Grace Notes
A hopeful newspaper column ~ by Natalie Costanza-Chavez
Go Easy > Haul-Out
Haul-Out

Grace-Notes # 9, runs on 2/26/06

Haul-Out

The Santa Cruz wharf, like a black line drawn perpendicular to the beach, hangs 22 feet above high tide. 4,500 pilings support the length of it. Stagnaro Brothers fish market is perched at the end, beside that, Andy’s Bait and Tackle, and beside that The Dolphin Restaurant.

But, it is the underside of the wharf that interests me. Stairs lead down to a floating dock that rises and falls with the tide, so you can leave the topside, the seagulls landing with beak-caught fish, the broken lines blown into transparent snarls of dried seaweed, gum wrappers, bait ties, the tourists and fisher-locals and the sea shell store. You can step down and down until you duck your head below into the cool world of trees rising from the sea.

It is a forest of pilings, limbless and ancient standing at weary, solid attention as the water moves through them, pours through them, tumbles or crashes or heaves through them.

And then some of the crossbeams between the pilings move. They bark. They bluster and then still.

Sea lions, brown as the wood, seemingly float many feet above the water. Huge at 200 to 800 pounds each, they inexplicably balance on pieces of wood, on crossbeams, far too small to span their girth. The first thing you think is “How’d they get up there?”

They loll. Their pelts are dry like a bear’s; you can see the fur, see the scars from nets and teeth. They flap and brush their flippers slowly along their bellies. Their small ears twitch. The whiskers near their closed nostrils shift. They barely move.

And then something explodes from the water straight up into the air. A sea lion, full of gather and roar and speed, leaps up, at a full 25 miles per hour, to break into the air in search of a crossbeam. It is low tide; the beams are high and the animal, in full stretch, grabs for one with its agile foreflippers, catches it and heaves, as its weight tips back to the wrong side of balance. It falls hugely down to the water and is gone.

You can picture the regrouping you can’t see: the sea lion diving down into the deeper water, the determination, the gathering speed, the torpedo aim into the swim up that takes seemingly minutes and – smack – again it leaps, catching the beam just shy of enough thrust, and again falls to the water.

You eye the others – stretched and warm – and marvel that they ever, in all their silky length, in all their solid heft, ever made it to balance and settle.

Crash. Again, up it comes, with such power you flinch. It balances and tips right this time, catches its own weight, ungulates once like a dark wave and is spread and languished on the beam. You watch the water drip from the hide until this one too dries to the color of the pilings.

It is called haul-out. Sea lions leave the water, haul-out, to rest.

It does not come easy, hauling out to a crossbeam hanging high above the water.

I’ve watched them try and try – sometimes swimming away for long periods of time, before again, taking aim at a resting spot.

They are strong creatures. They swim fast as quick bikes. They go and go and go, attending to their young, hunting for anchovies and crab, playing in open sea, and then – haul-out.

We too swim as fast as we can – fast into each day, each night, into March. We attend. We commit. We feel it in our bodies wound too tightly or slumped and already clock-sprung, broken.

But, stopping is harder still.

Sometimes we can slide straight for the rocks, shimmy out, and plop our heads down for some winks. But, more often than that, real hauling-out means the hard stretch toward pilings many feet in the air.

We must circle the cool water once, twice, then commit ourselves to the dive down and the swim straight up at many miles per hour. Aim for the big jump. It takes strength to stop. It takes all we have to steady, to settle, to still and wait for more to fill us.

Haul-out. You are strong enough to stop and then leap back off the beam, stronger yet. Stronger still. (end)





The Santa Cruz wharf, like a black line drawn perpendicular to the beach, hangs 22 feet above high tide. 4,500 pilings support the length of it. Stagnaro Brothers fish market is perched at the end, beside that, Andy’s Bait and Tackle, and beside that The Dolphin Restaurant.

But, it is the underside of the wharf that interests me. Stairs lead down to a floating dock that rises and falls with the tide, so you can leave the topside, the seagulls landing with beak-caught fish, the broken lines blown into transparent snarls of dried seaweed, gum wrappers, bait ties, the tourists and fisher-locals and the sea shell store. You can step down and down until you duck your head below into the cool world of trees rising from the sea.

It is a forest of pilings, limbless and ancient standing at weary, solid attention as the water moves through them, pours through them, tumbles or crashes or heaves through them.

And then some of the crossbeams between the pilings move. They bark. They bluster and then still.

Sea lions, brown as the wood, seemingly float many feet above the water. Huge at 200 to 800 pounds each, they inexplicably balance on pieces of wood, on crossbeams, far too small to span their girth. The first thing you think is “How’d they get up there?”

They loll. Their pelts are dry like a bear’s; you can see the fur, see the scars from nets and teeth. They flap and brush their flippers slowly along their bellies. Their small ears twitch. The whiskers near their closed nostrils shift. They barely move.

And then something explodes from the water straight up into the air. A sea lion, full of gather and roar and speed, leaps up, at a full 25 miles per hour, to break into the air in search of a crossbeam. It is low tide; the beams are high and the animal, in full stretch, grabs for one with its agile foreflippers, catches it and heaves, as its weight tips back to the wrong side of balance. It falls hugely down to the water and is gone.

You can picture the regrouping you can’t see: the sea lion diving down into the deeper water, the determination, the gathering speed, the torpedo aim into the swim up that takes seemingly minutes and – smack – again it leaps, catching the beam just shy of enough thrust, and again falls to the water.

You eye the others – stretched and warm – and marvel that they ever, in all their silky length, in all their solid heft, ever made it to balance and settle.

Crash. Again, up it comes, with such power you flinch. It balances and tips right this time, catches its own weight, ungulates once like a dark wave and is spread and languished on the beam. You watch the water drip from the hide until this one too dries to the color of the pilings.

It is called haul-out. Sea lions leave the water, haul-out, to rest.

It does not come easy, hauling out to a crossbeam hanging high above the water.

I’ve watched them try and try – sometimes swimming away for long periods of time, before again, taking aim at a resting spot.

They are strong creatures. They swim fast as quick bikes. They go and go and go, attending to their young, hunting for anchovies and crab, playing in open sea, and then – haul-out.

We too swim as fast as we can – fast into each day, each night, into March. We attend. We commit. We feel it in our bodies wound too tightly or slumped and already clock-sprung, broken.

But, stopping is harder still.

Sometimes we can slide straight for the rocks, shimmy out, and plop our heads down for some winks. But, more often than that, real hauling-out means the hard stretch toward pilings many feet in the air.

We must circle the cool water once, twice, then commit ourselves to the dive down and the swim straight up at many miles per hour. Aim for the big jump. It takes strength to stop. It takes all we have to steady, to settle, to still and wait for more to fill us.

Haul-out. You are strong enough to stop and then leap back off the beam, stronger yet. Stronger still. (end)