11 June 2020

04 June 2020

26 May 2020

19 May 2020

This young man. 19. Truly a beautiful mind. The odds were stacked against him from day one. But a love of and incredible aptitude for science and mathematics got him through so much. After his family gave up on him, he spent many months living in a dormitory with troubled men, decades older than him. While he trying to focus on physics, someone might shit in his laundry or attempt to steal his laptop. 

 After some time, he gets into a living situation that is more age appropriate, and soon gets himself enrolled in college. HIs instructors tell him things like, "That was a flawless paper, I wish I could give you more than an A." He benefits immensely from school, studies and structure. 

 Then Covid 19 hits. His world, like so many others falls apart in weeks. No more classes. What will the future look like? Will I get Covid 19? Wait... Do I have Covid 19 right now? He holes up in a small dark room with his terrible thoughts, the paranoia sets in and quickly consumes him. He spirals. His brain re-wires itself in initially sad but soon scary ways. He hurts three people. I can't explain why. I thought he'd hurt himself before others, but now he has traumatized three other people. He will likely go to prison. He will likely get eaten alive before he turns twenty. 

I reel. 

I'm reeling.

22 March 2020

01 February 2020

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.