15 January 2020

12 January 2020

Twenty Five Year Storm

     I think my worst nightmare was/is seeing my child drown in the ocean. Countless times, while enjoying a day at the beach when Medwen was little, my mind went very dark very quickly and played out all the scenarios in which the North Pacific could grab her by her little feet, knock her down and pull her out into the abyss. There are three explanations for this largely irrational fear: 

-One, when she was little I was pretty plagued with dark thoughts in general and it wasn’t hard to slip into the occasional bottomless pit, swirling with no hope. It took a year or two but I was able to climb out of this hole.

-Two, my father who spent a large chunk of his life pulling people out of the drink instilled in me a healthy fear of the sea. “Boy, pay attention to the undertow and rip currents, don’t go out of your depth.” And on he would go. I only had to so much as dip a toe in the sea and the rant would begin, “Did I ever tell you when I pulled that girl out of…” After awhile I had to tune it out, especially when I watched him swim by himself, arms like windmills, propelling him miles out to sea. If the sea is that dangerous where the hell is he going? I’d wonder… And then he’d swim back to tell me how great it was out there beyond the reef but only for him. 

When I told him I was going to start surfing, I knew I’d never hear the end of it. You’ve either prepared me properly or not, but I’m going surfing either way, was the bottom line.

-Three, nearly quarter of a century ago, age twenty, I was watching an almighty storm ramp up Cardigan Bay, unloading on the shores of Aberystwyth. I was sitting in a bay window from which I could throw a rock into the sea but was safely two stories above, drinking cheap cider with my flatmates Simon and Iain and Iain’s dad. We were enjoying the large tides and significant storm swell, creating a huge shore break that was surging up the beach, over the sea wall and spilling into the road, leaving piles of sand, pebbles and rocks in its wake, while setting off car alarms and beckoning drunk students towards their fate. 

We decided to go take a closer look and began walking south towards the pubs. It was closing time and it wasn’t longer than five or ten minutes before we witnessed a group of four people jump onto the beach in an effort to chase the receding shore break and then race back up towards the promenade before the next wave could catch them. Only they had no clue what it might mean to be caught by that wave, until they were.

Since I spent nearly every waking hour obsessing over how the Irish Sea behaved, planning what lectures to skip based on surf conditions, I had a pretty good idea, what was going to happen and began to run toward them.

Simon who also surfed was not far behind me. Iain and his elderly father must have joined us pretty quickly thereafter. 

But the sea was quicker than us and the four drunk students were knocked off their feet on the steep beach and ragged-dolled down the steep pebble bank into deeper darker water. 

Memory is a funny old thing.

But here is how I think it went,

We grabbed three people, dragged them out of the rapidly retreating waters that were trying to drag them with it. We hoisted them safely onto the promenade. And then we learned there was one more. A nineteen year old, a freshman from the English midlands, I believe. 

Down she went.

Memory is a funny old thing.

Did I see her before she submerged? I tell myself, I did but I don’t really know.

So we made a human chain and grabbed a nearby life-ring. The plan was to link arms and anchor one of us to a flagpole on the prom and then the person at the end of the chain would throw the life ring out to her. Only, I don’t recall many standers-by wanting to join our lackluster human chain, no matter how loud we screamed. At that point, we had no idea where she was long gone. It was 1130pm on a February night in Cardigan Bay, Mid Wales. 

Memory is a funny old thing.

I can tell you we were then all smashed off our feet by another violent surge and immediately, all four of us were being sucked down and out to sea. I remember being able to find my feet and I grabbed Iain by his kilo of dread locks and Simon grabbed Iain’s father and we got each other onto the beach safety. And that was that. The coast guard took over with powerful spotlights and lifeboats, and we went home silently, to dry off.

I had been trained in personal survival and life saving yet I still spent a restless night wondering if I did everything I could have. Should I have swam out? But, I could not see her… Surely, the anchored human chain was the best we could have done…

The next day, the storm had settled but the surf was still pounding. So I grabbed my board and headed down to the same beach the girl had gone under at. I saw the coastguard give me a “don’t do it” look as I walked along the prom in my wetsuit, and I silently dared them to tell me not to paddle out. They did not. And so I jumped into the same sea and would have done so anyway. 

It was an ominous surf. I remember surfing well but I had no idea if a drowned girl’s body lay beneath me or not. I half expected to find her. Maybe that was what I wanted. 

Memory is a funny old thing.

After I got out of the water, I ran into some acquaintances who I never spoke to again after this exchange. They asked me if I heard about the incident the previous night. Yes. Did I also know that four idiots went in after her? Yes. I left it at that. 

The coastguard found her body five miles north later that day.

Yesterday, big tides and a thirty-foot swell combined to offer the Pacific Northwest a complete hammering. Alison and I were out at some favoured storm-watching sights between Cape Disappointment Washington and Ecola State Park Oregon. Seaside Cove was so unruly, emergency services closed the road in. At Indian Beach, I watched two dads and three pre-pubescent boys try to push a giant log into the water. About the stupidest fucking thing you could be doing in such conditions. Nothing happened to them but soon my mind drifted to wondering how many families were rolling the dice with the ocean on such a day. 

Calculated risks to get a taste of such natural power will always compel us. 

I grabbed my camera and tried to get some shots of Tillamook Lighthouse getting pounded by the storm. As I snapped away, about ten miles south, a father not much older than I, lived out our worst nightmare. He will likely never wake up from it. I don’t know the complete details at this time but he and his two children were on a steep-pebbled beach and massive shore break much has knocked them off his feet. Witnesses say, he was struggling with one of his children when he was pulled out. His four-year old son was swept out to sea and is still yet to be found. His seven-year old daughter was pronounced dead in Seaside hospital, where the father is still recovering. He won’t. 

