Monday, December 11, 2006

Flying Down the Beach

Got out on the bike Sunday, a short ride, my first since Thanksgiving: an hour, about 12 miles.

The downwind part was great. It rained here the night before (and again later that night), and all day a blustery wind did its best to push the clouds away.

You see things when you're out riding. The water in Long Beach harbor was choppy, but I saw splashes that were different from whitecaps. I stopped my bike to take a closer look. I could not see what was making the splashes. Little splashes, like the splash a bird makes when it dives into the water to catch a fish, but there were no birds to be seen. Could it be the wind making whitecaps? I watched, and a series of splashes went off in rapid sequence, in a straight line across 50 feet of water, as if someone had skipped a stone across the tops of the waves.

I peered in close, hoping I'd see flying fish. That's the only cause I could come up with that would make sense. The boils were coming over a defined range of water, not all over the harbor. I didn't see any fish. I watched for signs of dolphins under the water, breaking the surface. Nothing. Just white splashes on dark green waves, and then the flashes subsided, and it was just the wind-blown waves.

When I hit the parking lot below the Art Museum, I headed up the hill, as I usually do, so my legs are used to pedaling on something besides all flat. Got to the top of the hill and looked out to sea, but there was no Catalina; the sky was blue but haze obscured the horizon. I could post a picture of what it looked like, but it would look more or less like the pictures I've posted before. The differences were all invisible: the wind tugging at me, the temperature drop. Maybe you'd notice more people wearing windbreakers and parkas.

I came rolling down the hill to rejoin the bike trail. At the bottom of the hill were some kids playing with kites in the boisterous wind. Kids at their best are normally not too attentive about bikes coming up fast behind them, but kids whose eyes were fastened to a kite were going to be completely unaware of me. So I slowed, watching the kids carefully, and eased past them in the joggers' lane. Lucky thing the jogger coming along in the other direction was paying attention to something besides the kids and their kites.

Further down the bike trail, after I'd got back up to speed, I saw another kite, a little in front of me, and I watched for the kid who'd be at the other end of the string. I looked behind me but couldn't see who was holding the kite. As I slowed and looked again, the answer came flying by me: An empty reel of kite string came skipping along the sand, faster than I was riding, and bobbed across the bike trail in front of me, following the kite.

I coasted up alongside a rollerblader who was watching the same thing and shaking his head. "There goes a loose kite," I said. The wind was pulling this thing along good.

"Not for long," he said, nodding after the kite. He and I stopped and watched, along with a couple of other people who had seen it go by but not done anything fast enough to stop it. The kite flew past the edge at the base of the beach where a telephone wire runs, and it tugged the string across the phone wire as it rose up over the bluffs. For a moment I thought the kite had enough gumption to pull the string all the way across the wire and fly off with the reel still trailing. But as I watched, the reel climbed into the air, swinging back and forth, and got trapped between the telephone wire and a metal switchbox on the side of the telephone pole. The reel was going no further. The kite was now a captive, though one with no master.

I rode on to the end of the beach, a few miles further along, turned around and started working my way back upwind. Now and then a mouthful of sand got lifted by the wind and thrown in my face. It wasn't as cold as I'd estimated when I set out. I got back to the spot where the kite had been caught, curious whether it would have sawn the string off against the phone wire yet, but no, there it was still hanging against the sky--distinctly aloft, out of anyone's reach, yet trapped. Equilibrium until the wind died. The telephone pole was flying the kite. I kept huffing and puffing my way home.

Later in the night I heard the rain start to spatter my balcony again. The pavement is still wet this morning.

But I know where there's a free kite, if you want one.

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