Our Lady of Black’s Beach

The crew
I blundered into a herd of fun loving gentlemen while dawn patrolling at Black’s
the sea was the inspiration
she gave birth to our collective imagination
and hosted our daily gatherings
the swells were professors of an energetic sort
varying in amplitude, frequency, and wave length
Blacks was our happy hunting ground
and we loved Our Lady

Barb ’n skate is better known today as B Bateau
He was a roomie and fellow ocean lover
cant say enough good and funny things about the old man
he’s got a great and stylish backside haha
a massive unruly flop of white afro hair
lazy side way glancing laughing eyes
and a nose to smell out
the crustiest urchins, the stinkiest mollusks
and the tiniest wisps of northerlies or sou’westers
in the painting,
Bateau is massaging our lady’s feet
currying favor with her
payin’ his dues
he is in submission pose with the utmost respect
because he knows and acknowledges
our lady’s invincible strength
humbling power
and overwhelming fertility


he is being eyed by a sting ray

shuffle those feet!

Bob was an old timer
A half man, red knee boarder full of salt
whose dog Corona sat patiently on shore
while his master Bob transformed into a seal
dodged liquid lips
and pulled into train tracks of green tunnels
he had a shack on the beach in Rosarito Baja
approximately a grand ‘ol 6’ x 12’ home
where he could eat hot chiles, drink cold beers, feel the warm sands
and enjoy the bare simple essence of the sea
while the warm water gushed out of the power plant into the lineup

Corona was a golden retriever or a lab, I forget what breed
One of them kind, loyal, companion forever, best friend dogs
in the painting there is a black lump oozing red above Corona
and a swim fin below
this requires a bit of an explanation –
I would always come across dead seals on the beach with their heads cut off
freshly washed up or in a state of advanced decomposition, smelling ripe for fly food
i liked parts
I wanted to harvest the hide for a kayak skin, and some pelvic bones for a necklace
but the marine mammal protection act prohibits such activities
I always wondered about the origin of the seal corpses until I met a fella in entomology class
who said he worked with the marine fisheries NOAA in San Diego on fishing boats
his jobs was cutting off the heads of seals caught and drowned in fishing nets
so that they could make a data table about sex and age and so on
then of course they dumped the rest of the carcass overboard
that explained it
as for the swim fin
well theres this crazy beach creature who had an addictive obsessive personality
which enabled him to have intense focus, rigid structure, and fully-on commitment
in all things he did
he also happened to like to collect things, as is common in people with such challenges
you know the type – frugal and conservative, saving for a rainy day kinda thinking
so at his house, he has a couple of boxes of socks he found, mismatched mind you
but maybe useful one day, just in case
not really clean socks either, rather – salt hardened, sun bleached, gritty kinda socks
and another huge box full of swim fins, singles of a myriad of shades and sizes
again, who knows when you might need another rubber blade?
you never know!
so we pranked him one morning
this is what we did
we had a fin, a blue and yellow churchill
on the bottom of it, we wrote in permanent marker “Dave is a turkey”
and left it on the beach at 5 am, letters facing down
sure enough, here he comes, about 5:30 am, still kinda dark, jogging along with his backpack
he sees the fin, cant resist, puts it in his pack, grabs his board, goes surfing
and later, he gets home, empties his stuff, stoked he found another fin for his collection
he turns it over and

Dr Harding, Peggy, Allison & Tyler are a family
At the time, Dr Harding was the only early morning riser who was married with children
the rest of us were undetermined wandering strays without such responsibilities
some of the other names we called Harding were
Warren G, Yams, or Fact Boy
lately he even responds to Mr Calves
somehow he has hardly aged in thirty years,
and is charging even harder now than back in the day
that is a mystery that remains to be solved
Harding had an old red pickup truck he would drive to the beach
park on Farms Road
and sit there inside with the heater turned on
not sure if he was waiting for us to run by, so that we could jog down together,
or if he was just warming up,
meditating before the descent into the cold canyon and even colder water
Harding was a knee boarder
he liked to ride this shape of a board called a fish
which is a short stick with a split tail, like a fish’s caudal fin
although Harding does the navigation and the paddle
it is Peggy who sweeps late into bottom turns
carves hard
and carries the troop forward
thems little kids on Fact Boy’s shoulders….
they are all grown now and swimming in the open oceans
all I recall is how small and cute they were
once upon a time

