Archive for the ‘water’ Category


Posted: December 20, 2010 in water
Tags: , , , , ,

You can surf  a 60 foot wave — if you have a jet ski to tow you into it and the guts to stay there until you ride down the watery mountain. Crazy exciting, the liquid stuff on our planet. Some claim that 100 foot waves are out there, somewhere, sinking ships. I hope not. I really prefer the safer forms of H20 — a tall glass with ice and lemon — ahhh! The surface of the earth is about 70% water, most of it in oceans, a little bit of the fresh variety scattered about everywhere else in all kinds of interesting forms.  How fun is that! We like it; we love it and tend toward being all over the liquid stuff, swimming, sailing, fishing, boating,  skating, skiing, kayaking, diving, surfing it. 

It goes further; we are it.  We humanoids are about 60% water, although that progressively decreases with age. We should each think of ourselves as bodies of water, which dry up, eventually. The Egyptians just speeded up the end game with the mummy thing.

But it varies, the human water ratio. An infant can be as high as 75% water; an adult suffering extreme obesity can  be as little as 45% H20. Females tend to be a lower percent of water than males, less wishy-washy internally. But obviously, a good deal of washy and wishy is essential to life.

Water is good, and good water is all over the place, but less so now. According to a study by the US National Center for Ecological Analysis, 41% of the world’s oceans have been strongly effected by pollution. The British Petroleum disaster in the gulf this year made my hear ache for the earth, my wild little sister, as gooey tar gushed into her clear blue sea. Nearly a billion people don’t have access to safe water. We need it; we want it.

When we are away from it we tend toward driving or flying to it. Vincenz Priessnitz, the founder of modern hydrotherapy, got folks to thinking about the curative properties of water. I am  disciple of  Priessnitz; I am hydrophilic. Showering for me is as much about being healed as about getting clean. The other morning I stood in the shower transfixed, hot water pouring down the  back of my neck, the steamy water vapor swirling up from my body, the elegant waves and vortices  of steam arcing through the air, lighted by the sun streaming through the window. I lifted and waved my hands, and the steam went wild. The heat penetrated me. The warmth surrounded me.  I was momentarily healed of stress. Water heals and entertains.

When I was a young teen, my dad bought a heavy wooden Chris-Craft kit  boat and pulled it down to the shop at the campground.  We painted resin on the bottom and spread fiber glass fabric across the hull.  The smell of the coating was strong, powerful and chemical.  My dad screwed on a plywood cabin, and we brushed on a coat of white paint all over to integrate and protect it.  Then we towed it down to the  Osage  River in the evening, my two brothers, my dad and I,  plunked it into the river, and pulled the starter rope on the 25 horse power Evinrude outboard motor — roar, blue smoke, clunk and slow glide. This felt familiar — an engine, a seat, a steering mechanism and a throttle, like my first pickup truck,  it was zoom and turn all over again.

“Hit it,” I yelled and braced my legs. I plowed through the muddy water hoping I didn’t hit a submerged log, and  pulled myself out. Dripping with the river and charged with ancient evolutionary forces,  I rose from the heavy, resistant world of the fish and ascended into the flying world of the birds. 

It was a moment that I experienced often that summer. “Let’s go skiing!” my dad would say, and we were off, in turn, and it was my turn, and I pulled on my vest, tossed the skis in the water, dropped over the side of the boat and pulled them on.  Loved that feeling. The slack rope taken up, the slow drag, the skis going parallel, balanced, ready, the yell, the roar, the force on bottoms of the feet, the stand, the skis flattening, the wind glancing off my face, my arms and fingers stretching out in front of me, and the water receding with a hiss below. 

I was in the moment. I energized and  jumped on the moment with a sharp lean, a quick cut, an up-and-down over the wake, and a smooth slide out onto the glassy evening surface. Speeding forward, I raced up beside  the boat like a darting swallow. Catching the screaming outboard, I looked across at my comrades,  and then feeling the slack in the rope, I turned sharply back to where I belonged, behind the smoking Evinrude. I picked up speed, cut again, hit the wake hard this time, flexed my legs up under me and  flew through the air. I landed splat and fast on the water again and popped up over the second wake. Out of the edge of my eyes I saw my brother making a circular motion with his hand and  my dad crank the steering wheel, sharply reversing the boat’s direction on the river.

This was the moment.  A small, heavy, underpowered boat, with too many people in it, can still pivot, and when it does a skier behind it is placed into a wonderful moment of opportunity — the   physics of  the whip.  A weight at the end of a string swung, experiences the increased speed of centrifugal force. And so that evening, my body was propelled outward —  scary, crazy, dangerous fast. Quickly I was flying, zipping across the glassy evening water like a bullet fired from a high-powered hunting rifle punctuated by my brothers’ hoots on the other end of the taut pull rope.

