Monday, May 25, 2009
The last few years of my military service in the National Guard were difficult to say the least with me pretty much just going through the motions until I retired in 2005 with twenty-one years of service. I had long since been surpassed by young, ambitious types far better able to endure the demands put on both civilian life and jobs that I honestly believe the National Guard viewed as secondary and detrimental to the overall mission. What pained me the most was that the young ambitious types often viewed us “old timers” as dinosaurs and irrelevant to the evolving and faster paced National Guard. For the longest time I sort of shared that view just glad that I was able to jump off that evolving and faster paced train and fade away into civilian oblivion. That is until now, but I will need to explain the back story for it all to fit together.
This story began on a typical Saturday morning during a weekend National Guard drill a few years before I retired. I had been promoted to Staff Sergeant pretty much by accident the year before but I was outranked by time in grade by two other Staff Sergeants (E-6 ) and a Sergeant First Class who were my platoon sergeant. What I mean by being outranked by “time in grade” is that those guys had received their staff sergeant rank before me so on the hypothetical totem pole they were higher than me and could order me around. The kicker was that I had far more time in service than them and the guy who was now my platoon sergeant. In simpler terms what this means was that I had already enlisted and was wearing the uniform while they were still popping zits and worried about a date for the senior prom. The explanation for that is a confusing mess. I was in an over strength unit for too many years without a chance for promotion. There was also the fact that I didn't want not to piss my civilian boss off by going to the required two week summer camp and then the mandatory army development schools required for promotion. The nasty little thing National Guard recruitment commericals avoid telling is that while American patriotism is a nice sentiment shared by many, the actual depth of that commitment is often very shallow. And I'll be honest by this point I had a textbook case of burnout and I simply wasn't in the mood to play the hyper-motivated game any longer and kiss higher ranking ass.
Staff Sergeant Mike Ward, one of the young studs, did not have any of those concerns and in fact relished his National Guard duties to a near fanatical level that often irritated the living shit out of me but since he outranked me, I had to deal with his zeal. One such time was over a class on the army Global Positioning System receiver and his belief that the GPS was untouchable and completely permanent making other methods of land navigation obsolete. Ward loved to make a huge production out of his classes and came to them in a perfectly pressed Battle Dress Uniform (more commonly just called BDU’s) and boots spit shined to the point they could be used as mirrors. His presentation and confidence in the knowledge of the material would have sent most army leadership instructors into orgasm.
The class that showed how old and obsolete I was dealt with how to operate and use the army GPS hand receiver to both locate your position on a map successfully and use it to navigate across terrain. Being a non-commissioned officer myself I was able to sit back and observe without being required to say much which suited me fine. All the lower enlisted sat close to Ward both in complete and fearful attention. Now giving Ward his due the class was to the point and did not digress into other subjects not relevant to the overall Global Positioning System and its use in the field.
Somehow I had either missed the GPS class in my active army years or the system had not been established enough for there to be a class at all. Nevertheless, I found myself fairly involved and interested in Ward’s class and wondering about a point that at least to me seemed material to the subject. During my active army years land navigation had involved the use of a lensatic compass, a map, understanding terrain features, and using a pace count to keep track of the distance a person can walk. The GPS receiver, with the use of the GPS satellites in orbit, could pinpoint a person’s position within a few meters seemly eliminating most of the techniques I had been taught. Therefore, when a question section of the class started despite my well groomed soon-to-be-retired indifference I raised my hand to settle a point in my mind.
“Sergeant Ward”, I began showing respect, “what allowances are being made if the GPS system is destroyed by either weapons or electronic-counter measures?” My point was that Russia had anti-satellite weapons and China, despite a heavy amount of self-righteous posturing, was reported to be heavily researching and developing its own anti-satellite weapon system. However, the look on Ward’s face shown through with a nice amount of puzzlement and condescension over what I thought was at least a plausible inquiry.
“Well Sergeant”, stressing the pronunciation of my rank like it was a question itself, “I’m sure such a possibility has been taken into consideration by authority much higher than either of us and suitable measures were begun to assure continued use of the GPS in the most dire of times.”
