Free Write Friday: California

The light wanes as we step out of the hotel conference room, eyes blurry from hours of lectures, Powerpoint slides flashing, acronyms swirling, EKGs dancing. The sun has set but the purple light of dusk hovers in the sky. The moon is rising over the palm trees lining the street, thin stems with bushy tops, as if each were adorned with floppy wigs or jester’s caps. The air is cool but not cold in way the sky is shaded but not dark.

We make our way to the cove after dinner, can just discern the rough waves crashing onto the rock face. We want to feel the fine granules of sand between our toes, stow them home in our carry-on bags tucked away in our shoe soles and jean pockets.

We hear the seals before we see them, sharp intonations directed upward, all around. They squeal and shriek their protestation to our presence. We are intruders and suppliers, they must love and hate us. One seal beaches several yards away. We point and exclaim like paparazzi, eager to elevate the novel to a venerated plane.

***

The sand on the soles of my feet, the sudden coolness of the water washing over my toes, the Pacific wild in its winter norm, tame by the time it reaches the California shore.

People-watching is paramount along the walkway that winds parallel to the strip of sand. Surfers haul their boards under their arms as if the equipment is another appendage, wetsuits peeled to their waists, hair dripping to their shoulders. Rented bikes with fat tires and curved handlebars in candy coated colors weave in and out of pedestrian traffic. Tourists unsteady as they cycle, unsure on their winter legs in the foreign sunlight.

Twenty-something revelers pack the margarita bars, sipping slushy neon drinks in oversized goblets. They laugh easily, their cheeks crimson they lean into each other suggestively, throw their heads back into the bright sun. A girl in a green vest pulls a wagon filled with Girl Scout cookies, stacked Samoas and Thin Mints, boxes disappear into eager hands.

Umbrellas and beach towels dot the pale sandscape. Sunday afternoon revelers exult, even here, in a warmer than expected day. I close my eyes and see a glow, rouge-hot, yellow afire.

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Free Write Friday: Beach

She walked down the hill to the beach, bundled in a down coat, fingerless gloves and a white knit hat. Sneakers on pavement gave way to fine sand spilling over her laces as each step took more effort. Closer to the shoreline the sand was more compact, sturdier beneath her. Here she could stroll along the rocky ground, now pounded by the November waves, wind whipping them into a fury.

She imagined a storm, how it would rage in years past, toss fishing boats as they struggled to avoid the lighthouse signaling at the point. She thought of the contrast, just yesterday sun warming her face as she ate lunch, read, wrote on a picnic table perched on the beach, watching couples meander along the shore with their dog. She could linger.

The wind beat fiercely as she climbed a small hill to circle back. But as she found herself among the golden reeds, atop a mound just set back from the rocky beach, she felt suspended, wind pounding from all directions. She paused, the intermission comforting, demanding reverence.

Pressure on all sides, she remained. It was as if liquid, not air, compressed her. As if warmth, an unexpected peace held her in the midst of the chill November day.

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Free Write Friday: Cliff

Note: This week I’m trying something new with the free write – a prose poem incorporating synesthesia. I was inspired by a Till writing workshop I recently attended, presented by poet Jane Wong. As always, feel free to use the photo above as a prompt for your own free write. Consider joining me in experimenting with an unfamiliar format this week. 

***

Crackling of palm tree, fronds brushing carmine in the breeze. Squawk and tweet of birdsong, just beyond ear’s reach, punctuating high above. The turquoise wash of crashing waves below, colliding onto ebony rocks stoic as the spray recoils, resorbed by the expanse. Memories of jumping off, sound muffled, then expanding beyond into the greater sea. I climb the cliff, handholds of familiar crevices. I swim into the current, decades of tracing the reef map a mind’s fingerprint of coral phalanges. Thick blades of grass underfoot infuse the yellow taste of papaya. Nenes swoop in, then saunter through air thick with humidity. Specks of snorkelers flap fins, return to lie beached, their skin leathered like dragon fruit. Cloud shadows caress the ridged mountains, marking them like a bruise, feeding them with rain. One drop, then two trickles. The sea turtles gulp the air then dive into dry sweetness. They disappear but I never saw them, only heard shells cracking from a memory decades old. Momentary waft of plumeria, ginger, coconut, lilikoi, banana leaves suspends in the air just long enough for it to roll on my tongue, breathe into my lungs, absorb through my skin leaving an imprint, marking me home. 

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Free Write Friday: Current


I was a cautious child, hesitating to do anything that might jeopardize a fragile status quo. But I grew up spending my summers on the beaches of the north shore of Kauai and grew comfortable with the fickle ocean, the swells of the sea, the ebb and flow of the tide.  

In the afternoon sun I could float on my body board for hours, waiting to catch a wave. I got to know the patterns of the ocean; a swell would come and I could predict if and when it would crest, white foam spilling over onto itself. I could anticipate if the swell would falter, just a tease of a wave really, petering out before it reached the sandy shore. 

Sometimes I’d get lost in my own reverie, daydreaming with the hypnotic rise and fall of the waves. I’d look up to realize I was far from my mom on the shore who was pretending to read a book. A worrier, like me, I suspect she was always half watching us rather than lounging, making sure we weren’t caught in a current or by a wave we couldn’t withstand. 

Sometimes her arms would flail back and forth over her head, like windshield wipers, her miniature form signaling from a distance. Maybe it was time to go, head back to the condo to wash off the sand that stuck in nooks and crevices of sunburned skin or was trapped beneath the mesh lining of my Lycra swimsuit. Or maybe she had noticed all the swimmers veering off to her left or to her right, a strong current carrying away her babies in tow. She’d put down her unread novel and signal us to the safety of the shore. 

A momentary flash of panic, my mother’s voice echoed in my head that it was better to swim parallel to the shore, not directly perpendicular, if caught in a riptide or strong current. Not the most direct route, it seems counter intuitive, but it’s the key to safely reaching solid ground. I’d heed her advice, tanned arms pumping overhead, one after the other, slowly carrying me back to white sands. 

When I reached the shore, my feet on solid ground, and looked back at the water it all looked so innocuous, so unassuming. But the metal warning signs posted on sturdy rods stuck deep in the sand and my mother’s furrowed brow admonished: don’t underestimate its power, be careful. If you’re not, it might just carry you away.

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