When I was a new resident of San Francisco, I marvelled at how my cross street dead-ended 30 blocks to the west at a beach. Now, 12 years later, the ocean is integrated into my city life, but I never stop feeling an appreciation for its proximity and bounty.
Today Ocean Beach is quiet. There is no wind and the tide is low. The part of the sky that touches the horizon has streaks of cirrus clouds which morph into low-lying stratus clouds which are the same unmistakable color of the gray distant ocean. Low-lying cumulus clouds cover the higher part of the sky. I love days like this when the sky, the sea, and the land blend harmoniously into a muted color palette.
It is the beginning of Thanksgiving week and the city is starting to empty out as people travel to visit family and friends. The beach population reflects this and is mostly quiet. There are occasional joggers and dog walkers. A few dedicated fisherman have set up their equipment at the water’s edge and today are using bait that looks like fairly large octopi. Couples express their connection by holding hands or stopping for an embrace. There are relatively few children for a Sunday. Because the waves are small, there are also very few surfers. One unusual moment on my walk today is that I saw a naked man swimming in the ocean. When I first spotted him I thought it was strange that someone was actually in the water at Ocean Beach without a wetsuit as the water temperature usually runs about 55 degrees. But when he emerged from the water, shaking, dancing, and swirling his long dreadlocks around and around, I saw that he had no bathing suit on either. No surprises as this is San Francisco and nudity, although regulated, is tolerated.
The cache of ocean debris is scarce today - a few scattered and partially broken sand dollars, the most popular shell on this beach. I have seen days when hundreds of perfect sand dollars line the shore. There are no dead animals washed up to the shore and seaweed is limited. This comes as somewhat of a relief to me because my proclivity for shell collecting sometimes interferes with my walk. I get distracted by what is at my feet and once I look down to search for treasures I have to force myself to look at the horizon again.
Sanderlings play hide and seek at the water’s edge and move in perfect unison, chasing a wave and then eluding it. Glaucous-winged gulls swoop and settle into a graceful dance. Crows are strangely absent which gives the off-leash dogs one less thing to chase.
The muted nothingness of this Sunday morning beach walk is welcome. I have no recently deceased patients to mull over. My entire family is gathering for the holiday in southern California and no one will be missing Thanksgiving dinner this year. As I walk I try to begin to formulate what I will say at the table when we express our gratitude but can’t come up with a clever story or metaphor to make any of it interesting. I am quite simply thankful for it all. The sky. The ocean. The beach. The strangers enjoying the beach each in their own way. My home on 16th Avenue. My family members who await me in southern California. This year I am thankful for it all.