Sergeant Ward’s long winded response touched the line of disrespect just enough to cause a smattering of giggles from the collection of younger hot shots both in the very junior NCO and enlisted ranks. Instead of getting mad my cynical attitude reasserted itself and I graciously smiled and thought to myself that Ward should go do something anatomically impossible to himself. Truly it would have been a losing battle for me right from the start to challenge him. Ward was in the clique with the first sergeant, company commander, and even the battalion commander grooming him for far greater things. For the same senior leadership I was a known quantity who had long since burned out on the “dog and pony show” and was just trying to get my retirement paperwork processed without any unusual situations arising.
After thinking it over I almost convinced myself that Ward was probably right. However in the end I figured with my approaching retirement whatever the answer was that pompous bastard would be someone else’s problem. So, despite putting the subject behind me I had a very good laugh recently after reading the following article:
It has become one of the staples of modern, hi-tech life: using satellite navigation tools built into your car or mobile phone to find your way from A to B. But experts have warned that the system may be close to breakdown.
US government officials are concerned that the quality of the Global Positioning System (GPS) could begin to deteriorate as early as next year, resulting in regular blackouts and failures – or even dishing out inaccurate directions to millions of people worldwide.
The warning centres on the network of GPS satellites that constantly orbit the planet and beam signals back to the ground that help pinpoint your position on the Earth's surface.
The satellites are overseen by the US Air Force, which has maintained the GPS network since the early 1990s. According to a study by the US government accountability office (GAO), mismanagement and a lack of investment means that some of the crucial GPS satellites could begin to fail as early as next year.
"It is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption," said the report, presented to Congress. "If not, some military operations and some civilian users could be adversely affected."
The report says that Air Force officials have failed to execute the necessary steps to keep the system running smoothly.
Although it is currently spending nearly $2bn (£1.3bn) to bring the 20-year-old system up to date, the GAO – which is the equivalent of Britain's National Audit Office – says that delays and overspending are putting the entire system in jeopardy.
"In recent years, the Air Force has struggled to successfully build GPS satellites within cost and schedule goals," said the report. "It encountered significant technical problems … [and] struggled with a different contractor."
The first replacement GPS satellite was due to launch at the beginning of 2007, but has been delayed several times and is now scheduled to go into orbit in November this year – almost three years late.
The impact on ordinary users could be significant, with millions of satnav users potential victims of bad directions or failed services. There would also be similar side effects on the military, which uses GPS for mapping, reconnaissance and for tracking hostile targets.
Some suggest that it could also have an impact on the proliferation of so-called location applications on mobile handsets – just as applications on the iPhone and other GPS-enabled smartphones are starting to get more popular.
Tom Coates, the head of Yahoo's Fire Eagle system – which lets users share their location data from their mobile – said he was sceptical that US officials would let the system fall into total disrepair because it was important to so many people and companies.
"I'd be surprised if anyone in the US government was actually OK with letting it fail – it's too useful," he told the Guardian.
"It sounds like something that could be very serious in a whole range of areas if it were to actually happen. It probably wouldn't damage many locative services applications now, but potentially it would retard their development and mainstreaming if it were to come to pass."
The failings of GPS could also play into the hands of other countries – including opening the door to Galileo, the European-funded attempt to rival America's satellite navigation system, which is scheduled to start rolling out later next year.
Russia, India and China have developed their own satellite navigation technologies that are currently being expanded.
Making this last laugh of mine even more bittersweet to the extreme my friend Sergeant Ward marched himself, with a good bit of help from his higher ranking benefactors, off to Officer Candidate School and the last time I saw him was on the fast track to his army captain's bars. I just hope his mind is a little more open to what might be out there ready to bite him, or his troops. on the ass.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
***Update: Gone to the beach, see y'all Sunday!***
A pretty cool picture of a butterfly at a local Columbia park. Joining the "Think Green Thursdays" meme posting various items on the environment. Not trying to make any sort of stand here, just trying to spread some information and a little hope when available.
Check out Think Green Thursday headquarters.
Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.
-- Emily Dickinson
I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority. ~Elwyn Brooks White, Essays of E.B. White, 1977
A living planet is a much more complex metaphor for deity than just a bigger father with a bigger fist. If an omniscient, all-powerful Dad ignores your prayers, it's taken personally. Hear only silence long enough, and you start wondering about his power. His fairness. His very existence. But if a world mother doesn't reply, Her excuse is simple. She never claimed conceited omnipotence. She has countless others clinging to her apron strings, including myriad species unable to speak for themselves. To Her elder offspring She says - go raid the fridge. Go play outside. Go get a job. Or, better yet, lend me a hand. I have no time for idle whining. ~David Brin
Finally, some good news for a change. Its just a damn shame there is not more of it. but you have to start somewhere.
