The sun warmed my face and the sandy wind stung my skin all at the same time, I tasted salt and inhaled the sea. The surf resounded inside my head like empty sea shell waiting for new purpose. The feeling of home these things inspire is overpowering.
It is not attached to a structure but rather a world of sights and sounds, smells and tastes that assure me I belong in them. That we all belong to one another. My place here is secure, familiar yet still exciting and changing with each new discovery.
My sand covered sister sits with our mom making kingdoms out of seaweed and shells while my dad is not much more than a tiny spec out to sea, riding the waves back and forth.
In and out, straining to paddle through the shore brake only to abandon all that progress toward Hawaii and let the ocean carry him back to shore, so that he can turn around and do it again.
Most of my early memories are of secluded beaches and rugged coast lines where two cars in the pullout at the top of the cliff constituted unacceptable crowding. Unless they are your buds, then only unacceptable outcome is not having enough ‘breakfast cylinders’ for the expedition. I was fortunate enough to grow up believing that my childhood was the way all childhoods should be.
My sister and I like to say that we were raised by a pack of rabid surfers and hippies in secret places along the California coast. Team Squeam and the subsequent band ‘The Membranes” was comprised of a few core people but always included whoever happened to be at any gathering or event. My godfather Michael (Mike,) Sara’s god parents Todd and Alison, Alison’s brother Gavan, Tom and his wife Stephanie and our mom and dad were the charter members.
Our up bringing was a communal process conducted under the supervision of our saintly mother. I am told that when my dad’s friends found out I was on the way they wrongly assumed that “Gobets’s set is over” a ‘mondo bummer’ in surfer lingo.
Instead- my birth did not impact the access to surf and our weekends as a family were still spent on ‘dawn patrol’ cruising down West Cliff or north of town on Highway One looking for a spot that was breaking just right in the early light.
When a suitable swell was discovered and you could see the sets stretch for miles out toward the horizon the car would screech to a halt and the search for beach access would begin.
On the North coast of California the ocean is often hundreds of feet below the road and finding a trail down can be a an adventure in and of itself. Add to that the pressure not to ding your board, a surfing sin and things got really creative. When there was no trail the boards along with my sister and I were often handed down cliffs from one adult to the other.
I used to remember thinking quite clearly as a small child that any beach worth going to was hard to access and that this is the way it should be.
I could never understand the throngs of people that crowed the same beach sitting in traffic, battling for parking, paying permit fees and blotting out the sand with a rainbow of towels, umbrellas and plastic toys.
That was not my definition of a beach, those beaches were blasphemy to what I felt the coast truly was. In my mind the sea shore was place to find sand crabs left by the draining waves and aliens in tide pools. A place where you should see more seals hauling out in the sun than people. There should be fossils waiting in the cliffs, sharks teeth buried in the dunes and Native American shell mounds containing ancient artifacts on the bluffs.
To me they were magical playgrounds that needed to be interacted with and explored since each change in the tides brought with it new and amazing gifts. It should not be reduced to some gritty tanning bed to sleep on, amidst shrieking families, litter, volleyball courts and lifeguard stands.
Days there was no surf necessitated that our activities headed inland. Those days were filled with hiking, biking and an unspoken yet solemnly sworn duty to catch any critter unfortunate enough to be slower or less aware than you were at the point of first contact.
It was then customary to corral, observe and pester whatever it was. Then; and only then, release it back into the wild. Often times this portable laboratory was contained entirely inside a day pack lined with an empty Coors box.
A good example of the type of people my sister and I were surrounded by growing up comes to me courtesy of my dad’s good friend Tom when I was in my mid-teens. One year, over the winter an opossum had taken up residence in my dad’s welding shed. It was during the process of exercising the vermin and the clean up that resulted that I came across a oddly plump manilla envelope.
It had been posted through the mail from Tom in Colorado to my dad.
“What’s this?” I asked knowing better then to just open things Tom or my father sent each other. He glanced back from the pile of rusty treasures he was sorting.
“A rabbit head I think, or maybe its a hare” he said flippantly. Wondering if he was fucking with me or not I looked inside and was not disappointed. There was indeed the skin of a hare head slipped in the envelope like a lumpy pressed flower.
I wish I could say this was a surprise but it was not “yep it’s a hare.” I replied closing the envelope back up, “what do you want me to do with it?”
“Just put it on the table, I’m glad you found it I have have been meaning to make some improvements to it and send it back to him.”