This afternoon, an elderly surfer saw my surfboard on top of my car and asked me. Did you go in this morning? No. Me neither, I’m just a lazy surfer from California, he said. I’m lazy too. I replied. And, that’s all right. I nodded at him. Then, Alison and I turned inland and drove back to our daughter. 

Our human chain and its anchor. 

10 December 2019


convex meniscus
delight in pre-overflow

but what of the spill?

a properly poured pint
a brew of sweet drought-ridden beans from Ethiopia
a new ancient song on repeat
keys to floodgates

an attic room with a tiny window
in a house we shall occupy one day
over-looking atlantic seas

antiquated technologies
in dusty corners
and books

macho authors
keeping you awake on rainy spring nights
forcing you to take sides
in Spain

changing histories
and talk of food
and talk of drink
and how to love
and how to die

you take to wearing strange hats from countries that no longer exist
to keep the thoughts warm
and your eyes mostly hidden
like blinders

but the sun comes out
and a knock at the door
and a stomach rumble
and a notice of over-draft protection
and a powerful thirst

and a giant truck rumbles 
along your quiet street
and the liquid in the glass


but never spills.

07 December 2019

Blood Eagle, Self

When I hear the word, community

I reach for my shirt 

When I hear the word, culture

I tear my shirt off

When I hear the word, society

I feel for my ribs

When I hear the word, civilization

I crack my ribs open


Pull my lungs out


bear it all


try to fly 

02 December 2019

18 October 2019

not my photos

but my sentiment

04 October 2019

Future Primitive again and again and again and again

The bourgeoisie must be reconciled to their customary Orwellian entanglements, rushing to be saved by technology… and then saved from it. -Miki Dora.

24 September 2019

16 September 2019

Unfinished Song

Returning to my beach camp after a slightly above average surf session I was approached by a faux-hawked young man. His wetsuit was half peeled down, revealing a sculptured torso painted with terrible tattoos. He was smoking a cigarette and I immediately hated him. In between drags he asked me, 

 “Bro, how was it on a shortboard?” 

 “What?’ I said. 

 But really I meant, 

“Don’t bother me. I’m not here to talk to you. I talk all day every day for a living. When I’m at the beach, I’m here to let the ocean slap me around, maybe ride a few waves, gracefully if the universe permits, but I am not here to talk to you. Or anyone. Particularly surfers. Back off. I am not your bro." 

 “Shortboard, bro. I brought my 5’8” but I think I should have brought my long board. What do you think?” He went on. 

 “It was just fine.” I replied and then went on to disrobe, hopefully alone, in silence, just me and the sun drying the sea water into a salty crust on my wrinkling face. But "Bro" wouldn’t’ let it go. 

 “I’m pretty new to surfing.” 

 No shit. 

 And then it hit me. I am an arsehole. I am a grumpy 44 year old arsehole. Why am I being so rude to this guy? I’m tired of being rude and grumpy. I want to be nice. 

 “You’ll be OK on a shortboard. Its pretty steep and dumpy out there, perhaps its best you left the longboard at home but its fun. Get out there, man.”

 Faux-Hawked-tattooed-smoking-bro saw this as his invite to join me. So he left his pit bull at his camp and came over to share a seat on a fallen log with me. I learned he’s 28, a recovering opiate addict, trying to wean himself off methodone. Mainly a climber and new to surfing. Then his pitbull, Oliver began humping his guitar. 

 “Mate, your dog is humping your guitar.” I pointed out. 

 “Hey hey! Oliver get over here. He loves that thing. Must be the shape.” 

 And so I met Matt and Oliver. I liked Oliver right away. He gently licked the seawater off my dripping hand as I greeted him. Matt was growing on me also. Slowly. Matt was lonely, looking for a girlfriend. He said, he’d go five years in either direction for the right girl. He got a girl’s number the other day at this very beach, his age but she immediately played games with him, so he let it go. Matt’s disappointed with Portland people in general. A lot of fake people, he says.

 I say, you’re talking to the wrong person. I’ve been married nearly 20 years and we have a fifteen year old daughter. Matt loves this. He wants this. 

 I ask my first question, “So Matt, what do you do?” 

 Matt is pursuing his Masters in Social Work, he tells me. After a few years clean and sober and after living the life of drug addict on the run, he wants to give back. He wants to take young men in recovery into the wild to help them heal. I ponder, do I now tell him what I do for a living? Or is that going to open a whole clusterfuck of conversation and bonding I really do not want to embark on but again, I want to be nice. I’m tired of being a grumpy arsehole, so I tell him. I’m in social work myself. 

And so, Matt nearly looses his shit. A social worker! Like him! Who surfs and skates! We were destined to meet! “Pete, I like to network, can I have your number? Perhaps you can call me next time you go surfing or skateboarding? One day I want to start a non-profit taking clients surfing. It would be so cool if you.... ” 

 Goddamnit, a 28 year old dude wants my phone number. What do I do now? I don’t ‘network.’ I don’t give out my number. I keep my work life very very separate from my real life. It’s the only way I can keep sane. No one will ruin that for me. I think about telling Matt about all the young people I’ve know who are now in prison or dead, killed, overdosed, suicide, murdered, causes otherwise unknown, probably over two dozen at this point. It is never going to happen. The beach is my personal sanctuary. I can’t bring others into it. 

 But I give him my number. I wonder why. Even as I did it, I wondered why. 

 I will probably never call him. 

 But This is how I grow as a human. 

 Ever so slowly. 




 ...and I circle ten thousand years long; And I still don't know if I'm a falcon, a storm, or an unfinished song. -Rilke

29 July 2019