Stanford scientists find heat-tolerant coral reefs that may resist climate changeExperts say that more than half of the world's coral reefs could disappear in the next 50 years, in large part because of higher ocean temperatures caused by . But now Stanford University scientists have found evidence that some coral reefs are adapting and may actually survive
"Corals are certainly threatened by environmental change, but this research has really sparked the notion that corals may be tougher than we thought," said Stephen Palumbi, a professor of biology and a senior fellow at Stanford's Woods Institute for the .
Palumbi and his Stanford colleagues began studying the resiliency of coral reefs in the in 2006 with the support of a Woods Institute Environmental Venture Project grant. The project has expanded and is now being funded by Conservation International and the Bio-X program at Stanford.
"The most exciting thing was discovering live, healthy corals on reefs already as hot as the ocean is likely to get 100 years from now," said Palumbi, director of Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station. "How do they do that?"
Corals in peril
Coral reefs form the basis for thriving, healthy ecosystems throughout the tropics. They provide homes and nourishment for thousands of species, including massive schools of fish, which in turn feed millions of people across the globe.
Corals rely on partnerships with tiny, single-celled called zooxanthellae. The corals provide the algae a home, and, in turn, the algae provide nourishment, forming a symbiotic relationship. But when rising temperatures stress the algae, they stop producing food, and the corals spit them out. Without their algae symbionts, the reefs die and turn stark white, an event referred to as "coral bleaching."
During particularly warm years, bleaching has accounted for the deaths of large numbers of corals. In the Caribbean in 2005, a heat surge caused more than 50 percent of corals to bleach, and many still have not recovered, according to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, an international collaboration of government officials, policymakers and marine scientists, including Palumbi.
Havens of healthy reefs
In recent years, scientists discovered that some corals resist bleaching by hosting types of algae that can handle the heat, while others swap out the heat-stressed algae for tougher, heat-resistant strains. Palumbi's team set out to investigate how widely dispersed these heat-tolerant coral reefs are across the globe and to learn more about the biological processes that allow them to adapt to higher temperatures.
In 2006, Palumbi and graduate student Tom Oliver, now a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford, traveled to Ofu Island in American Samoa. Ofu, a tropical coral reef marine reserve, has remained healthy despite gradually warming waters.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
.....and major league screw-up.
No one will ever accuse me of being like the fathers from the 1950’s family sitcoms. In most of those shows the dads floated on the outer edge of the family seemly god-like in their wisdom and aloofness. I do not even fit the bill in appearance with those fictional fathers, their wardrobe more often than not being a suit and tie and never getting more casual than a white dress shirt, open at the neck, and dress pants, and dress shoes. The only time I wear a suit is for funerals and weddings, my normal attire around the house is usually t-shirt, and cargo shorts.
Watching the various dads from “Father knows best”, “Leave it to Beaver”, or “Ozzy and Harriet” I was always puzzled how they seemed to be either at work or lounging in their private den smoking a seriously dignified pipe while reading the afternoon paper. Any appearance by the father in other parts of the house for interaction with his wife were short which I generally attributed to the inability of the story writers of finding a way of getting the mother out of the kitchen where she was always cooking or cleaning. However, the overriding assumption in those sitcoms was that no matter what the father’s wisdom was never to be questioned, his actions were never mistaken, and his decisions never wrong. Only the ridiculously foolish saw any reality in those early televisions shows but never the less I regularly find out how much I can fail in the true wisdom, correct decisions, and appropriate actions department in real life.
Yesterday was Miss Wiggles’, my daughter, spring ballet and tap recital culminating the nine months of practices she had attended with me waiting in the cramped and uncomfortable parent waiting area. During those practices I heard her and her classmates laugh and giggle as a twenty-something instructor did her best to herd the small group of kittens into some order. During those times, I usually read a book or steal Wi-Fi from neighboring deli and surfed the internet. Centered on the main wall in the waiting area was a rather large white board that the owner of the dance studio wrote down important updates or bulletins that the parents needed to know about. I was responsible enough to take notice of anything written on that white board before I started pursuing my own interests but, much to my chagrin, the notes posted beside the large board could and did slip my attention at times. Moreover, it was yesterday that such a slip jumped up and bit me in the ass.