The Team often scavenged road kill or other dead carucuses for interesting parts. Sculls could be buried and dug up later to become part of an art project or other more dubious purposes. This is a gruesome but an interesting process and it is the reason I carry latex gloves in my glove compartment and a nice sharp pocket knife in my bag as an adult. You never know when they might come in handy for collection of a specimen.
Somewhere in this world there exists a 8mm film of Todd chasing Stephanie around a beach with a scull he had wrenched off a huge, very dead elegant seal. The spinal colmum still dangling as he runs unable to catch her because he is laughing so hard. When no such natural find was available it turned out that it was easy to locate and buy many suspect items at flee markets.
This honor of ‘random packages of goodness’ was bestowed on any member of Team Squeam and it was a right of passage to give or receive such items.
Club activates included frequent trips South down Highway One, twenty miles past Big Sur to a specific camp ground.
A place I always called ”Plastic Sur” as a small child. Member activities also included weekend surfing expeditions, fossil hunting, hang gliding, jade hunting, wind surfing, spear fishing, tide pooling, etc.
Todd and Alison were always referred to as ‘T n’ A’ an expression I had no idea meant ‘tits and ass’ to the rest of the world till I was much older. When I found out it explained the gleam in my parents eyes whenever Sara and I would jump up and down yelling that we wanted to go “see T n’ A.”
They did many such things to amuse themselves, kids are fun to teach stuff like that.
If the team had been organized enough to have a captain it would have been Todd. There is a statue on West Cliff of a surfer standing with his back to a long board, a very iconic surfing pose.
As a child I was told (by my dad) that this was a stature of Todd and I never doubted it for a second. He was the perfect surfer dude, in looks, body, attitude and behavior. Slicked back blond hair, chiseled good looks, trim surfer’s build he looked exactly like the statue.
Todd is the most amazing outdoorsman I had ever encountered, in addition to surfing like a demon he could windsurf, hang glide, skateboard, hike, bike, snorkel, spearfish and rangle any creature he encountered. The extent of his badassness was mitigated by his absolute humility. I have never heard him brag or boast.
He is one of the best story tellers I have ever met but always manages to leave himself out of the climax somehow or minimize his involvement in the adventure. He often watched my sister and I while the other adults snuck off to do ‘adult things.’
Todd endured many tourtures from my sister and me. I can’t remember him loosing his temper with us or raising his voice once.
He is a man with an insane tolerance for pain, the kind where he gets cavities filled without Novocain, I’m not joking. He was always injured or dinged up, everyone was. The only position that Team Squeam would bestow on a person was the title of ‘poster boy or girl’ an honor earned by whoever got hurt the worst on any given excursion.
Todd usually won.
I was the nurse, have a high tolerance for looking at blood and injuries I was always cleaning his wounds and patching him up. I loved it! He never flinched even when my efforts were overzealous or even borderline damaging.
I was glued to him during any hike, he seemed to know everything about the outside world. Land, sea, plant, animal it didn’t matter. He was never pedantic, the world just made sense when he explained it.
He is fascinated with geology and anthropology and when I was very young he became enthralled with the story of Ishi the last Yahi. The last of the Yahi people, Ishi had come to let himself be discovered near Orville California at the age of 49. Before his death he lived in the bay area and passed on much of the traditional ways of his people to anthropologists at the University of California, Berkeley.
It was in these texts, that resulted from this brief collaboration, that Todd found the manuel for how to live off the land in our area. He taught himself how to flake churt and obsidian into precise arrow heads and knife blades. He learned to make bows from euclypitics and bow string from stunning nettle fibers or animal sinew.
These processes and the hunt for the materials to create these tools often guided our non-ocean based activities. I can remember getting way more nettle stings than is fun while trying to soak and process the stocks we gathered from the coastal marshlands.
My sister and I leaned how to find local churt and expeditions into the Sierras to obtain hunks of jet back obsidian were a yearly rite.
There were a lot of things in my childhood that while not uncommon for me; turned out to be very uncommon for the rest of humanity. Team Squeam had many adventures.
There was the time Todd went fishing and caught a broken foot.
The time I got kidnapped by my sleeping bag (no picture since they couldn’t find me.)
The time Gavin tried to climb the keg protector and crown it with a fish head. Reports of his success vary.
Or the time Sara collapsed our fireplace with too much cuteness.
Ok that was Loma Prieta.
Do these stories interest any of you? Yes you, the one with the eyes . I seem to have no real direction were this blog is going and I fear the randomness may be incurable- So buckle up buttercup!
See you soon.