I slowed as I caught up with the boat again, then cut sharply back across the wake and dug in, settling in the center of the wake.  I lifted my left ski out of the water, and with a slight twist of my foot, shook it off. I wobbled for a second on one leg, then carefully set my left foot down into place in the rear binding on my right ski and relaxed comfortably back in the water. The drag increased, my arms stretched  and my heart beat faster. I bounced a little to test my stability, then with cool abandon cut fast and hard out over the wake, with increased agility, speed  and maneuverability. Powering  toward the river bank,  I knew the beauty and  prestige and power  of the slalom.

I blasted forward with a huge watery tale  shooting up behind me, looking good, having fun, propped up by fiber glass and wood, cheered by my brothers, full of speed and thrill and life. But then, as one is want to do on occasion, I suddenly wobbled, lost control, pitched wildly to one side and let go of the rope. Boom. I bounced across the surface of the water, the ski ripped off  my feet and my shoulder twisted violently under me. I flipped head over heels, went under, slowed sharply, and quickly bobbed up again to see the boat calmly turning back toward me sputtering oil and gas and rescue.  The spotter had done his job; my brothers shouted, “Whohoo!”

I was a hero — for a horrific crash.

I love the water! It is absolutely one of the  most inspired concoctions in the universe — H2O. Cool, hot, cold, warm —  elegant in all its temperatures and forms, liquid, gas or solid. I love ice in a drink and steam in the shower and every manifestation of liquid comfort in between.  Well, not every. I didn’t love it one evening recently when I was lying under the kitchen sink, twisting a compression fitting on a shut-off value on tighter. I didn’t love it when the stop popped off the wall and a blast of water hit me in the face. I didn’t know at that point that the pressure regulator had failed and that the house’s water pressure was at 160 pounds per square inch. It should have been at about 4o or 5o. But I knew it hurt to put my finger over the end of the exposed copper pipe and held it back until my wife could turn the water off in a panic and a rush to the street. And I knew it scared me. Water in the wrong place at the wrong time —  not good. Think Katrina or the tsunami  in Indonesia in 2004.

But I still love water. Winslow Homer, John Marin, Albert Pinkham Rider — show me more. Water creates the opportunity for us to experience the world in a unique way. To slide  over the water in a boat, on skis, on ice skates or on a surf board is to experience the world as the pelicans or the black skimmers see it — a smooth flowing surface falling away behind us, a glittery, bright plane we glide over but not into. Water offers to us all the thrill of the  glissade — en avant, en arrière, dessous or dessus.  

When I was in college, I moved back to California, to San Diego and I met Steve, who surfed. I didn’t have many friends, and surfing sounded fun and so off we went to the beach early in the morning to get some of that same glass I skied on with my brothers. It was different. The first time I went water skiing I got up; not the first time I went surfing. I got knocked down. The waves beat me down and under and over and around.

Surfing is hard. It requires strength, endurance, timing, agility, balance, knowledge of the ocean, good waves and other stuff I don’t even know because I never mastered it. I remember surfing days when we never even got past the white water. It was too big, too fast, too strong. I remember days when the best ride was along the bottom, bouncing over the sand. I remember days of falling off and paddling back out and falling off again. And then there were the rides.

We drove up to Del Mar early in the morning and paddled out over glassy five-foot waves that ran into the beach smooth and fast. Lying on my stomach I looked out to sea, saw a dark swell forming and paddled to it, turned around as it rose up off the sand,  put down a couple of good slaps into the water, kicked my feet, felt the energy of the wave pick me up and tilt my board down, looked along the quickly lengthening wall of water,  jumped to my feet, dropped fast and furious down the wave,  turned my board at the bottom,  raced madly along the watery wall, saw the fatal curl deepen at the top,  put my weight back on my left foot, cut straight up the wave cliff, hit the lip, launched into the air and fell with a splash on the safe side, wave rain falling down upon my head and sprinkling me like at an infant baptism.  Fun, fun, fun — what a rush, all the bad days and falling down and paddling out — worth it.

A clammy wet suit pasted on your body, the sweet smell of surf wax in your nose, salt crusted on your lips, the grimy feel of sand and sea weed  in your swim suit, the sticky feel of sea water on your skin and hair,  the warmth of sun and sand as you walk back up the beach, the amazing salty-sugary taste of Snicker bars in your mouth, and the bitter flavor of hot coffee on your tongue, the pleasure of relaxing into a nap  when you get home, the poignant memory of the rush along the wall — all this is the joy of surfing.

Water, water, water — I can’t get enough of it. The turquoise ice bergs we flew over at Glacier Bay, the small wave I totally carved up one day at Tourmaline, the beauty of a glitter path on the sea at sunset in Coronado, the gifts pile up through life like presents under the tree.