Floating death head is yours truly
One winter of sloping wedges I thought,
how about keepin’ it simple
so I swam and body surfed for a few months
amidst the AM breakers
it was alright, plenty fun
easy to duck dive the waves just swimmin’
without the encumbrance of a long foam float tethered to you
and you get a good long slide,
if the swell has got enough juice to ooommmpha push ya down the line
other folks though, seeing my head bobbing up and down
in a here and there, now you see em now you don’t, unpredictable fashion
conjured up images of naval mines, IED’s, and grenades with the pin pulled
floating death head
and yes I am sleeping next to our lady
atop a orange single fin sunset type board
my fav
I’m keeping her company
at peace with my mom, your mom, everybody’s mom
mom the sea
our Lady of Black’s

Party Boy you already met
He is the kid who finds fins on the beach
party boy is a nickname that is spoken of in jest and irony
because he is not a party boy at all
it is said that he had a beer in the fourth grade, and that was the last of his party days
later he fell into punk rock, classical piano, material science, Teahupo’o
and I don’t know how many other countless exacting methodical diligent highly precise activities
but a party boy, no he is not
nevertheless he is depicted with a party hat
the cone type hat with a little elastic string they give out at the children’s birthday parties
party boy is also a knee boarder, like Bob, like Harding
but his board is chunky, heavy and fast
a log of a tank
I want to say it is 3 inches thick
and so wide you can barely fit your arm around it
the board is not a good fit for the dinky dink peewee inside waves that are sometimes hollow
it is well made for the second or third wave
of a once every 25 minute mack truck set
it is perfect for a wave that comes from way way way outside
looking like a black marker on the horizon
it comes in a set of waves that heave to, and buck in a peeling stampede of a thousand bulls
three quarters of the crowd gets washed and plastered by the first wave of the set
they are in total disarray and destruction, fumbling in the bubbly foam
while on the outside,
party boy tucks in and hones his M1 Abrams of fiberglass and resin
ready and in action
he glides atop our lady’s face, shoulders, and elbows
and eases into his favorite spot – her round pit
enclosed in a circular orifice, bound by staves, known as the ‘barrel’

Poole street
The most memorable ‘brah’ i know from Poole street was named Paul
he had a blue board
maybe it was a long board
not sure, don’t remember
when you think so cal beach break
happy mellow generous surfer ‘dude’
the epitome of stand up with your arms raised in the tube style
there you go
Paul brah
and because of his slightly taller stature
we would always be stoked to be in the line up with him,
during a hectic thunder and lightning storm
on a gray gloomy electrified sea
when the air is buzzing
and the rain’s beats of pitter patter are all around
we’d figure, well, maybe it will strike the tallest object out here… that guy with the blue board
scrunch your shoulders down, just a little bit more, stay low

Somehow we made the acquaintance of this total nut ball, crack out, madman
who also manages to be an entrepreneur, world traveller, artist, business man, marketing genius
so on and so forth
and yes, that is his nickname
it fits
like when a building collapses
or referring to a state of mayhem and disorder
when he was at Black’s he was a sponger, a body boarder
that is why he is on his belly with fins
he now heeds the call of ‘stand up!’, and has changed his ways
he would often surf at night under the light of the moon
he would sometimes come late cause of girlfriend or mechanical issues
he lived in the mansion at the top of the hill
to this day
I have no idea what he is about
or how he manages to slip and slide through so many worlds
I look at him, squint my brows, and my brain fills with question marks

Shred Heads
We were the 5:30 AM crew
another crew would clock in at about 7 AM
sometimes we would overlap, if the waves were good
the shred heads might have also lived on Poole Street
with Rick or Paul or who knows who else
some of them were locally or nationally famous as surfers
at places like Mavericks or Steamers
others were unassuming, spray throwing, rippers
in the same genre, ilk and time period as thrusters, floaters, and airs
I knew them mostly from the switchback eroding trails
watching them amble down the cliffs as the sun brightened the sky
doing the obligatory head nod
to acknowledge another fellow surfer
engaged in the ritual worship of swell
receiving the daily communion of nasal drip and aquatic fists pounding

The arena
To orient ourselves, every place got a name
this included both the features on the land
like the Ho Chi Minh trail with a big drop at the end, off the glider port
as well as places in the water where waves would consistently break
spots where you could paddle out, and receive a few blessings
in other cases, we would be looking for a channel of shifty erratic water
where a consistent rip current would take you to the surf zone
and give you easier access to the breaking horizon

