Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hand Waves and Hand Dollars

Katsushika Hokusai

The Pacific ocean was very choppy yesterday. The waves, all random sizes and shapes, were breaking far out at sea and every crest was being violently pushed back by a strong off shore wind. Tufts of foam and spray scalloped off the top, the surging spray being thrown backwards as if there was some water tossing celebration going on. The curling fingers of the waves that did manage to arc forwards (shore-wards?) looked like the ones in the wood block prints by Japanese artist Hokusai of stylized bubbles and spray reduced to fractal-type patterns.

This condition was evidently not surfing weather. Usually there are at least one or two of them in the water, near where I am staying on the Great Highway, trying to catch a wave. Yesterday the waves were not cooperating. They were like misty ghostly hands, waving mockingly. They didn't want to be caught.

Funnily enough you couldn't feel any breeze. The prevailing wind must have been vaulting right over the sandy embankment behind us and heading off to fight the oncoming surf. The waves that managed to reach the beach were foam-lined, exhausted yet still sizzling.

We, excited to be at the ocean for a second time on our trip to northern California, did the goofy sandpiper thing - venturing as far into the ocean as we could without getting our feet wet, and then scurrying back with each anticipated advancement of the briny sea. The waves spread over the shiny beach in foamy layers, like tussled sheets hurriedly being drawn up over a sandy bed on the last day of a seaside vacation.

The soggy beach, now at low tide, was strewn with sand dollars. Hundreds of them, in every state ranging from impressive mint condition samples to the most fragmented specimens not worth putting back into circulation, lay drawing little attention from the regulars walking along the beach. The distinctive sand dollar shell pattern, a kind of melted mix of Maple/ Marajuana leaf design on the top of the shell, seemed remarkably contrived.

The dollar had obviously taken a hit and was down that day. It had lost its value except to us dazzled Canadians, who found the white shelled larger sea-version of our Loony a fascinating commodity to deal with on our walk along the California coast.

I had an idea to take this 'finan-shell' jackpot in hand and try to arrange them all in a dotted sand dollar pattern on the beach. Probably not an original idea, but still worth doing, as one's own tiny response to the indescribable impact that both the ocean and the myriad of artifacts clinging to its coastal perimeters, has on those who come from landlocked parts of the country.

Several attempts at 'painting' with the shells were immediately erased by the advancing tide. Our dollar collection kept being dispersed into a swirl of liquid assets.

For a brief moment however, a complete design materialized and I had time to get this photo.