Ocean Beach, San Francisco
Gone the bustling amusement park at Ocean Beach, gone Skateland and Playland, gone into burnt brick and ruined concrete walls are the once sprawling Sutro Baths, gone the Chateau-like Cliff House which exists only in old pictures and postcards.
But the slow-sloping Beach at the edge of the infinite ocean is there in all its natural stolid solidity and aloneness: five miles of it from Lands End, where tourists gather for views of the Golden Gate and Marin Headlands, south to the Fort Funston cliffs where moth-like hang gliders soar 500 feet over the wind-swept land, riding the ridge-lift, held aloft by the up-drafts. Tiny Bank Swallows nest in the cliffs there – their only known coastal nesting site. Ocean Beach, paralleled by the Great Highway, is two hundred yards wide all the way, its flatness modulated by occasional low sand dunes.
It’s wind, wind, wind at Ocean Beach: strong wind, whooshing wind, whipping wind, forever wind, cold, steady, unrelenting wind. Wind carves waves, froths the breakers, and forms white-caps in the distance. Wind drives the sea into the shore, and the constant sounds of wind and waves together seemingly radiate from far beyond the horizon of incoming swells; the crash, roar, dip and hush; the pulse, shape and duration of multiple sea and wind sounds; the rush, constant pounding and plangent resonance of ocean and air; the weight and power of the ocean tamed only in small measure by the Beach. And shrill calls of snowy plovers, gulls, geese, ravens, pelicans, cormorants.
The slippery visual wash of waves; the sight of their rhythmic rise, thrust, collapse and retreat; their differing motions; their curves, filigrees and lacey shapes; the ever changing dots, specks and lines, jagged and smooth, on the moody ever-changing sea surface; inlay of scintillating light; tankers diminished by distance to toy boats; the grainy sand underfoot and in the hand; the briny taste and smell; salt on the lips. Do onlookers not see inward and stare into the sea-tides of their souls?
All San Francisco comes here. Waders like the gentle slope of the Beach and children play in the foamy spoor and backflow of the water; flyers of kites unloose their birds and dragons to the wind; surf-casters cast out; sand sculptors compete in the annual contest. Surfers love the heavy swells and miles of beach break: they mount the liquid planes below and above the rising waves and read the changes and shapes of the swells, then glide down cutting back and forth along the long spiral roll of falling wave crests. Kite-surfers, lift-pulled by the wind, slide and glide colorfully through the glassy shallows. Warming bonfires and barbeques glow on the beach day and night while runners and bikers flow on the sidewalks of the Great Highway.
Yet swimmers beware! Lives have been lost from the achingly cold water, strong rip tides, currents and undertows, and fierce waves. Wind driven waves have grounded many ships and pounded them to pieces on Seal Rocks and against the jagged cliffs at either end of the Beach. Once in a while, at low tide, the ghostly hull of the King Phillip, an old clipper ship wrecked in 1878, surfaces eerily through the sand at windswept Ocean Beach.
David O’Neal is a retired rare book dealer now enjoying a second career as a writer, especially of poetry. His recent creative work has been published in The Eclectic Muse, Vision Magazine, Mississippi Crow, Two Hawks Quarterly, The New York Times, The Lyric, Open Minds Quarterly, Bird Keeper, The Magazine of the Parrot Society U.K., etc. and in anthologies such as The Marin Poets Anthology, Voices of Bi-Polar Disorder, Nurturing Paws, and Science Poetry. He has also written several books and compiled and edited Babbling Birds: An Anthology of Poems about Parrots from Antiquity to the Present.