As Saturdays go yesterday was, as usual, busy right from the start. With the big recital early that afternoon the normal weekend house cleaning was pressed into overdrive. Especially since the in-laws were driving down to see my daughter dance and one of Dragonwife’s, my wife, greatest fears is to hear her mother complain about how dirty our bathrooms look. Bathroom inspections is something my mother-in-law takes a huge enjoyment in with her giving unsolicited and very detailed reports of the restrooms in any public place we might accompany her and my father-in-law. Thankfully my in-laws stay home a lot.
While my wife, son, and daughter were busy cleaning I had to zip up to the local mega-hardware store to try and buy a new lifting spring for one of the garage doors that a few nights before had suddenly popped sounding like a blast form a large caliber handgun. Replacing the spring is easy but the issue is when I have to get everything back into place and tighten back down so nothing tangles and, heaven forbid, really tear something up once the garage door is back in service. Surprisingly this time everything fell right back into place and I was done so quick that Dragonwife did not have the chance to stick her head outside to offer up some snarky comments like the other times.
Returning to help inside I found the house without conflict and everyone working to clean the house up. The change to the usual chaos was because of my son’s girlfriend, who had arrived at the house earlier and was going with us to the recital. She was helping with the cleaning of Miss Wiggles' room who was quite happy to have something akin to a big sister that morning. Dragonwife was in a strangely good mood, maybe because I had finished my first task under her unspoken time limit. I did not argue, while she was not sleeping and not laying down I saw no need to do anything to disrupt her placid state. Yes, read what you want in that vague sentence.
A few hours later, after the arrival of the in-laws, we loaded up and made the short trip to the school auditorium in which the recital was being held. When we arrived I was quite surprised that the general good mood of everyone was still holding tight. My wife was agreeable and seemly unstressed. My daughter was holding the hand of Spoilboy’s girlfriend talking to her about something girlie. My son, Darth Spoilboy, had quickly drifted off to talk with a couple of friends in the auditorium there to see younger siblings perform in the recital themselves. And thankfully the in-laws had not spoiled the mood and started mouthing off about politics and their hero Sean Hannity as I talked with them in the hallway waiting for the doors to the auditorium to open.
When the doors did open Dragonwife and Miss Wiggles left to join the other little girls and mothers in the dressing room. The rest of us took seats inside and began enjoying the many performances. I did not know it but the brief era of good feelings had just ended and the fault rested squarely on me.
Miss Wiggles’ first performance was a tap number with her and the other little girls dancing to the tune of “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch”. Wiggles’ and her fellow performers pranced around the stage in a fairly organized manner and clearly enjoying being the center of attention for the moment. As soon as it ended and the doors to the auditorium were reopened to allow people to enter and leave briefly before the next act. During that time Dragonwife came storming back in clearly in a very bad mood. While Wiggles’ had been performing I had been taking pictures on the far side of the auditorium away from most people and it was clear that I was the destination and target of my wife’s irritation. With her mouth pressed together in a very thin line and her eyes wide, her mean face, I knew from past experience I had really stepped in the poop.
“You did sign Wiggles’ up for her three year trophy?” She asked, and with her being a lawyer I knew full well she already knew the answer to that question.
“What three year trophy?” I asked back. I quickly ran through the past few weeks trying to remember if anything was said to me about a trophy. Truth be told nothing had, and that was the problem I was about to learn.
“At the dance studio was a sign-up sheet for trophies to be given out after the recital. Wiggle’s was due her three year trophy.” My wife said to me.
“Where was the sign-up sheet?” I asked again knowing now that I had screwed up someplace along the line, I just needed my wife to confirm it.
She told me that the instructor had hung it next to the large white board used to relay messages to parents in the waiting area of the studio. Now this is where I could claim some extenuating circumstances but I knew right then it would not help. Not only was my wife not in the mood to hear any excuses, I could not deny that I had simply screwed up.