I will always remember the crystal clear water we snorkeled in at Honaunau bay on the big island of Hawaii. We bought home-made chicken sandwiches on the way down to the City of Refuge, left our stuff on the black lava rocks at Honaunau, and slipped into the bright, blue, clean water — excited. We could see the colorful  fish and green sea turtles even before we  stuck our masks under the surface. And when we did, whoo hoo! Fabulous colors on trigger fish, butterfly fish and tangs. Beautiful glides along the black lava with the sea turtles flapping their big flippers along side of us. We were immersed in the yellow, black, orange, blue  and green palate of life and the only thing that finally drew us away was the sudden splashing mid-bay and the realization that the dolphins had come to celebrate the beauty with us.

We stroked our way out among them, all the time hoping they wouldn’t spook and leave. They didn’t. Down they circled below us, into the deep, and up they came among us, rising like spirits from the bottom, bigger and bigger as they ascended,  joyfully splashing around us, their grey-silver bodies sleek and glowing, then back down they went to the bottom again. We celebrated their coming in and their going out, both then and forever more.  Priessnitz would have approved — we were healed at the watery playground of the dolphins. Hydrotherapy is no humbug. Go to Hawaii, now.

Finally exhausted by dolphins and sea turtles and butterfly fish we restored by eating our fresh sandwiches on the back lava rocks in the bright sun, content, delighted, eventually full for a few moments.

And so we have gone to other watery places, Alaska, for instance. It is like Hawaii, a world of water, but different — cold and vast and frozen. There we discovered that glaciers are a really fun form of water. From the air I remember the pilot announcing that we looking down on a glacier more than 60 miles long. That’s a lot of ice. As we landed in Juneau, I remember looking out onto the Mendenhall glacier, a stunning beauty with long legs. We had to get closer and so we went out to it and hiked in a moraine. The power of moving ice is incredible, dragging huge boulders down from the heights, powerfully sculpting the land underneath, carving deep valleys with vertical walls — think Yosemite National Park. Ice carves rock wonders.

From Juneau, we boated down the Tracy Arm fjord to the Sawyer glacier. On the way we had a holy moment of silence among a pod of Orcas in the Gastineau Channel. They swam with us, arcing up above the surface, adults and a baby, black and white and sleek and finned and lovely, back down under and back up onto the glassy surface again. Such are the motions of life in the water, on skis, fins or surf boards, up and down and up again. I love the up and down again in the water. We saw a grizzly bear prowling the edge of the channel, huge and elegant and dressed for cold and armed for the take.

When we got to the fjord, we weaved between islands of floating ice. They absorbed the spectrum of light, except for the turquoise blue reflected. I couldn’t stop gawking — water sculpted into blue glass, great floating cathedrals.  The vertical cliffs that rose above us to 3,00o feet were nested with Arctic terns and pigeon guillemots. Waterfalls poured down their sides everywhere. We saw a group of mountain goats gracing the rocks.

Above the cliffs, the mountains rose to 7, 000 feet. It was an awesome experience of rock and sky and fin and feather and water. We stopped before the Sawyer glacier, far enough away to be safe, close enough to see the wonder. Harbor seals dotted the floating ice around us. The glacier popped and with rifle-like cracks, little pieces of ice flaked off. Then it calved, a huge tower of ice suddenly collapsing off its face, a landslide of ice enveloping  a whole section of the glacier — the white thunder, the slow motion fall, the birds winging away to safety, the explosion of water, the hoots and calls and camera clicks, the palpable gratitude (we were here in this so-right moment!),  and the soft rocking of the boat as the waves from the great fall picked us up and let us down again. Good! Up and then down again in the water is so good!

I sip my coffee this morning, I go the bathroom, I wash my hands, I take my shower. I drive my daughter to work. It’s raining. A red traffic light glows in a puddle on the pavement. A car facing me shoots long, broken parallel lines of white light onto the black top. In the shopping mall parking lot, the white roses are weighted down. I glance out of my side window as I wait to exit the mall; the glossy, dark, wet, leaves of a magnolia tree shine like mirrors. The pointy grass along the edge of the sidewalk is dark green.

I go home, but must go out again — another sweet one, formed in water, not yet dried up, still mostly water, is off to work. It’s Rosalind, and I ferry her gladly to Subway where she will spend the morning washing dishes.

My windshield wipers go up and down, intermittently. Below their reach I see the rain beaded on the car’s window glass. On my side windows are hundreds of silver rain beads, with streaks between them where the water has gathered and run. The world is full of liquid grandeur.

We stop for a Starbucks for hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. There are snow flakes hanging from the ceiling,  geometrically fascination water shapes. I sip the sweet liquid.  I drive home; I look up. The sky is grey, cloaked, filled with vapor. We are immersed. The wipers take a swipe. I like the pattern, in the immersion.

In fact, I love it.