The Magnificence Of The Pacific Ocean

Jay Moriarity.  Big wave surfing at Mavericks.  Photo: Vern Fisher

Today while I was taking my daily walk around the neighborhood, I felt drawn to the sight of the nearby mighty Pacific Ocean….I live only 6 blocks from the ocean, and I can see it every time I step outside my door…It is blue and serene and placid, or green and angry and wind whipped, but it is always there, a huge presence in my daily life….It is mystical, magical and it always draws me with it’s siren song, I can never take my eyes off the ocean when I am outside….

If the weather is warm and it is not too windy I often walk down to the beach, and watch the waves roll in, depositing their daily quota of seashells, mostly sand dollars and beautiful rocks from the ocean depths…….Unfortunately I live in San Francisco, not LA or Monterrey or Big Sur, so often the weather is cold and foggy and it is definitely not automatic every day swim suit weather!

But there are always a few people down there, walking their dogs, playing Frisbee, one couple is always fishing, with their poles set skilfully and anchored upright in the sand somehow… (I don’t know how they do that, but they are there every day, they must be professional fisherman)….

On a warm day, there are of course lots of people laying around on blankets and wearing swim suits, soaking up the rays of the sun, and a few brave souls actually swimming, although there are warning signs about the vicious undertow posted prominently……

There are always surfers out there too, but again this is northern California, not LA, and the surfers here all wear full body wet suits….But they still are a wonder to behold, as they paddle way out way past the shore line and wait for just the right wave to catch, then they nimbly mount their boards and ride the waves all the way to the shore, and then repeat the process….

This blows my mind, they are like skateboarders on the water and how they maintain their balance and don’t break their necks or drown is beyond me! In fact, there is a yearly internationally known surfing contest very close to here, as per Google:

“TITANS OF MAVERICKS is the world’s premiere, high adrenaline, big wave surfing event. This one-day, invitation-only surfing competition is held at the legendary Mavericks surf break located near Half Moon Bay, only 20 minutes south of San Francisco and near the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. The 24 Titans will attempt to compete at the highest level of skill, risk and athleticism to stand out and effortlessly challenge these, the massive swells on the biggest and best day of the winter season.

Professional big wave surfers from across the globe will travel great distances to take part in the most risk-oriented event in North America. The only way into the event is to be selected by the Committee 5 and earn a spot to battle it out – heat after heat – and eventually beating every other Titans for the win. Each potential selectee will have to put his or her time in the water at Mavericks. If you prove to the Committee 5 members you’re capable, and have what it takes, you will have equal consideration among any of the possible competitors.”

The skill, grace, and athleticism of these world class athletic surfers is a sight to behold, and draws very large crowds from all over the state and indeed, the world, to admire their dangerous, sometimes deadly feats….They do it more for the love of the sport than the prize money the winners get…Some years, the waves are not big enough and they have to cancel the event altogether…..

I can see container ships laden with freight from Asia all the time, passing by my part of the beach to the deep water unloading ports in nearby Oakland…I can see occasional smaller boats too, like sailboats, or commercial fishing boats pass by, but in general most recreational boating takes place in the Bay itself, not the ocean just outside my door…

When we went to the San Francisco Natural History Museum the other day, we saw a fantastic ½ hour tour of the ocean inside the Planetarium, called Habitat Earth…They had the reclining seats and the curved ceiling so you could lean back and it was like you were actually UNDER the water!….

I don’t know how they did it but it makes 3D look like child’s play, I almost got seasick from vertigo as the camera zoomed along the ocean bottom, showing massive, giant kelp forests, microscopic krill and plankton and the whales that feed on them, along with all the other fish and strange creatures that live deep beneath the waves and portrays the whole underwater food chain and how it works…

The Habitat Earth film really brought home the point how interconnected we are all, how the food chain works and the balance of nature that affects each and every one of us on the planet earth, and unless you have the opportunity to see a show like we just did at the Planetarium, you would just never know what goes on beneath the surface of the usually placid blue ocean….

The ocean covers ¾ of our world anyway, so it is of course an integral part of the world wide food chain, and the greedy industrialists that pollute the air with greenhouse gases for more and more obscene profits and monetary rewards should be forced to watch this film, although they probably already know and just don’t care…

All in all I am glad to be able to live so close to the Pacific Ocean, and to witness it’s wondrous majesty and fantastic views and ponder what goes on beneath those opaque, impenetrable to the eyes waves that roll and crash onto the beach every day…I am blessed to be alive and healthy and living on the very edge of the Western world…

A Visit To The Natural History Museum

Today me, my daughter and my granddaughter took advantage of some complimentary tickets a friend had given me and visited the Francisco Natural History Museum….This is a great museum, and any older or more recent visitors will have noticed that they did a great job of renovating the entire complex….