Gilligan’s was a few hundred yards off shore
South of the trail entrance, in the direction towards La Jolla Shores pier
it was in the general area as ‘south peak’
it was sometimes abandoned and empty
even though a nice lil left handed wave ploughs through there time to time
I don’t know why it was called Gilligan’s
ask Paul, who named it, and got spy hopped by gray whales in that vicinity
perhaps something to do with a three hour tour

A bollard gate led to a circular overlook
that provided a view of the ocean
north towards Torrey pines
and south towards the Cove
that was the knoll
it was a nature trail and loopity loop
with interpretive signage
rope fencing
native plant habitat restoration in the works
nice spot to bring tourists and visitors
without having to unduly exert yourself with steep climbs or shaky sand stone footing
its a no no to go over the edge
you are a dare devil
non law abiding
shred head

North Peak
At the base of the trail
that marked the arrival to Black’s
you go to the right –
where the bump in the sand stone cliff sticks out a bit
that is north peak
paddle out
it is crowded if you show up late
oh so good at the crack of dawn with just your mates

Refrigerator corner
Cold air likes to sit in a sink at this location
especially in the months of January and February
around the second bend, headed down the hill to Blacks –
is that chilly bur bur spot
it is next to the eucalyptus tree hide out
and adjacent to where the fox likes to cross the road
here, the wind is channeled straight up at ya
and you wonder what you are doing with bare feet on gravelly asphalt
in the dark running
don’t think! just keep going!! you are almost there!!!

White triangle
Before the first bend in the road
you can get a hint of what is to come in the waves below
by peeking over the edge of the cliff
and checking it
the overlook rocks form the bottom two sides of a triangle
and if the waves are breaking far out
collapsing in foam and whitewash
then a white triangle is generated and visible
attesting to the fact that
solid power and righteous energy
is incoming!
so then having seen this
you let that anticipation build
into frenzied internal heat of excitement
as you continue the charge down the hill
its gonna be good…
go go go go go go go!

On the road
There were three pieces of graffiti writing
that somebody painted on the road
on the way down to the beach
one said’ kooks litter’
another said ‘pack it in pack it out’
and the last said ‘I love Blacks’
a kook is a beginner surfer that does not follow the rules
a person who is rude dumb and disrespectful
it is somewhat derogatory and not what you want to be
the other two phrases are self explanatory

the lumpy brown sausages on the road?

those are german shepherd turds,

soft warm and squishy

left on the road by this old couple who would walk down to Blacks

early in the morning

to take a dip in the sea

sometimes arriving even earlier than us

The flora and fauna
Yes the waves are first priority
and most surfers could just as well ignore the whole rest of the scene
you could be in Australia or South Africa
No Cal or So Cal
and you wouldn’t care jack about Table Mountain,
or the family of Banksia and Grevillea,
wouldn’t give a darn
if you were in the desert scrub or next to an evergreen forest
who cares…
‘I’m here for the waves, bro!’
unfortunately, that was not the case for me
I would be distracted and carried off course, lose focus
and miss a day of ‘it was so epic’, and ‘should have been here yesterday’
in the mean time, while folks were scoring in the water, or partying
I made friends with the plants and animals

California sage has got a whole plant community named after it
such is its prominence along the California coast
observe the bunchy, scrubby, round shaped blobs in gray green
fine thin leaves are pungent and oily
scented with a mix of something like –
don’t know meats,
wonder what that is spices,
and twist your nose this way and that perfumes
in this group are the artemisias, and i will throw in the salvias too
I’m not a picky taxonomist
sorry teachers,
I’m just a sloppy amateur accustomed to common names and detail-lacking lumping!

Natal plum is a common landscaping plant in San Diego
that hails from South Africa
its got glossy shiny roundish leaves, spines
and a fat round red berry that bleeds milk
cannot miss it
there were long hedges of it on Farms Road, fruits – free for the taking
it prunes easy, and is drought tolerant
the process was:
catch some waves, gather some fruits, make some jam,
eat a few heaping spoonfuls, take a nap
shoot! was there a test this morning?!!!

