Saturday, January 22, 2011


At the end of the beach is a spill of granite boulders all bread loaf size. Rubbed soft round. White-grey speckled with black. The eye is caught by another round rock, very dark and sparkling in the late slant of sundown. Football size. It’s a 14-pound lump of coal. Rubbed with another piece of rock, and sure enough, it makes a black dust. It’s coal. Now how did that wind up on the beach? Coal doesn't float. How'd it get here?

One way it got here is from the Carboniferous Era 350 million years ago. It wasn't laid up here but from a time when high oxygen levels (almost 40% opposed to the 21% now) gave rise to giant insects and oozy fern swamps. Birds and flowers hadn't been invented yet. Anyway we haul it back home, wash the sand off, and weigh it. We lit a piece and it burned leaving a cinder and a gassy peaty smell evoking nostalgia of the winter coal smell—how we heated schools in the Midwest.  In the 50's coal cinders paved every alleyway and the running tracks circling every football field. This piece probably fell off a cargo ship on its way to China, where coal burning is unrestricted. Its high-grade anthracite, shiny and burns with a characteristic short blue flame.

The space of Kehoe Beach feels like home ground, like our backyard. The cliff going into the water marks the end boundary of our walk. Here alluvial fans of debris from washouts have eroded to a shelf where pioneer plants have stabilized the sand. It’s a good place to find plastic washed in on the semi-annual super high tides. A lot of older and bigger chunks. Rising out of the skimpy dirt are three kinds of mushrooms. Two kinds of Inky Caps; one with a long pale cap, a smooth furled umbrella; the other already curling back to release spores. These disintegrate soon after they're picked digesting themselves into a black goo. We're told they're good to eat, but if eaten with alcohol they create a substance like antabuse, the pharmaceutical used to deter alcoholics. They make you quite ill, but aren't deadly. Hmmmmm who wants to try one?

Sandpipers, a flock of more than 100, scuttle on furious legs, a moving unison smooth and rhythmic as the wavelets they follow. The sheets of ocean glaze the sand like mercury and the pip-squeak birds double in reflection as they skitter as if one creature racing the wave-line. A wave too big and they launch in a fluttering chorus, float up on the breeze and double back to work the sand. White Dungeness Crab larvae litter the wrack line. We'd had a crab feast a couple of nights before.

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