From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
“Do not blame others for things that you have brought upon yourself.” Alexander McCall Smith
Do we, indeed, bring things upon ourselves? Are we the masters of our own destinies or are we pawns of forces we have no control over? These are questions I entertain myself with while walking to town today.
Having learned from my trusty tide chart that there is a negative tide attaining negative zenith at 9:30 in the AM today, and being a lover of negative tides, I decide to begin my daily trek to the village by walking down to Big River Beach, communing with the oceanic sprits, and then accessing the village by climbing the seventy stairs from the beach up to the headlands and from there meandering along the little trail through blackberry bushes and wild roses to the Presbyterian church.
“But is this what I really want to do?” I wonder as I amble down the steepest stretch of Little Lake Road. “Or have forces I have no control over made me think this is what I want to do when, in fact, it is what they (whoever they are) want me to do?”
I make a left onto Clark Street and head south toward Big River Beach. I am excited about the prospect of exploring the mouth of Big River with the tide so low and… or is my excitement merely a trick of those forces that want me on that beach at that particular time because…
Two bearded men approach me, one holding a leash connected to a large brown dog. As they draw near I instinctively give them a wide berth, and I’m glad I do because the large dog lunges at me as they pass, and the man is barely able to keep the dog from getting to me.
“Sorry about that,” says the man. “He’s never done that before.”
“Well, I’m glad you have him on a leash,” I say, having heard that same He’s never done that before line from dozens of unconvincing dog owners.
The lunging dog behind me, I wonder what brought me to that place on Clark Street just in time to encounter a lunging dog? A few minutes earlier or a few minutes later, no lunging dog. Coincidence? Or are the unseen ones trying to tell me something? I dunno.
A hundred yards further along, I get a panoramic view of Big River Beach in the distance—not a human being in sight on the vast expanse of sand. I wonder why. Gorgeous day. Extremely low tide. Summer upon us. Where are all the people? Or where are some people?
And now for the most obviously dangerous part of my journey, a quarter-mile stretch of walking against traffic on Highway One down to Big River Road, which is the main entrance to Big River State Park. There is a wide shoulder here, but not wide enough as far as I’m concerned, as cars and trucks come hurtling toward the walker at sixty miles an hour, cars and trucks driven by people who are often oblivious to pedestrians. Having nearly been killed at least three times by people talking on cell phones while driving, I am extremely wary of putting myself in situations where such thoughtless people might kill me, but this is the most convenient way to get to the beach on foot, so I hug the inside edge of the shoulder and prepare to jump into the bushes should an oncoming vehicle appear to be making a beeline for me.
Arriving at Big River Road, I find the park entrance closed to vehicular traffic by several big white saw horses, three of which bear giant traffic signs reading EXAM UNDERWAY. I kid you not. The signs don’t say ROAD CLOSED or PARK CLOSED, but EXAM UNDERWAY. Seeing no sign saying DO NOT ENTER, I saunter down the steep drive to the beach parking lot and espy three uniformed park employees standing beside two white dump trucks. One of the employees, a muscular man wearing reflective dark glasses says to me, “Yes, sir. What can I do for you?”
“I’m heading for the beach,” I say. “Is that okay, or will I be disturbing the exam?”
“No, that’s fine,” he says. “We’re keeping vehicles out because we’ve got some folks undergoing heavy equipment operation tests, but we’re not using the beach.”
“Thank you,” I say, having solved the mystery of why there was nobody on the beach.
“No worries,” says the man. “Enjoy.”
Big River’s flow of fresh water is so little right now and the tide is so greatly withdrawn that I can, for the first time in my eight years of living here, wade all the way across Big River and back, which I do before wandering out onto the greater beach. A few folks have come down the stairs from the headlands, so I am not entirely alone on the vast expanse of sand, but nearly so.
As I follow the widening river to where the stream of fresh water meets the salty sea, an osprey plummets into the river and quickly rises into the air with a little fish in her talons—a breathtaking sight and reason enough to have made this trek to the beach.
I roll up my pants’ legs and wade out into the ocean up to my knees, the breakers perfectly formed for surfing, though there are no surfers in the water yet, no doubt kept at bay by the heavy equipment exam. The water is relatively warm compared to how I remember it being a week ago, and I smile at thoughts of going swimming in the ocean, one day soon if not today.
Finding a likely spot on a sandy slope some fifty yards from the water’s edge, I eat a breakfast of nuts and seeds and a juicy navel orange, and get out my notebook to write. A story grabs me and I have the feeling the hidden heart of the tale is the question of whether we are masters of our own destinies or merely pawns of forces we have no control over. And as I write, I think of Buckminster Fuller and his notion that wisdom is knowing how, after much experimentation and experience, to harmonize our efforts and actions and designs with Nature’s principles for our own good and the good of all people and things.
I fill several pages of my notebook, and when the words cease to flow I look up and see five surfers out in the water, one of them just catching a wave and having a lovely little ride. I also see several people walking on the beach, including a few who are both elderly and obese, which suggests the heavy equipment exam has ended and the parking lot is now open for business. There are mothers with children, a woman looking for rocks and shells, a man with a dog on a leash, and a woman with a dog not on a leash. Everyone is taking pictures with their phones. A woman strides by talking on her cell phone and I hear her say, “…yeah, it may go up some more, but let’s not get greedy and lose…”
Feeling nicely energized by the oceanic fumes, I traverse the warming beach and sit on a log at the bottom of the stairs to wipe the sand off my feet and put on my shoes. A ten-year-old boy wearing a Giants baseball cap comes skipping down the stairs ahead of his parents and shouts, “See? I told you! It’s perfect!”
I count the stairs as I climb, but right before I reach the top I lose count because I’m distracted by a homeless guy sitting on a log overlooking the beach saying to another homeless guy, “Seriously, man, I watched the game on my phone and LeBron was not to be denied.”
As I arrive at the Presbyterian parking lot, a dusty expanse the church generously allows the general public to use, I am met by a muscular young man with curly brown hair, his sternum adorned with a lifelike tattoo of a pink rose. “How you doin’, man?” he asks, frowning at me.
“Great,” I say. “Beautiful day.”
“Would you be interested in buying some hash?” he asks, nodding.
“No, thank you,” I reply, wondering what made him think the likes of me would want to buy hashish from him. Or maybe he asks everyone he meets if they want to buy hashish. Or maybe… I dunno.
I get a little cash from the ATM machine at my bank, Mendocino’s one and only bank, stroll to the post office and pick up the mail featuring this week’s Anderson Valley Advertiser, and transect the village to reach the hardware store where I buy three bolts to attach a vice to a table in our workshop. As I’m searching the bolt bins, two men down the aisle from me are having an animated discussion about a construction project. One of the men says, “You know, I think it might look better if we do that, but I’m afraid we’d be tempting fate. You know what I mean? I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Home again. Gardening. Writing. Snacking. Practice the piano. Writing. Hours pass and evening approaches. Marcia has been away for two days concertizing in Santa Rosa and is due home for supper. What shall I make? I sit at my desk awaiting inspiration. I could heat up some rice and sauté some garden vegetables. That sounds good, yet I remain at my desk. I feel pleasantly ensnared, held in my chair by unseen powers. The phone rings. It’s Marcia calling from Boonville and suggesting she stop at Libby’s restaurant in Philo and pick up some superlative Mexican food. What do I think about that? I think Yes! and surrender to the beneficent spirits.
(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2013)