Ice plant was all along the coast bluffs and flat sands
Hottentot fig is another name for it
the fruits are edible
salty and seedy
like you washed a kiwi in the saltwater and tanged it with the gel of chia seeds
its okay for survival food,
but its better for stepping on, when the sands get too hot in the summer

Chinese wintersweet
To be truthful, I am not exactly sure if this was the plant on Farms Road
that was fragrant beyond comparison
whose scent would color the whole trail
that led from our base at Nottingham Place by Robinhood Lane
all the way to the black metal gate of Black’s
but as we ran or bicycled with wetsuits on, boards in hand,
there would be this
smell of complete intoxication
ecstasy, before we even touched the water
perhaps it was a chirino philadelphus in flower
or a bunch of lilac inflorescences, they are really sweet also
it wasn’t four o’clocks, cause it was blooming early in the morning
plus four o’clocks don’t bloom till the summer
perhaps it was some kind of cactus? not sure if I will ever know its identity
we will stick with the winter sweet

Dodder is a plant composed of strands of messy orange fibers
It flops all over the other plants
it is a parasite
orange colored, not green
looks like
witches hair

Ladies fingers
Out of the dry crevices and crumbly rock cracks
grows a native California succulent
chalky thin clumps of ladies fingers
emerging from the ground
as if the earth had fine porcelain hands
tipped with whitish yellow nail polish blooms of the summer
when the winter storms hit us hard
rivulets of water are running down the canyon lines
and runoff is sputtering downhill off the asphalt curbs
ladies fingers would go a tumbling down too
pulled by gravity
hastened by erosion
can’t hold on… any longer
I’d pause on the uphill climb
pick em up
and tuck them back into the damp folds of the slope

Coast brittlebush is another common component of that
Coastal sage scrub plant community
like many arid dry adapted plants
its got the whitish reflective leaves
useful adaptation for where the sun is beaming hard on ya
like a good portion of California plants
it has got yellow sunflower flowers
sunflower being that typical flower every kid loves to draw
its relatives being

chrysanthemum mums, daisies, artichokes, chamomile, cosmos, dandelion, marigold
sunflower family

California buckwheat
Unless it is blooming
you might just miss this beaut
I mean
it looks like sticks with teeny leaves
what’s the big deal?!
come summer though
puffballs of white cover the thing
and seems like every hard working bee
hovering big eyed fly
never seen it before tiny beetle
and commuting butterfly or moth
comes in for a taste of nectar and pollen

Giant kelp lives offshore in the San Diego’s aquatic forest
Whole worlds of life woven off the reefs
buoyed with the floats of bladders
undulating with the sun
beaming in the waves
once in a while
a fierce squall will pull the anchors on these tentacular giants
and cut em loose
they end up dying on the beaches
as the marine snails dry
and the brown dotted fronds tangle with sea grass and red coralline algae
clouds of flies gather to feed
on the stinky and tasty morsels of the nearshore gardens

Indian fig is prickly pear
The flat padded thing
that some folks eat in their burritos as nopales
the fruits are yum magenta
but got irritating hairs that you gotta get rid of,
before eating
a quick torch and fire does the trick
as does rolling them in the sand

Coast cholla
Prickly pear got a tubular round cousin
they got tons of spines!
when the sun lights em up
they glow like oh so many poky galaxies
atop the cliffs
you wanna touch them, but caution says otherwise
if you get too close, they will hitchhike

Is a tropical plant
a chunky stemmed thing that bleeds white latex when cut
it is the sweet smelling, pin wheel like flower
they use to make leis
Our Lady has it on as decoration
tapping the Oceania connection

In the thicket by the Eucalyptus tree
above it
was a dense thicket of lemonadeberry
looking at the sticky glistening awkward pink orange fruits,
you would not venture to think that it was something that you would want to put in your mouth
but if you do
and suck it hard
then you will be overcome by the sour tartness of the bush
pulling your cheeks inward
wrecking your saliva glands
and if you are like me –
a lover of lemon drops, sour patch kids, warheads, and nerds
you will like it
and come back for more
maybe even gather a bucket full
and make some old fashioned native lemonade

California fan palm
This palm is common as a garden plant
in rows next to hotels and fast food drive-ins
as a specimen plant standing tall over agaves and jade plants
and it is also at home
in the springs of the Sonoran desert
where it forms an oasis of shade
amidst the wetter canyons
well, one year,
Harding, Bateau and myself
thought it would be fun to plant a bunch of them
near the base of Black’s
as a sorta welcoming committee
we dug holes, watered them in good, and let nature take over
well that is the first lesson in being a gardener
right plant in the right place
and suffice to say, being situated at the forefront of
gusting winter gales
millions of micro drops of salt spray
and sheltered by the damp cliff shadows
was not the preferred habitat
of the California fan palm
okay lesson learned
I got one word to describe the experience