The dance studio my daughter attends is not a full-time job to the owner. Not only is it a part-time job for her but also for the young instructors she employs. So while they do have the white board in the studio to relay messages they do not make use of a website or email to pass along messages that might not be written on the board by hurried part-time instructors eager to finish up herding their class of kittens and get home. Let us not forget about dumbass dads that might not have enough sense to look closely at the various pieces of paper taped alongside it. There is no telling how long that sign-up sheet might have hung next the white board with me not noticing it among the other pieces of paper. The fact that during those times I was either reading or surfing the internet, failing to do my fatherly duty, pretty much ruined the rest of the day for me with Dragonwife never failing to mention my inattention to my her parents, the dance studio staff, and any passerby unlucky enough to come within her reach.
My father-in-law saw fit to grab me by the shoulder and quickly say not to worry too much about it. “Shit happens”, he said as we walked to pick up Wiggles’ at the end of the recital after her classmates walked up on stage to receive their trophies, except her.
My daughter came running up to me with a few lingering tears on her face. I did not need to ask what was wrong, that thousand-pound weight was resting squarely on my shoulders. “Daddy, I didn’t get a trophy”, was all she could say as we walked out. My wife and mother-in-law were up ahead whispering something to each other and clearly mad, my father-in-law seemed preoccupied wanting to be someplace else, and my son and his girlfriend had long since skipped out before the end of the recital.
Hours later most of my sins had either been forgiven of at least filed away for future blackmail in the case of my daughter or emotional torture by Dragonwife. However, the kicker was that as I was surfing the satellite channels trying to forget my mistakes, I stumbled upon one of the channels that plays old 1950’s sitcoms. “Leave it to Beaver” just happen to be playing and for reasons I do not know I sat and watched the rest of that episode.
The Beaver’s dad, Old Ward Cleaver, did not show up until the last five minutes of the episode solving whatever problem the Beaver had gotten himself into. Of course the Beaver had to exclaim his undying love and gratitude saying he had the perfect dad with his older brother and mother, June Cleaver, looking on happily smiling. This is completely stupid but I swear right then I hated that bastard Ward Cleaver.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
GO SEE THE DAMN MOVIE!
First off, I need to tell all the old Trekkies to go ahead and brush off the chips perched on pouting shoulders and pull the hairs out of disgruntled asses. Sitting here at my desk, mere minutes removed from leaving the theater all I can say is that finally a Star Trek movie has been made that can interest more than the gaggle of Starfleet and Klingon custom wearing nerds that in some seriously disturbing ways often occupy another universe. Simply put, this film pulls in both the avid, sane, fan and those who know next to nothing of the adventures of those who have crewed the USS Enterprise into an excellent action/adventure film with hugely refreshed characters that still completely retain the original human, and Vulcan, aspects than made them so appealing.
To a great degree I can understand the vague reports I’ve heard of Star Trek fans upset that J.J. Abrams has dared to alter the holy canon of the saga from accepted norms. For years I myself cleared all normal, healthy activities to sit in front of the television whenever any of the television series were on. And like some drug addict looking eagerly for his source I stood in line for what I know now, in the cases of the Next Generations films, are theatrical abominations that should be only viewed as how to screw up a money making franchise. But that is all in the past, and of the many lessons Star Trek has tried to instill one of them is that if you don’t have a time machine, or can’t steal one, you have to move on and build a better future.
This film opens up on the USS Kelvin right after it has discovered something and someone that has traveled through time which quickly goes on to kill most of the crew and destroy the ship. But not before the father of James T. Kirk gets as many people off the ship, one of them being his pregnant wife, to safety before he dies. For young Jim Kirk, his life temporally altered, things don’t go like they should or did before the flow of time was changed. He is still smart and recklessly brave but a slacker with no real direction other than looking for a new babe to bag.
All that changes when he meets an old friend of his father’s that challenges him to do better and enlist in Starfleet. I guess much to the surprise of himself young Kirk joins but his road after that is rocky with him butting heads with an upper classman, Spock, who is himself working through issues from his own difficult childhood. It takes much of the movie for them to both realize that they each bring a unique perspective and special talents that complements the other. It even takes an older and wiser refuge from the original timeline both gently pushing and where needed, sticking his foot up their asses to get them both moving in the right direction in time to save the day.
The rest of the family is there with Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov playing more than supportive scenery for the big two. Each of the people playing them seems to actually care for the character they have been cast for and, in my opinion, do an excellent job. The true beauty in the movie is of course the starship Enterprise, NCC-1701, who while being updated again kept the elegance of the original. All together this is more than a mere summer blockbuster; it is a return to the original theme and I believe spirit of what Gene Roddenberry wanted in his creation. Gone is the techno-babble that infected all the other series and movies making then only appealing to a small group of zealots. In short go see this movie, you will be hard pressed to find something more worth your money and time as the summer progresses.
