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Sand Tales from Pebble Beach

Standing in sapphires up to my knees at a Pebble Beach cove, the ocean’s horizon seems a dream away. Beside me, a woman is creating a collage from multi-colored kelp, and two pubescent girls are squealing as they plunge their sand buckets into the water to fill the moat they have dug for their sand castle . . .

I am reminded of the interview I did the other day with actor Ted Danson. He has been an ocean advocate for decades and we both agreed that the vision of the ocean - toxic and fished out - is abhorrent.
Lucky me, my girlfriend works for Oceana, the international ocean advocacy group for which Danson is spokesman, and she hooked me up with him.

I am not at liberty to relay the phone interview I did with him from his Malibu home until after the piece is published in “Carmel Magazine” in my Quotable Notables column. However, I can tell you that if I’m any judge of phone character, this man has really got it going on!

Humorous, savvy, grounded, he was a joy to interview. And he shared a few fun tidbits about his love affair/marriage to Mary Steenburgen, the actress we love to love.

Anyway, I’m thinking about and thanking him as I stand in the clean water and inhale its lovely ozone. I gaze one beach over, near Bird Rock, and remember the beach where I snapped a black and white photo of my father. He was waving from a distance, big grin beneath his straw hat that matched his polyester zip-up jacket and cheap catalogue-ordered pants. Dad had the money to dress in the finest wools and linens, but give him polyester any day.

I returned to that same beach and spelled out his name in kelp the day I learned of his death . . . So many memories on the sands of Pebble Beach . . .

I head down the trail back to my car with too many thoughts, unable to be present to the moment, and just about the time I reach Spanish Bay, I spy something on the rocks below that rockets me back to the now: A very tan man, with longish hair streaked gold by the sun, is skinning a couple fish on a rock.

Normally, I can’t stand to watch such things, but I figure the fish is feeling no pain, and I am mesmerized. The Neanderthal balances a cutting plank on the wave-splashed rocks. And, deftly as a surgeon, he cuts the fishes with a sword-like knife and throws one hulking fillet after another into a pile. He tosses the leftovers to scavenger seagulls, scoops up the fillets in a baggie, after washing them and his board in salt water, grabs his oars and heads back to his truck where his kayak rests.

It looks like he has a week’s worth of dinner. This hunter I respect.

It’s experiences like this, in the splendor of nature, that bring me deeply inside myself; that ease away painful memories or fears of the future. Nature never fails to connect me with all that is. And it is my fervent prayer that more people will re-discover this before our oceans are polluted and a new generation asks, “Tell me about when you could swim in the ocean? Tell me about trees. What were they like?” . . .

A Sizzling Pebble Beach Bike Tour

It was deja vu all over again (or is that redundant?). While cruising around Pebble Beach, where the waters were Bahamas blue and the golden wildflowers lit the ground afire, I spotted a fire. Although at first, I thought it was a small white puff of fog breeding in an area where often, and out of the blue, it can and will form.

“Drat!” I mused. “Clear as a blue Kool-Aid sky but that pesky chiller is already at work conspiring to devour this pluperfect day and send vacationers running to the closest sweatshirt shop.”

It nagged at me as I circled around a few times to watch it form. The cotton white was arising from behind the golf course and forest beyond and traveling straight up. A bit odd for fog which mostly spreads its octopi fingers sideways.

“Gee,” says the sleuth in me, the rubbernecker, the story teller, “This is weird. It’s white, which I’m told is the color of smoke when it’s non-lethal and going out.” But, oh, then there was a telltale plume of brown.

This conjured up the same experience I had had about 20 years ago, when dozens of Pebble Beach mansions and acres of forest went up, killing countless forest wildlife. I had been biking along, around 2:30 p.m., when I spotted the smoke then too. That time I knew it was a fire but reassured myself that SOMEONE ELSE would call in and report it.

They did - at about 2:45 p.m. - and I blame myself to this day for not reporting it earlier. I might have subverted this senseless tragedy. (Well, not exactly senseless, as the forest is supposed to have fires to spread its seeds. But people don’t like it happening where they live.)

Still in the lurch about any large scale fire that day, I remember finishing up my bike ride and driving over to Carmel Bay for a pick-neck with a fellow journalist. For awhile we sat on the beach watching the sky over the entire Peninsula turn an eerie yellow color until he got the call to report back to the newsroom – pronto! Pebble Beach was on fire.

I felt like Nero, playing her violin while all of Rome was burning. How could I have let this happen?

When I arrived on the street where I live, fire trucks had barricaded it and warned me that they might soon be knocking on my door and asking me to evacuate. Shades of my father when, at his home in Southern California, was asked to do the same, whereupon he said to the fire chief, “But I have already evacuated, sir. Right here in my pants.”

I wonder what would have happened if I had used that line. Anyway, the Pebble Beach fire gave rise to so many new trees (the heat releases their seeds) that there was talk recently about overgrowth and thinning them out.

Nature restoring herself – never ceases to amaze me.

As for the more recent fire it was, indeed, a fire because I witnessed several planes dive bombing it and a helicopter dumping water on it.

I never saw mention of the fire in the newspaper and assume it wasn’t on too grand a scale. And, this time, I didn’t kick myself for not reporting it, as those planes showed up before I could get to my cell phone!



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