I notice that some people love museums for the treasure troves and repository of the past and present that they are, while other people regard them as just dusty old buildings full of irrelevant artifacts…

The San Francisco Natural History Museum has a done a bang up, right on combination of mixing the old and the new…There are many exhibits, such as the aquarium, where you can see hundreds of species of colorful fish swimming by in all their glory, a floor to ceiling tank…There are fish of every species and variety and in a way resembles the layout of the great aquarium in Monterrey, California, one of the world’s best and highly regarded aquariums…

There were also rooms full of rain forest exhibits, which was on 3 levels, you had to ascend on a curving ramp which opened up on the different levels and housed a vibrant collection of snakes, chameleons, lizards of all varieties, like geckos, and beautiful butterflies flitting about freely…It was so realistic the temperature must have been in the 90’s, it was VERY warm in there….

If you like to see snakes like boa constrictors, pythons, an anaconda or exotic birds like the colorful macaws, or insects of all varieties like a giant praying mantis, tarantula spiders, the Rain Forest exhibit is the one for you!

Of course there were the more traditional exhibits like the skeletons of the T Rex when you first walked in the door, so reminiscent of Jurassic Park, which still frightens children…There was also a large section on the whales, but they prohibited taking any photos there…The whale is the largest mammal on the planet, and they had two skeletons there that were just enormous…

Some people don’t know this, but whales are mammals; they  must breathe air and deliver live babies just like all other mammals…These whales were 40 and 60 feet and easily dwarfed the T Rex and any elephant I have ever seen….There was one cool exhibit where they showed the first whale fossil they have ever recovered; it looked like nothing more than a large dog…

Apparently at some distant point in the past the earth got so hot that the dinosaurs and other reptilian species became extinct, and these ancient forerunners of the modern whale spent more and more time in the water  and eventually decided to just move into the friendly confines of the ocean, where they eventually evolved into all the species of whales we have today…

There was another section where they had an albino alligator laying low in a large pool of water…There was also a holdover from the old museum, a diorama where they had all kinds of long dead stuffed animals in glassed in exhibits in their natural habitats, like a male lion and two female lioneneses gazing off into the distance of the Serengeti plains….

There was another  graphic image of a cheetah snarling out at you through the mists of time, a freshly killed small antelope at his feet, bleeding from the kill shot….There were dioramas of zebras, gazelles, a huge gorilla, some baboons, hyenas, a kangaroo, three giraffes serenely munching on an impossibly tall tree with their slender graceful necks fully extended…

We were disappointed to find out that the earthquake simulator , which recreates the  famous 1906 earthquake and the more recent Loma Preita earthquake were shut down for repairs, so we were unable to enjoy this vicarious experience which we in San Francisco face daily in real life….

I had been through this earthquake simulator a few years ago though, and it was as if you were trapped in an old Victorian building and the walls and ceilings started to shake and the very floor beneath you turned into a sickening, rolling, unstable platform of what was supposed to be solid ground…..You could just imagine the screams of fear and panic that must have enveloped the city in 1906, that was a massive quake that leveled the city….

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake measured 8.3 on the Richter scale, killed over 700 people, and caused over $500 million worth of damage.The main shock epicenter of the earthquake occurred about 2 miles offshore from the city.The earthquake was felt from Oregon to Los Angeles, and as far inland as central Nevada. Ironically, it was the fire afterwards that caused the most damage, as several of the main water mains were broken and the city was mostly made of wooden structures at that time…

The northern California earthquake in 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake in comparison, measured 7.1, killed 67 people, and caused billions of dollars in damage. Because of the fact that the water system worked this time and there were more non wooden structures, the damage was relatively minor compared to the 1906 quake…

Well it would have been fun to take a ride on these simulated earthquake rides, but you don’t always get what you want….Besides, I lived through and was a participant of the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 anyway, and that was no fun ride…The thing about earthquakes though is that they happen so fast, without warning, and are over so quickly, rarely more than a minute or less of shaking, that you don’t really have time to get scared…You are either dead or alive, but there is no buildup of fear like with hurricanes or tornadoes….

I would strongly recommend if you ever visit San Francisco, maybe in the Summer of Love 50th anniversary, take some time out and check out the Natural History Museum, it is located right in the middle of the beautiful Golden Gate Park…It is a state of the art complex with great display areas and even features an eco-friendly sod covered roof to conserve energy…..

Just try to pick a day when the earthquake simulators are working, it’s a lot more fun!