Down In the Bay



How a kid who grew up in the middle of New York State ended up raising a family out here in San Francisco, I don’t know.  I mean, I know how it happened, the reasons for moving here, the reasons for staying here.  We have a good deal of family still remaining on the East Coast, and the years have not made that fact any easier. 

But we are in love with living here.  I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. 

I think a good deal of the love affair is tied to San Francisco Bay.  It has become a central part of our family’s life.  We have been lucky enough to figure out how to make our home a couple blocks from where the Bay meets Marina Green.  Close enough to allow my neighborhood swim buddies and I to stroll over from our respective flats, across the Green, down cobblestone steps, and into the brackish water.  Our ongoing inability to match the predicted tide cycle stage with what we actually see when we peer over the wall and into the Bay just adds to the mystique.  Same with the currents:  Swirly as hell, unpredictable, and a little unnerving when you find yourself “stuck on a treadmill.” Suddenly forced to pull like mad to get where you need to go. 

Like last night. 

At the end of a long day of a trip to the Farmer’s market, a seat at Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and a late afternoon Little League game on Treasure Island, I somehow managed to squeak in a swim at sundown, with a little help from my friends.  

The swim lasted a grand total of 18 minutes, my swim buddy reported at the end, glancing up surprised by the numbers across the face of his waterproof wristwatch.  Because of the odd route we took to accommodate the strong currents, rapid loss of daylight, and prospect of boats returning to the nearby yacht club harbor that probably couldn’t see our bobbing heads, it felt more like 2 hours in there.

When I crawled back up the slick steps after navigating some barnacle-encrusted and sea-weedy rocks, I found an older woman sitting alone on the green park bench right there, enjoying what was left of the sunset.  She was understandably startled.  It was basically dark now, I was still wearing a shiny wetsuit and wet goggles, and she could not possibly have known about the steps right there.  They practically delivered me right up into her lap, seemingly from out of nowhere.  The mild post-swim euphoria made me witty, and I came up with, “Good evening.  Are you Agent Double Oh Eight?” in a clipped British accent.  She answered, in a thick Russian accent, “No, I’m sorry, I don’t speak Eeeyngleesh.”  I swear to to you I am not making this up. 

You see what I mean, though, about the Bay’s magic?  The Bay repaid my small investment of time with her by giving us a new nugget to add to the lore of swimming the steps.  Agent Double Oh Eight and her Russian accent.  Impossible. 

And I am not the only member of my family who has developed a strong appreciation for the Bay.  Our sons’ school is very progressive when it comes to the environment.  Hilary and I have become recycling and composting savants because this is integral to the school’s curriculum, and our boys have taught us what goes in which bin.  (For the high-minded purpose of this particular thread, I’ll need the reader to please ignore my own composting disaster.  For now.  But if you can’t manage that, OK, go ahead and click on “composting disaster” if you just can’t help yourself.  I forgive you.) 

A couple years back, our then-5th grader Max studied a unit on Bay ecology.  He and a classmate created a song, “Down in the Bay,” singing the praises of the Seven-Gilled Shark and the importance of the Bay more generally.  Their work was even covered in a blog post by Save the Bay–the largest regional organization working to protect, restore and celebrate the Bay for over a half-century. That’s pretty great. 

And to come full circle, back to this blog of mine, inspired by my 90 year-old grandmother’s unexpected passing a few months back. I’ve given a lot of thought to how I can ensure I stay connected to her, still feeling the unbridled optimism she represented and that I chase every day.  Later this year, Hilary, the boys and I will scatter some of my grandmother’s ashes in the Bay.  This way we can be reminded of her whenever we breath in the salty air on a late afternoon running along her shores, whenever we swim in her chilly waters after dark or before the sun comes up, and whenever we write and sing and listen to songs about protecting her for the sake of our kids’ kids’ kids.  And yes, I know I’m mixing up the pronouns in this last sentence.  For me, they are all one and the same.

Thanks for reading.


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