Thursday, December 6, 2007

Surf's up in SB: A wave a realization

In other locations, about this time of year, school kids can look forward to a snow day, an unexpected gift from Mother Nature that give them a day or two off from classroom activities, and plenty of time to play outside. The innumerable, magical bits of snow that fall from the sky somehow pile into immovable blankets of snow—making modern modes of transportation almost impossible, and providing happy moments and joyful memories that last a lifetime.

Snow days may be unknown to the kids of Santa Barbara, but when the ocean waves kick up the way they have this week, they get a fine gift from the sea. We might consider declaring a community surf day to let the kids observe our magnificent shoreline and learn first-hand about tidal forces, effects of weather, erosion, the power of water and the sheer joy of being a part of nature.
In my family, ironically, this nature event coincided with my husband’s business trip to a conference in Northern California where bureaucrats, policy wonks, parks experts and nature-lovers convened to figure out how to get more people participating in outdoors activities. As a longtime nature writer and hiking expert with a particular expertise in getting kids into the outdoors, he joined other attendees in discussions and strategy sessions about how to combat our modern disconnection from nature that results in so many negative physical, social and ecological effects.
At the same time, my 10-year-old son and I were drawn almost irresistibly to the shoreline when we heard of the westerly swell. We made our after-school rounds from Hendrys Beach to the breakwater to witness storm-generated waves crash ashore. By sunset, the sensory experience — from the sound of powerful surf to the salt-scented air and the sheer beauty of the scene—combined with negative ions released into the atmosphere left us both almost giddy and wanting more.
We made a plan for the next morning, and left the house before dawn to see what had happened overnight. It was immediately obvious from the enormous puddles of seawater and piles of kelp tossed onto the parking lot and that the night-time waves had breached and transformed the sand berm where we had sat just hours before. The fifth-grader who is learning about earth sciences at school gained great insight at the shore. No amount of reading about the power of water would teach him as much as seeing that evidence for himself.
As the day got lighter and brighter, a surprising number of wetsuit-wearing, surfboard-carrying, school-age kids—and plenty of older ones, too—literally ran onto the breakwater, into the surf at Leadbetter, and points north and south. They exuberantly seized the moment to experience for themselves the kind of waves surfers live for. They were obviously going to be late — if not absent — for school. More power to them.
Although my son wanted to stay all day (and who wouldn’t?) I reluctantly brought him to school—and got back to work, musing about how our impromptu field trip provided him with likely the most memorable lessons of the year.
These days our built environment takes so much of our time and attention; we fight over setbacks and sidewalks, walls and windows; traffic and congestion threaten our ability to sustain a quality of life on this narrow coastal strip; and fear seems about to take over our hearts. The importance of the real world has become so irrelevant to our daily lives that experts schedule conferences to figure how to make it meaningful again.
It’s downright unnatural.

E-mail Cheri Rae at

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