Bodies of Water

My remembered life began by a pond. A small lake. Comprehensible in size, even to a very small boy, but large enough to contain places of mystery - the south end where it petered out in reedy marsh and the tiny island to the north where my sister abandoned me to my fate one spring morning before my howling brought rescue from my father.

Originally created as a stew pond, Frensham Little Pond was was built in 1246 (Nymphs and Naiads). It was used to supply fish to the Bishop of Winchester's court when visiting the nearby Farnham Castle. Drained during World War II to obliterate a potential sign-post for the Luftwaffe en-route to London, it had been re-filled a couple of years before we arrived - my father, in a mid-life career crisis, to build the dinghies that were to be rented to visitors and my mother to serve teas in the cafeteria. A small bungalow, boat-house and dock were part of this, from my perspective, very sweet deal. Scale: I remember I wasn't much taller than the seats of the dining chairs; a Little Pond; in a small country; with a large history.

I first saw the Mediterranean when I was twenty. It was the sea of my dreams. Blue. Warm. Continental. Crystalline. The wellspring of Civilization. Another pond perhaps, comprehensible in scale to a young man, but large enough to contain almost all of the History that I thought mattered - Mesogeios, the inland water of Ancient Greece, Mediterraneum Mare, the Roman Sea. I made a bee-line for Nice in the South of France, a site, I now know, of one of the oldest human habitations in Europe. Here was a narrow beach with torpid water lazily lapping at the sea's northern edge. It wasn't until I threaded my way around the coast (relying, as a hitchhiker, on the kindness of strangers) and arrived in Yugoslavia, somewhere along the Dalmatian coast between Split and Dubrovnik, that the shimmering blues and greens refracted out of crystal clear water confirmed the reality of my Mediterranean vision.

I continued east and south and eventually broached a world that owed nothing to the classical civilizations of the Mediterranean but a great deal to the British Isles. Begun in the mid-nineteenth century the Indian, but British engineered and financed, railway system reached its apogee in 1929 and by the late 1960's was still sufficiently intact to allow impecunious travelers to journey the length of the country, from Lahore to Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, by staying one step (or railway car) ahead of the ticket inspectors. At the southern tip of the sub-continent, a ferry could be taken to Mannar, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the traditional port of arrival for Indian Tamils upon whom the Ceylonese have relied for labor for at least four thousand years.

A long train journey to Colombo followed - the track, it seemed, forever in danger of being swallowed by the mangrove swamps as it skirted along the coast. In Colombo, plans were made to visit Kandy, the ancient religious capital in the center of the island but the real purpose was to secure work on a merchant ship, and this I achieved in my first few days in town and was signed up as Engine Room Boy on the Ferndale, an ancient 10,000 ton Norwegian tramp-freighter bound for the United States. The trip to Kandy remains, forty four years later, still on-hold.

I was in Colombo long enough to experience surf. At night. Not quite understanding what I was hearing. The Indian Ocean: here at last was a sea that roared, crashed, breathed and spewed wild spray into the night air. I made a mental note.

Two years later, I arrived in Sydney, having committed, in return for my paid ticket, to stay in the Land of Oz for two years. In the event, I paid taxes for eight then relied on the generosity of the government once again to attend Sydney University to study Architecture. By the time I left to come to UCLA, my real Pacific purpose had been achieved - a significant part of each of those eleven years was spent surfing and I had become intimate with that great body of water.

Sometime in the early 1970's I would watch surf movies at the cinema in Avalon, a small surfing town along Sydney's north shore. These were the days before Endless Summer, a 'crossover' surf movie that found an audience beyond hard core devotees - when surf movies were raw, plotless, with wave after wave presented against a sound track of pounding psychedelic, jam-band rock. I remember one, out of the endless many, that was shot at Rincon: (The Sage-Gatherer) back-lit waves in the evening glass-off, a moment when the wind dropped and the waves assumed a pure unruffled, velvety power. This was Rincon filmed at eight to ten feet, one of the world's great waves. Many years later, In 1998, that wettest of winters, when storm after storm barreled through Southern California from January to May, I watched Rincon one mid-winter evening, while a handful of professional grade surfers shredded ten foot waves that seemed to arrive with a machine-like regularity. Around the corner from placid Bates Beach, a straight shot from Ojai on the 150, is a Pacific beach, that when provoked, can create majestic surf. I need to know this.

Otherwise, perhaps, I would have to find solace in Lake Casitas, and dear reader, is that even remotely plausible? Could I, would I, find a soul to respond to? It is undeniably, a body of water. I remember, when we lived in town during construction of our house on Koenigstein, that I would run the trail north of Shelf road, off of Gridley, variously called Cozy Ojai Road or Forest Route SN34, and as I approached Foothill Road, I would catch a glimpse, or a glisten of the great reservoir, and it gladdened my heart. Because it was all downhill from there? Please. A close reading of this blog will reveal, in any case, that I actually prefer to run up-hill. No. It represents a moment of topsy turvy. The sky reflected by the earth. The earth become sky. Created in 1958, and stocked with bass, catfish and rainbow trout it is a stew pond that rivals Frensham Little Pond in every category except age: not until 2663, will Lake Casitas be as venerable as that Surrey Pond was when I lived there.

Perhaps by then, it will have acquired a patina, it will have mellowed into the chaparral and earned its place in my pantheon of ponds. A body of water to be reckoned with. But by then, will anybody care?

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