past the current and hang out in the deeper water.

On one occasion when the waves were particularly huge, I did find myself fighting the rip despite having no intention of getting wet. I just wanted to get my feet wet – I knew the currents were too strong to risk jumping in – but I misjudged how far up the shorebreak was washing, got grabbed by a particularly strong wave and was dragged into the sea. Thankfully I was wearing a bathing suit and didn’t panic,but as the current curved and began to pull me towards where waves were crashing on some large exposed rocks, I recognized that I needed to do something.

I recalled that the best way to get out of a rip is to swim at a ninety degree angle to it, so I turned and swam away from the shore, and its safety, and when I thought I’d swum far enough, I began swimming back in. Before I could get onto shore though, the current grabbed me again and whipped me right back to where I’d just been worrying about getting smashed on the rocks. Now I was getting, well, concerned. As I continued swimming in an attempt to maintain my position, I looked up at the hill where the house sits and saw Felipe, the property caretaker, watering the plants. It was clear he was oblivious to the peril I was in. Even if he had been aware of the situation, it wouldn’t have mattered because the man can’t swim and we have no rope or life ring that he could throw to me. My stomach churned as the thought flashed through my mind that I could drown out there and Felipe would be none the wiser for it until he needed more cigarettes. Having been eaten by sharks, my body would never turn up – my disappearance would remain forever a mystery to all except the dogs, whose twelve eyes watched me intently from the beach. I resolved that my fate was in my hands only and turned again to swim out away from the current.

This time though I swam further,much further, out past the southerly rocky point where I knew the rip tide originated. I reasoned that from this angle the current would sweep me all the way in to the beach, instead of back to where the surf pounded the rocks. 

It worked. I managed to make the beach and got out, spent and with the sound of my heart thumping loudly in my ears. My only witnesses, the dogs, greeted me as only dogs can – noses poking and hind legs jumping with tails wagging wildly.

Last Saturday, when I took the dogs to the beach for their evening walk, I noticed something had changed. The ocean in front of the house which is bordered on the North and South sides by rocky points, didn’t look the same. There’s been sand building up in that area all summer, but it seemed like suddenly there was a huge amount of sand extending a good 50 yards out to sea. The ocean’s surface was dappled with evidence of new eddies and the water appeared to be flowing wildly all over the place. Were I more experienced in ocean matters I would have paid closer attention to what was going on in the water, but after seven years of constancy, I figured nothing much had changed except for the amount of sand on the bottom.

I jumped in the water and came up relishing the cooling sensation of the water cascading off my face. When I turned around to look towards the beach, I discovered it was quickly receding and I was already, in a matter of a few seconds, more than 50 yards from land. It was a rude awakening. I tried to swim back to shore, but it became obvious that it was going to take more than a few strokes of front crawl to get me there. The current was overpowering me. I wasn’t feeling particularly energetic or I might have seen the circumstances as a challenge and tried to overcome the current. Instead I stroked patiently and when a wave broke over me, I paddled hard and body surfed it as far as it would take me. I did this several times and was soon back at the beach. Panting I hauled myself out of the water and turned to look back at the sea in amazement.

That’s when I noticed that just down the beach, a huge U-shaped swath of sand had eroded from the beach in a manner I’d never seen before. It was over 15 feet deep and 50 feet wide. I looked as though a backhoe had come in and removed loads of sand. In front of where the sand was missing, was a large flat area where the sand had been dumped and the water was now only a foot deep for 30 yards out into the sea.The dogs and I walked out onto it – it gave under my weight lending it a foamy, cushiony feel. Perhaps in response to this sensation the dogs began to jump and play in the water. They seemed to recognize that this was a safe area out of the impact zone of the surf, which was crashing further out than usual on the edge of the newly deposited sand.

I wondered at how suddenly the changes had occurred and caught me unawares.

That evening, as the sky turned rosy and shades of coral, I reflected on how the changing currents in the sea reflect events in my life: like the sea, my life shifted ninety degrees in the three days around the full moon and my emotions continue to shift like the sands on the beach.