California spiny lobster
The lobsters in California
do not have big claws like the ones you eat at the restaurants
that Red Lobster crusher of a marine bug comes from the east coast
our California lobster has got five pairs of legs, all couplets more or less alike
they hide in caves during the day
and go for walks at night
sometimes in a row with their buddies
they are very pleasant and civilized creatures that scoot backwards when threatened
hard on the outside, don’t mind that…
oh so soft within

Sand dollar
This creature has five fold symmetry
and soft spines when alive
by the time we find them on the beach
they are mostly broken and bleached skeletons
wash ups
round dollars stuck in the sands
free for the taking
then I stash them in the backyard ‘bank’
along with the abalone shells, cormorant feathers, glass fishing floats, driftwood,
and other wandering jetsam
reminders of happy times with not much on your mind

the most common jellyfish deposited on Black’s shores
were the clear disc, blue finned thing known as
‘by the wind sailors’
you come across the larger rubbery jellies too
drifting in the water
most of the time, you are paddling with your hands and you scoop one by accident
you do not expect it
and your face does that surprised and scared, ugghhh yuck get away! grimace

Gray whale
At Black’s, there is a submarine canyon offshore
it is not quite as deep or as large as Monterey Bay’s trenches
it is like six hundred feet, not five thousand feet
it does funnel the swell’s energy well
and likely contributes to the marine richness and diversity of San Diego
through cold water upwelling
and the abundance of planktonic nutrients
these in turn eventually support really big animals
like whales
when they are cruising north and south
it is a treat to be close to them
no two ways about it
just freaking awesome creatures!!!
so glad to meet them

Brown pelican
When they are not dive bomb hunting for baitfish,
and flopping that huge sac of a throat pouch
we see them gliding on the air currents atop the breakers
they are surfing the waves
in a most elegant formation
they come in groups of
four, five, six
ten, fifteen, twenty
its a kind of lifestyle that just seems so very…
harmonious and free

Coastal California gnatcatcher
This is a tiny bird
males wear a black cap
and females have a ring of dotted white eye liner
oh so cute
luckily for us
they like the scrub of the coast
they like Black’s canyons and hollows
‘what up little friend?! yeah we are here again! you too eh? say hi to the family alright?!’

Bottle nosed dolphin
The first time I saw a dolphin swimming next to me
!!!!! shark shark shark!
then you notice the gentle curve and the arc of the fin
more rounded, not straight
and you breathe a sigh of relief
watching dolphins catch waves and bust out the back at speed
you admire their
all natural easy going style
amazing timing and finesse
incomparable grace
consummate skill
talk about surfer envy

Gray fox
Theres two kind of foxes around these parts
the native one is the gray fox
with hairs speckled brown white black brown and gray
it is a sort of astute fellow,
a smaller tighter thing than its wild kin the coyote and the wolf
the other fox is the red fox
a fox introduced from Europe
with a big bushy tail, and more flamboyant manner

In closing
the sea is where it all begins
and where it all ends
the image of the sea
personified as a black woman
conjures up many other mythological tales of peoples around the world
I love the Polynesian story of Hine nui te po
and Maui who got cracked in half
it is a reasonable explanation for why death has never been conquered
and must be accepted,
and lived with –
with dignity and honor
with respect
my Yoruba inspired friends are always singing praises for
Yemaya, and of course not forgetting Elegua and Shango
if I was chained up in a cargo hold, crossing the Atlantic Ocean for two months,
for sure I would be praying to her as well
and wearing a necklace of clear crystal and ocean blue
scientist friends have reminded me of an idea called genetic mitochondrial Eve,
and the ancestral DNA of humanity way back in time
they say this painting reminds them of this same motif
that of unity and common origins,
that we are all from the same place
but splintered and divided by time and drift, culture and customs
oh well
for me this relationship is nothing abstract, academic, or make believe,
it all started with a love of the sea
and a wish to be with her everyday
pretty simple
these days I don’t get to see her so often anymore
if I am lucky, I get out there two to three days a week or so
well, I’ll take it