The Sounds of Seagulls
Even after experiencing the Park’s Forest and Meadow, I was taken aback by the Beach. As I stepped onto the sand, I felt like I was walking along the coast of a tropical island. I heard the low rumble of crashing waves. I paused to watch several seagulls swoop across the sky and followed a large brown pelican as it skimmed over the water. The smell of salt air filled my lungs and sand squished between my toes as we walked along the low dune. A salty breeze blew and I took in the breathtaking view of the water.
Only the most well-trained eye could tell where the multi-million gallon saltwater tank ended and the digitized wall projection began. The only detail missing was the string of oil platforms which, in reality, would be visible off any of our coastlines.
I watched as Mariah ran towards the water. Steve and I walked a short distance along a dune crest and stopped to set down our blanket. Feeling playful, I pulled the blanket as Steve tried to lay it down against the breeze. Steve grinned and held firmly to his end of the blanket, and together we smoothed it on to the sand. I placed the picnic basket in the middle to help hold the blanket in place.
We heard a high-pitched squeal and we both turned quickly to look towards the water's edge. There, in a very short time, Mariah had skillfully created a complex sand castle. Several sections of the outer walls lay in ruins after being hit by a rogue wave. I was impressed with what was still standing. She had built an impressive castle complete with several towers and multiple concentric walls.
“Your daughter is quite the builder,” I commented.
“I had no idea she could create something like that,” said Steve equally surprised. “The last time we were here, her castles were much simpler.”
We both watched Mariah as she began to reconstruct the outer walls. I took a deep breath exhaling a long sigh.
“It is so peaceful here,” I said.
“This is my favorite part of the Park,” Steve replied. “I love the sound of the waves, the smell of the ocean, and this expansive view. You do realize that humans came from the ocean? It is our original home.”
I was moved by his reply. “Do you think it’s possible to restore our shorelines? They were so beautiful before the spills.”
“That’s a tall order,” commented Steve. “I was working in Florida during the Deepwater Horizon and Scarabeo-9 oil spills. The hurricane seasons that followed devastated the entire coastline. I’m not surprised that most of it has never been fully restored.
“And you remember the exodus of people from the coast?,” said Steve.
“I remember it well,” I said. “We had to integrate an additional 130,000 refugees. I was doing a thesis in grad school modeling the economic effect on the fishing industries when they were hit by catastrophe after catastrophe during those years. Neither industry nor the government had a clue how to effectively respond,” I replied.
“I still question the decisions that were made after Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “New Orleans needed to be rebuilt properly. Instead, the Government funded wars overseas,” said Steve.
“So, tell me why do you do it all?” I asked, switching topics. I wanted to better understand this man who was slowly letting down his guard.
“All what?” Steve replied.
“The daily grind, the hassles, the headaches?” I persisted.
“For the money and the perks,” he answered with a smile that told me he was partly kidding.
He called out to Mariah. “Lunch in five minutes!”
Mariah looked up from the water’s edge and gave her father a thumb up sign. Steve removed another smaller bottle from the basket. It was a bottle of red wine which he opened and poured us each a small amount. I inhaled the smoky scent of the dark liquid and then took a small sip and savored the complex taste. I was not much of a wine drinker but could tell this was not purchased from the hallway cooler.
Steve looked at me.
I wondered if he was ready to elaborate on my question?
He took a sip of wine before answering.
“I’ve been working in public service for almost 20 years and have five more before I can retire. By then, I hope to have put away enough money to take Mariah away from here. The City is no place to raise a child,” Steve confided.
“And where do you think is the right place to raise a child?” I asked.
“Several years ago, I purchased a small property on the Pacific coast of Baja Mexico. It looks a lot like this,” he said and gazed at the ocean. “I'm planning to build a house for the two of us. And big enough to have friends come visit whenever they want,” Steve explained.
He took a deep breath followed by another a slow sip from his glass.
“To be honest, I often feel like I’m banging my head against a concrete wall. It seems that the Mayor and his cronies don’t really care about solving the traffic problems.”
“I do,” I said. I leaned closer to him and gave him an appreciative squeeze to his arm. I considered a kiss on his cheek but decided against it.
“The advantages of youth. Maybe you have the energy to make a difference,” Steve replied looking directly into my eyes.
He can’t be that much older than me, I thought. But the years of public service had worn him down. I held up my glass.
“To a better future. Steve, thank you for inviting me today.”
We silently looked into each other’s eyes and drained our glasses. I could feel the effects of the wine, but that did not fully explain the intoxicating effects of the moment. Steve looked away first to call Mariah for lunch while I removed the items from the basket and spread them out for our picnic lunch.