Friday, July 25, 2014

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

Anyone’s close world of family and friends comprises a group smaller than almost all sampling errors, smaller than almost all rounding errors, an invisible group at whose loss the world will not blink.
—Annie Dillard, For the Time Being
Gliding down the boardwalk  [Flickr page]
Photos are courtesy of Nathan Rupert, Flickr’s “San Diego Shooter” with over 30,000 shots uploaded. CC-NC-ND licensed.

I am riding a beat-up but functional beach cruiser down the two-lane paved walkway that fronts the sand at San Diego’s Pacific Beach. The bike was provided for those renting the stuffy little box I’ve momentarily escaped while my kids sit inside, slumped glassy-eyed and inert over their glowing screens. Late in the day, there is finally a welcome little breeze coming in off the ocean. It’s been hot.

Taking a break  [Flickr page]

The beach and water beyond are pretty enough under colorful evening skies, but the sights that really catch my eyes this evening are all the people joining me on this so-called boardwalk with no boards. The young and beautiful, as my wife put it, though there are a good number of us older and average ones as well.

Bikinis are everywhere, the little tops and bottoms with their mismatched bright colors proudly proclaiming the curves of the girls who wear them here, away from the water. We are meant to watch, of course, and I do.

A young woman runs past, perfect body in bold black lycra, a blonde ponytail bobbing with her long and confident stride. Steel blue eyes above high cheekbones gaze imperiously down the path. She is a statue in motion, and she knows it.

There is a lot to see. What a riotous assortment of humanity I am dodging and passing on this crowded path! It’s fun to be part of it and take it all in.

Couple on the boardwalk  [Flickr page]

A chisel-faced guy struts with the casual stride of an alpha dog, muscled arms swinging from his flat broad chest. He has arrived on center stage of his life, costumed in board shorts and flip-flops, ready to star in the show. Don’t get in his way.

Relatives speaking non-English languages veer and wander along the walkway, paying as much attention to each other as the sights around us all. The match in color of their skin and hair, their flowing dresses and sandals, and their plain collared shirts form them into little clumps of self-consistency that move through the varied throng. All here is a bit foreign to everything else, including these passport-carrying tourists. But they carry the familiarity of family with them, for each other, as their children dart back and forth to the edges of their groupings.

So do the people sitting around a speaker that plays loud rap—for them and for the rest of us passing by. They have an identity that flourishes along with all the others here, and they are proudly asserting it. I listen and feel the thump of the beat as I ride on, appreciating rather than judging as I once did. Standing with them and elsewhere are women with gorgeous chocolate skin and hair left kinky and unsullied by anglo-imitating straightener chemicals. Some of it billows out into full Afros. They are stunning.

Check this out  [Flickr page]

People sit on the low wall between the walkway and the beach, seeing and being seen without bothering to move with the swarm of humanity along the path. The rest of us are on foot and varied arrangements of wheels. There are older guys on rollerblades, younger ones on longboards, and couples on rental bikes. A few wheelchairs zoom down the path, too. Dogs are walked on leashes, and little kids pushed in strollers.

Someone rides past me with a portable speaker strapped to the back of his bike, proclaiming his taste in music. It doesn’t sound bad. Neither does the talented saxophone player who has gathered an appreciative crowd around him, collecting money and compliments. Up on a balcony, a woman sings into a portable PA system. We all want to be heard in our own way.

Coldplay sounds its recorded drumbeat from the recesses of a bar, one of dozens. Under the outdoor umbrellas of another one, a middle-aged couple sit with their drinks, the glowing clouds mirrored in their sunglasses. Further on, a guy about my age reclines behind the little glass wall of his pricey condo, smiling about something.

Surfer Girl on the boardwalk  [Flickr page]

In his hand and everywhere else, there are the smartphones, always the smartphones. I watch their owners’ faces peering over them, illuminated with the sun’s last glow and the screen backlights. They must all check their Facebooks during the very climax of the sunset. Here and back in the rental where my kids tap their touchscreens—and, to be honest, in my own life as well—the virtual intrudes constantly on the real.

I will go back to the electronic world in a while, too, after the sky darkens. But nothing that I see on my iPad’s little screen will stay in my memory like this simple trip on a creaky bike down a couple of miles of crowded pavement.

Credit for all the photography in this posting (and the captions for each image) goes to Nathan Rupert. The photos of people on the Pacific Beach boardwalk I’ve included here are a fraction of the thousands of shots he takes in San Diego and posts to Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons non-commercial, no-derivs license. Click on the links provided next to each image to go to its Flickr page.

