Saturday, December 5, 2009


“The sea is calm tonight”, Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” begins, with the ocean setting the background for an impassioned plea: “Let us be true to one another.”

The ocean is the background for many Coastsiders besides the fishermen, the surfers and the beachcombers. We are so used to its sound, its constant presence, that sometimes we hardly notice it unless it rushes under the front door at Nick’s Restaurant in Pacifica, throws foam on the highway, or produces monster waves like the ones the Maverick’s people are expecting next week.

I have been a Thalassophile, an ocean lover, since I first saw the sea when I was fifteen. Born in Tennessee, I knew about lakes and rivers, but I was stunned speechless when I first saw the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean from the Carolina coast.

Since then, I have crossed the Atlantic by ship and plane any number of times, have been swimming in the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Ionian seas, but I have settled at last where the first and last sights of daylight are the waves hitting the foot of Montara Mountain. The sound of the surf lulls me to sleep every night.

“Another summer at sea?” my husband remarked mildly last June as I began my fourth trip through Patrick O’Brian’s 21 seafaring Aubrey-Maturin books.

Now I am reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick for the first time and wondering why this big novel always seemed so daunting, gathering dust on the bookshelf all these years.

I am editing Susan Bradfield’s book The Reluctant Sailor, using Google Docs, since she is living on the yacht Apple II in Baja after some truly harrowing adventures in the Pacific. (Her first book, Any Time, Any Place: Meditation for Your Earthwalk, is now available on Kindle.)

My neighbor Richard is a true Thalassophile. He can see the Pacific from almost every room in his house. He fishes, walks his dogs on the beach, calls our ocean “Mother Pacific.” When he and Dolores were married at home, I took my portable keyboard and played Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave”. We ate crab and drank champagne, just them and the minister and me.

Everything rusts, silver will discolor overnight; we have fog and mildew and bone-chilling summers, but I don’t think I’d ever want to live out of sight and sound of our Pacific.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Extraordinary Women (Number One)

She lived in a Sufi commune and in a wilderness house she designed herself and which she surrounded with a fence of roses. She was in the Peace Corps in Turkey. She did a study, playing music to patients believed to be in a persistent vegetative state, and some of the folks, amazingly, responded.

Soft spoken most of the time, she is actually a lion in gazelle’s clothing. She has had various jobs having to do with improving the lives of old people. I have seen her at work. She can be terrifying when it comes to defending the old folks. She will not back down. She once bundled up a crowd of hospital patients and took them to the state capital to protest funding cuts.

She raised her son pretty much by herself and did a good job of it. She lives alone, but she hardly ever complains of feeling lonely.

You might see her as shy, but she is the one who will get out and rally her neighbors to join Friends of the Urban Forest and to plant street trees. You should see her present garden: Fountains, hedges, trees, herbs, a regular English garden in a 50-foot urban lot.

She is ecumenical in her religious leanings, attending Presbyterian, Quaker, Sufi and Jewish services. She can say the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. We were yoga students together at the Himalayan Institute in San Francisco.

She writes regularly for professional publications, has written a novel, and is presently writing a book about medical insurance coverage and health care.

We have been friends for more than 40 years. We got our ears pierced together in the kitchen by a doctor who used a darning needle, a cork and an ice cube, which I guess makes us pierce sisters.

I know her about as well as I know anybody, but she can still surprise me. And of course she has a shadow side, as we all do. She second-guesses herself a lot. She frets about things. Strangely, she is not terribly confident, though you’d never know it from her decisive day-to-day activities. She worries about money. She has driven the same Volvo for twenty years. It is always clean and shiny, whereas my VW always has a layer of cypress needles and road dust. She is tall and willowy and looks great in clothes, but does lots of her shopping in thrift stores.

I wonder if she would recognize herself from this description.