The Santa Anas are blowing today. High pressure over the Great Basin pushes air south, squeezing it through the mountain passes into L.A. Friction and compression heat up the winds to make the air dry and the people edgy.

Waking up to the sounds of tree limbs scratching the house and distant doors slamming and dogs running loose always puts me in mind of when these same winds blew through when I was a kid. Some of those days stick in my memory because I awoke not only to the howls of the wind but to the smell of smoke. The brushfires that sweep across Southern California run concurrent with the season of these winds. Where I lived then, the mountains and foothills were to the east and on some autumn mornings the sunrise would be a gold or brown or dark dark red depending on how close the fire was. We’d stand in the yard, orphan trash cans rolling by, and watch the flames spread toward the sea. Every once in a while there’d be a finger of black smoke curling up and across, a sign that someone’s house was just lost.

On one such morning in December of 1967 my father got me out of bed early, but there was no smell of smoke. In fact, there was no fire at all. Just the wind. We got in the car and drove west to the beach, and I remember it being so strange to see the ocean that early, the sand and waves still in the shadows of the hills we were driving along. Traffic was heavy as we got within sight of hundreds of boats out on the water. We finally found a place to park on one of the hilly residential streets and walked a couple of blocks to where we could see the water again. Trash was blowing everywhere, baggies and used napkins and milk cartons, all getting pushed to the ocean by this hot wind. People were just standing around on their porches and sidewalks, some had set up lawn chairs. The trees were wild, leaves and branches tearing off, palm fronds whoomphing in the hard wind. Out on the water the white caps, millions of little bright poofs thrown up by winds and blown down just as fast, must have been rough on the boats.

Then, from the left, she came into view. Escorted by a flotilla of pleasure boats, the Queen Mary came cruising by on her final voyage. Red and white and black and huge, her majesty was in her size. I can still see that long low line she made across the horizon. The ship was like nothing we'd seen before, and we all knew it was the last time anyone would see her this way, with a bone in her teeth, before she slipped into captivity in Long Beach.

Yesterday, I took Viv and Amy down to that same beach, not for any final voyage, but just for some fun on the sand and the pier and the waves. We were down in Orange County to visit my parents again. We’d already spent the night, having spent the previous day watching them spend their lives watching television. I know we were there so that Amy could spend some time with her grandparents, but there comes a point where either you succumb to the stupor of inactivity and meld with the Holy Trinitron, or you go to the beach.

And the beach was gorgeous yesterday. The waves were enormous. The offshore winds hadn't started yet. The summer crowd was gone. The pier belonged once again to the old Vietnamese folks with their rods and reels, looking to catch dinner. It was a perfect seaside day.

We'd told my parents we'd be at the beach for a couple of hours, a promise I wished we hadn't made. We didn't want to go back to their house. We wanted to play.

I've mentioned before how trips back to that house are difficult, and this won't be the last time I mention it either. Trust me. I go on and on about this because, well, it just feels better than not talking about it. When I keep it bottled up inside it just sits there and turns hard. Like cider.

Before I can go back inside the old house, there's a process I have to go through. I put on a kind of psychological diving suit, check my gauges, and submerge with as much fresh air as I can carry. This way I can slowly sink down to the shipwreck, quiet and calm. Sure enough, sitting there in some air pocket are mom and dad, just the two of them moving around amid the debris, playing the music from the voyage and drinking what's left of the champagne. Through the years rescuers have come down and offered to bring them to the surface, but they refuse. Which is fine. They booked this cruise themselves.

* * * * * * *

As I write this now, the hot dry winds continue, and fire now has put smoke in the sky to the east. But the forecast is optimistic. Relief is in sight. So says the Holy Trinitron.


Today's Music:

"Facing West" -- Pat Metheny -- SECRET STORY


Wisdom of the Day:

"Call me Ishmael."

- Herman Melville