Friday, July 4, 2014


As mortals by eternal give and take.
The nations wax, the nations wane away;
In a brief space the generations pass,
And like to runners hand the lamp of life
One unto other.
—Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (c. 50 BC)
Ski Slope  [Flickr page]

Two of my children are hiking up my favorite ski run to the top of a 5773-foot mountain in Washington’s beautiful Colville National Forest. I joined them for the first part of the climb, starting at 3900 feet, but after bushwacking through thick shrubbery because one of us (not me!) decided to be adventurous, I’m happy to wait for them at the midway point.

See them now? (Detail from photo above)

There are people who will never sit on a mountain meadow in the long shadows of nearby trees, surrounded by a vast open vault of cool clean air filled with silence. What good fortune for me to be doing so on this beautiful day! It is a simple act of pure exuberant living, to climb even partway up this big hill on a Summer afternoon.

I sit on the soft ground, cushioned by some of the leafy little plants whose modest growth the maintenance crews allow here. In seven months, people will be skiing over this very spot. I have done so myself, probably more than a hundred times. Here is the place where I carve a long, joyous, final turn onto the catwalk, heading toward the lift after the thrill of a fast run pretty much straight down this wide smooth terrain.

Hopefully there are many more such runs in my winters ahead. (Better those than the other kind!) But I’ll probably never again have a season with 26 days on the slopes, as I did a few years ago. At the end of one of those glorious days, I sat on the tailgate and realized that, someday, the boots from which I was extracting my aching feet would stay off for good. After that final day of skiing, whenever it arrives, I will never put those boots back on again. These things tug at the middle-aged mind.

Down in the Meadow  [Flickr page]

There is no avoiding the fact that many wonderful things belong more to my past than my future now. And so what? I am at the midpoint of a life filled with blessings (as my religious friends would put it) beyond measure. What I have already experienced—crewing on a 35 foot sailboat from San Diego to Hawaii at age 17, conceiving eleven kids and several commercially successful inventions, writing a couple of books, befriending a fascinating variety of people, living among the tall pines of Eastern Washington—is worth a lifetime of gratitude. And yet there is more to come!

Siblings  [Flickr page]

You may not have done these particular things, but you have your own highlights to look back on. Savor what makes your life unique as you progress through it, even if you are engaged in a struggle to make the rest of it far different than it’s been so far. You will never get anyone else’s life but your own to live in. Make the most of what you have.

I smile to think of my various friends with all their unique experiences that I am, and must be, content not to share. The extremely handsome one I was with recently at a restaurant, where two women gaped and gasped as he stood up after our meal. The young one who is beginning a career full of promise, and the old one who has a mind full of wisdom and memories. The wealthy one whose character is as rich as his finances. The not-wealthy one who smiles at me on a break from the hot and grubby job he loves as he tells me about time spent with his son doing volunteer work. The two who cheer on their kids at soccer games. The ones whose lives are filled with love from the family and lifetime friends they have in a church I no longer attend.

They all have their own little portals through which they can peer at the beauty of this world and the people in it. You have one, too, for now. Are you looking?

Ski Slope in Summer  [Flickr page]

A justifiably famous quote by Richard Dawkins says, “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia.”1 It is a thought that strips away the ego and replaces it with wonder.

My two children vanish into the distance as they trudge upward to the summit without me. I watch and ponder the metaphor. At some point, barring some tragic interruption to the usual course of life, this will happen on a larger scale. They will continue their lives when mine has ceased, as mine now does without my own father. It is both sad and beautiful. It is the way of things.

Stand Against Forest  [Flickr page]

A hundred generations ago, Lucretius imagined nature’s frank response to the complaints of an old man about his coming death:

Away, you rogue, with all these tears and stop this snivelling. All life’s rewards you have reaped and now you’re withered, but since you always want what you have not got and never are content with that you have, your life has been unfulfilled, ungratifying, and death stands by you unexpectedly before the feast is finished and you are full. Come now, remember you’re no longer young and be content to go; thus it must be.2

I try and fail to grasp the enormity of it all, the vast reach of billions of years that have gone on almost entirely without my presence. As the Psalmist said about the omniscience of his God, such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.3 I stare at the quiet fuzzy green of the meadow where the kids were walking. Eventually, they will disappear into the maw of time themselves, perhaps leaving their own offspring to treck a little further onwards.

Then I notice a pretty arrangement of leaves, and grab my camera for another shot. It’s a beautiful afternoon, right here and right now. This moment is a gift. I’ll take it, with gratitude.

Click on individual images to enlarge, or check out my Flickr photostream. All are Copyright © 2014 Edwin A. Suominen. You may freely use them for non-commercial purposes, with attribution, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


  1. The quote appears, for example, at Goodreads, which cites Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder. It’s a book I have yet to read, but plan to in those years that hopefully lie ahead. 

  2. Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, Book III. Ronald Melville trans. Oxford University Press. 

  3. Psalms 139:6.