At the merge zone between wet and dry that we call Asilomar Beach, courage and curiosity did a quiet duet. The dancers -- a dog, a girl and a dancing woman -- were curious but fearful explorers while the ocean breeze and bright sun played off one another in counterpoint. Shorebirds looking for tidbits in the sand seemed indifferent but kept their eyes on the dance, a tiny audience that moved about on stilt-like legs at the periphery.
Creatures and people walked or trotted along the shallow water's edge, but in the heart of one small black dog courage and curiosity took hold in equal measure. He was a runner, a dog whose body built speed quickly and stretched out with long beautiful strides as he went after his bright orange ball. The ball, thrown by his master far down the beach, barely kept ahead of the dog who stretched his body out straight with the effort of each stride. Then, with the ball caught, he would slow, taking a dozen more strides to reach full stop, and then galloped back with the ball in his jaws. He was a canine athlete, exceptional in his running ability, and we stopped to watch.
The master had a throwing tool popular at the beach, and the dog was eager to go. The throw was long again and the dog launched himself into a reckless run, bound to catch the devil ball as soon as he possibly could. But this time the ball arched out over and then into the ocean water's heaving swells, and it became immediately apparent that the dog was not a swimmer. He had no idea that the water would only go up to his chest and no further. His perspective only allowed for the fact that there was no firm ground on which to stand where the ball was and that he saw it plain as day, bobbing in the surf.
He trotted to and fro, glancing at his master and then eyeing the ball intently. It may as well have been on the moon. Where before he had had the heart to run to tomorrow and back to retrieve his ball, he was undone by the fear of water. He splashed in up to his elbows and retreated, anxious to get to the ball but held as if by a leash. The master and his friends walked up and encouraged the black dog to go out, go on, you can do it, but it did no good. His eyes were locked on the ball, but fear had a firm lock on him.
We looked in the opposite direction to the north end of the beach. A strong young man walked out into the wide shallows where rippling remnants of waves lapped at his ankles and calves. He carried his little girl whose hair lifted on the luffing breeze, and her arms were loosely hung around his shoulder. When you are two and carried up high, the world takes on a very different dimension. She was carried by her striding father far out into an endless ocean, where she lost reference points and did not understand the new liquid dimension before her.
He bent over and showed her the rippling surface and the shallow sandy bottom, held her out like a little airplane and let her examine the water for a long time. He let her down low to dip her toes in. She was having none of it, no sir. She curled up like a pillbug and refused to touch the wet coldness. She was interested, curious to know about the ocean, but she always curled up her legs and avoided the final knowledge through touch. It was far too big and uncertain for her to cope with, not at all like her bath at home.
A dome-like sandbar had formed offshore, a hundred yards long and a hundred yards out beyond a lagoon-like area of rippling tidal movement. A young woman waded steadfastly out to the sandbar and stood there looking for all the world like Christ walking on water. The sandbar was partially submerged, just deep enough to have wavelets wash across its surface but only ankle high on the young woman. She trotted back and forth out there, thrilled apparently with the unusual sand formation and the vantage point that it afforded. She danced and twirled and stooped to look for things.
The small girl watched her from her own perch in her father's strong arms and looked down at the water. She pointed to it and he swooped her down again, an airplane girl with wide wings. She reached for the water and touched it with her fingertips and then was swooped up again, smiling. A sailboat rounded the point to the north and bent to leeward as it sailed south. The man with his daughter held snugly watched it with shaded eyes. The white sail was full and taut and cut a fine figure as it moved across their view.
The black dog waited until the tide brought the devilish ball closer in. Then he timed its rise on a small swell with a quick lean farther out over the water and snapped it up in his mouth and turned to hear the applause from his people who were still gathered behind him on the firm sand. The shorebirds skittered away and continued their hunt while the ocean moved making burbling sounds everywhere.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way