A month ago I wrote briefly about having been twice washed over the South Jetty of Humboldt Bay in early 1983. Folks, that jetty is 6,000 feet long, and we were a good two-thirds along that distance when the events unfolded. I was taken twice; scared to death the first time, and more angry than I thought it was possible to be the second. Yes, I was washed over twice, into the heaving mouth of Humboldt Bay.
Allow me to set the scene for you.
In January of 1983 I was 19. I was up for anything. So when my suite mates–they’d been there the entire academic year, so we supposed they knew the place; Tom and I had arrived mid-term–suggested a stroll along the South Jetty we thought nothing of it. Tom and I, ignorantly, tagged along.
We were five: suite mates Joel and Ralph; my actual roommate, Bruce; and Tom and I. Bruce alone harbored sufficient moxie not to walk too far out.
We had ambled some distance from him before hearing Bruce shout. Turning, we saw that he was frantically pointing to his left–our right–out to the open water. While the four of us were lost in conversation, Bruce, who was facing seaward, noticed the imminent arrival of some large waves. He was warning us.
We legged it–just not nearly fast enough. I doubt we made 10 or 20 yards before we were swept into the mouth of the bay. Ralph simply vanished. Joel sped far past me, out into water so rough the Coast Guard cutter could make no headway toward rescuing him. He was fished out just in time–the doctors said later–by helicopter. I do not recall if Tom went into the water. He was the furthest inshore of us. And, obviously, the fastest.
It was a terrifying experience being hit so hard with such cold water. The force of it knocked me flat on my back and shot me, head first, over boulders the size of cars. I was reckoning on cranial destruction. But, emerging about 10 yards from the jetty, I was able to swim back and, with studied timing, clamber up upon it. Mainly, I wanted out of the frigid water faster than pronto. But I had to judge the wave breaks or risk duplicating my ghastly experience.
Yet now my clothes were sodden, so, terror or no, I was no faster than before. Another wave caught me at a dead run maybe 50 yards inshore from my previous dunking–and it was over the rocks again, mercifully forward-facing this time. Cracked my left shin so hard that there remains a flattened section of the bone yet today.
Hellish, all in all–in the sense that there was an almost a certain feeling of no escape.
Those few minutes remind me of nothing so much as the past four years do, with the intersection of stupidity and Nature. From climate change to coronavirus, I think, we have been measured and found wanting. As for climate change, the Sierra Nevada, containing the highest elevation in the continuous 48, looms directly to the east of us. Currently it’s on fire and invisible from the Valley floor due to the plume of smoke emitted from there and many other fires in our western states. Sorry to all you “seeing is believing” adherents. And as for COVID-19, the last I checked the United States has lost 212,000 citizens–with an impact of who knows what for how incalculably many loved ones.
We can do better.
For my part, I will never go out on the South Jetty again or do anything similarly stupid. And the experience taught me never to take my eyes entirely off the ocean–a practice that kept me in good stead for the five years we lived on the beach in Cabo San Lucas.
So here is the question, particularly for all those of you who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Knowing what you do now, are you really willing to go back out on a limb–on a jetty–and vote for him again in 2020?
You can do better.