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.