On a personal note, my biggest problem with the costumed and role playing fans was that this modern epic to me was more than just an excuse to live outside realty. Hell I do that enough in other venues, but for me Star Trek has always been a roundabout promise. That there is indeed more to this life than the commercially inspired corporate rat race here in America and in the rest of the world the never ending struggle between people never loving their children enough to let go of century old hatreds.Star Trek, in its best form, has always been that humans can do better and set aside the old hates and prejudices. That truth, justice, and knowledge can win out over corruption, injustice, and superstition. That we humans are more than some evolutionary mistake, that we can solve the challenges that we face and do what we are best at, “explore new worlds, seek out new life and civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Monday, May 4, 2009
It was summer of 2006 and as far as the weather was concerned for a day at the beach on Pawleys Island it was perfect. The kids and I stepped off the crosswalk over the dunes to loose, hot sand heated by the mid-summer sun. With each step my feet would sink about an inch bringing an uncomfortable level of warmth to my bare feet. Despite living in Columbia, South Carolina for ten years I still considered myself a local and I wasn’t about to walk out on that sand wearing my sandals looking like some tourist. I gritted my teeth while carrying my small daughter, Miss Wiggles and wearing my backpack carrying our beach supplies. My son, Darth Spoilboy, could be heard behind me trying to put his sneakers back on after discovering how hot the sand was to his feet.
Looking above me, pristine white clouds floated by over head looking for all the world like giant whales on migration being pushed by the wind that also carried the strong scent of both life and death from the nearby marsh. The winds had whipped up the waves to a heavy froth sending up graceful splashes as the waves crashed into the shore.
Gulls soared and circled overhead squawking with each other making quick dives to the earth below to retrieve small bits of food and other trash left by the people sitting on the beach. One old gull, that looked tired of the relentless airborne squawking, was taking refuge on the ground nearby casting a critical eye on those humans already laid out on the beach as well as me and my brood. Choosing a spot on the beach we began trying to spread out our old blanket on the ground only to have the changing winds catch and twist it into some pretzel-like shape before falling to the sand. As if in response the old gull would spread his wings and flap them in disgust at our seeming ignorance of the proper way to do it. Only after shifting Miss Wiggles to riding on my back, after dropping the backpack to the ground, and having my son grab the opposite ends of the blanket I was holding were we able to spread the blanket out flat and even on the ground, tucking the corners and edges into the sand to prevent the wind from catching it. Our feathered companion squawked twice and flew off in disgust as we laid our belonging on the blanket, stripped off shirts and flip-flops, and walked toward the ocean.
My son ran ahead of my daughter and me eager to jump into the warm waters. Our trip down had been long with several bathroom stops for my daughter who had insisted on two bottles of chocolate milk along the way down to allow me to drive in peace. The stops tried my son’s patience and I let him dive into the water ahead of us to assert a small measure of independence allowing him to relieve some of the frustrations I knew he felt having to put up with a much younger sister.
“Don’t go any farther than chest deep!” I yelled out to him. At his age I was swimming a good distance out from the beach with the water way over my head. However, I had lived most my life along this beach and knew the hazards of this stretch of ocean, and what possible dangers lurked underneath. I felt a sudden and stinging disappointment that my son had missed out from growing up along these shores with only infrequent visits to a place that held so many good memories for me.
For my daughter as soon as we entered the water she started laughing in glee at how the waves would slap against daddy’s ample belly. She herself was as eager to get as deep as her brother but with Wiggles was not yet four years-old and small in stature, there was no way on God’s green earth I was about to loosen my grip on her. As I did my best to keep one eye on my son who had begun talking with a few boys playing nearby I would hold onto my daughter as we jumped in the water letting an incoming wave carry us over its crest. Each time she would squeal in delight as we landed in the wave's trough only to have another wave pick us up again to repeat the cycle. I yelled for my son to join us but his new friends and he were now watching a small group of surfers attempting to catch the small but unruly waves.
As I watched what had to be local high school kids trying to surf in the rough waters not one of them seemed to know what they were doing. The few that actually caught a wave enough to stand up immediately began trying to twist and maneuver their shortboards into various tricks that the wave had neither enough height nor energy to allow and which those earnest but inexperienced kids didn’t have the talent to accomplish. I found myself thinking back to my own antics riding these waves and how I must have looked during those times to the more experienced guys watching me try to catch similarly small waves but who were unable surf because they were taking care of their small children.
The late morning passed to afternoon and Miss Wiggles and I left the water to grab the small lunch stowed in my backpack lying on the blanket. Darth Spoilboy had left the water a little earlier and was now playing volleyball with his new friends, so I left him alone. Another disappointing aspect for me was that I could not spend more time with my son because my wife, as usual, did not come and someone had to be constantly with Wiggles. She was just too small to leave alone on the beach which left Spoilboy to seek out activities with others. At least he was enjoying himself and not moping in boredom like he had on previous trips.
After our small lunch, and feeling secure that Spoilboy was safe playing on the beach Wiggles and I drifted back to the water but instead of heading out in the waves we stayed very close to shore. As much as I felt bad about not spending more time with my son the very reason for my diligence with my daughter was about to present itself. Moreover, the most remarkable thing is that she was never more than two feet away from me and we were playing in water that most of the time came up to her waist.
The winds had died down a good bit as the afternoon progressed and the overly energetic waves were slowly calming down. Wiggles and I walked the shore line collecting shells and pieces of seaweed and soft coral floating in the water. The bright orange color of the coral fascinated my daughter and she would skitter across the water to grab any piece that caught her eye. As much as any parent I know it is impossible to totally and completely keep your eyes locked on your child at all times, even when they are near. However, it wasn’t me taking my eyes off my daughter that caused the scare that was about to fall on me but the fact that I didn’t occasionally glance up to keep an eye on what was going around me.
While the waves had calmed down considerably every once and a while the wind would pick up momentarily bringing them crashing back with close to the same energy. Wiggles was about two feet in front of me when what amounts to a rogue wave crashed into her bringing the water depth up above her head where mere seconds before it had been at her waist. The abruptness of the event totally befuddled my brain freezing me in place. My daughter was nowhere to be seen as if she had vanished from the earth. When I did regain my ability to move, leaping over to the spot she had been and reaching around for her in the swirling and very frothy water I could not find her. Making matters worse two more waves of the same energy and height came bounding across. To say I was in a panic would not be accurate; words can’t describe the mental state I had attained watching my daughter disappear before me. What was worse some calm part of my mind way back in the recesses was telling me that such energetic waves would receded almost as fast and as strong as they came in dragging whatever they caught back with them. Just as the water started to recede I saw a single leg emerge from the water sticking straight up. Being guided by parental reflexes and a higher power I snatched that leg like some mountain man might have snatched trout from a stream and yanked it up and out of the water. Attached to that leg was my daughter who came out not scared and crying but laughing and apparently enjoying the submerged tumbled she had been on.
She and I left the water with me still holding her upside down by the leg. We were completely out and on the wet sand before I gentle put her down so she could walk again. Not very much to my surprise she wanted to go back in but I vetoed that quickly and firmly. I was on my knees, feeling more than slightly sick to my stomach while holding my daughter in one place when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“I saw everything and you did a great job catching her.” A woman in a green bikini said looking down at me. “But it all happened in about four seconds”, she added. “If I hadn’t been looking right at you two I would have missed everything.”
“Four Seconds?” I said feeling more than slightly confused. For me the entire incident seemed like it had taken hours with both my heart and stomach exchanging places. Even then the anatomical re-exchange was still taking place and it was a real possibility that I might puke my recent peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the nice lady’s bare feet.
For my daughter, still clutching the piece of bright orange soft coral that she had been reaching for when the waves crashed on her, it was a none event. The green bikini lady, named Annette, walked with us up to the blanket still wanting to talk but as expected once she found out I was married quickly excused herself. I took some comfort to my returning brain function as I contemplated that I either needed to find my wedding ring, which I never wear for a whole host of reasons, or learn not to mention my marital status. As if in response the old gull that had disdainfully observed our arrival earlier was back and was squawking something that very much sounded like “dumbass” in my direction.
As Wiggles pulled out toys from my backpack to play in the sand I laid on the blanket trying to figure how the old gull was insulting me, I figure I earned it whatever way he meant it.