A Fall Family Outing–Jalama Beach Style

Jalama Beach also offers a look into California history. The Jalama Creek estuary, as noted by one of the signs posted, was once a Chumash Village. Both grandchildren actually found that interesting, especially when they learned that the chert we found on the beach was collected by the Chumash and fashioned into arrowheads and blades. That led to a hunt for what my grandson thought would make a perfect carving stone. He found one, but decided to leave it on the beach.

Earthing in Big Sur

“Are we dead?” I asked Spouse.

Maybe the EuroVan, the newest family member, missed one of the treacherous curves on Nacimiento-Fergusson Road and plunged a thousand feet or more into eternity.

Coastal Discovery Center–A Mermaid’s Treasure

A lost mermaid would be drawn to the bright ocean-themed mural that covers the front of the Coastal Discovery Center — a hotbed of seaside activity in a cool little corner of San Luis Obispo County.

The Coastal Discovery Center is a local treasure for learning more about Central California’s coastline and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), which operates the Center in partnership with California State Parks.

A Moment in Time with A WWII Hero

Bob Watson
Bob Watson

–Photos by C. Coimbra

Bob Watson keeps history alive. The word “beachmaster” sets his place in history. Truthfully, when I met him last Saturday and saw the word embroidered in white threads beneath U.S. Navy on the octogenarian’s blue camos, I had to look the word up.

You see, in my line of volunteerism as a marine wildlife docent that chats up northern elephant seals, the word “beachmaster” has an entirely different connotation.

But for Bob Watson, a World War II veteran who was part of the first wave of the young men that stormed Omaha Beach in Normandy seventy years ago, his job as a beachmaster brings him celebrity today. No! He’s more than a celebrity. How about “…a national treasure,” according to Cmdr. Chris Nelson, BMU-1’s commanding officer?

For the short time I spent with Watson on Saturday, I’d call him a good person who draws crowds like a magnet—and that’s before they hear his incredible story of his willful determination as an 18-year-old on June 6, 1944.

Here’s a quick retelling of what happened on that day:

On the 6th of June in 1944, D-Day, the weather was drizzly, cold and rainy, complicating a horrific scene of chaos.  About 1,000 yards from the beach, Bob’s landing craft – an LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized) holding 71 Big Red One (1st Infantry Division) troops and four Navy Beach Battalion crew – hit a Teller mine and exploded.  55 men were killed instantly, body parts flying, and Bob was thrown out…After submerging for some time due to the heavy kit all soldiers and sailors hitting the beach were wearing, his flotation device brought him back to the surface gasping and in shock.  Quickly he was picked up by a Zodiac ferrying floaters to the beach.

Responsible for 1/18 of Omaha Beach, which is a little over five miles in length, the 6th Beach Battalion lost 25% of its personnel on the way to or on the beach.
When Bob touched the sand it was about 7:47 a.m.  Terror and chaos reigned.  Saving Private Ryan’s depiction of the scene could do only faint justice to the true horror American servicemen were experiencing on the beach.  Everything was on fire. Landing craft were burning, their ammunition blew up, bodies and parts of bodies littered the beach, and the Germans, who had excellent equipment and training, poured on the machine gun and artillery fire.

As beachmaster, Bob’s job was to “keep the troops, materials, equipment and vehicles moving up the beach.” He forged ahead and helped an Army medic, fired off rounds, and commandeered a bulldozer to clear debris and cut in a road for troops and vehicles. That’s when the bulldozer hit a bouncing Betty anti-personnel mine. Bob survived that explosion too. He stayed on at Omaha Beach for 28 days.

But how did I come to meet this amazing person last Saturday?

If my grandson wasn’t celebrating his 7th birthday in San Diego; if his party wasn’t delayed by an hour; if I wasn’t hopelessly curious and then amazed at the size of the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier on public display as a museum; if I did not park my car in this one lot of many, many parking lots for the museum—just to kill some time; and if USN Beachmaster Bob Watson wasn’t unloading his display that he sets up in the museum as we approached the entrance; and if I probably didn’t reek of a volunteer-type, I never would have had the absolute honor of this older gentleman’s question posed to spouse and me: “You look like nice people. Do you want to get into the museum free?”

We helped Bob get his gear out of his car while he slid into his blue camo jacket, laden with purple and gold medals. We followed him thru the massive ship’s maze as he told officials, “They’re with me,” and the officials waved the three of us thru.
For the next 45 minutes we helped Bob carry and set up an 8-foot table next to a roped-off vintage airplane; I covered the table with a blue cloth that read “ USS Midway Museum,” and Bob said, “You’re definitely a volunteer. How can I tell? You know how to set up a display.” I laughed as we each broke out a sweat in the warm innards of that massive WWII vessel. A crowd began gathering around the display of priceless photos, and news clips. Like a magnet, young and older folks circled Bob, asked questions and listened as he shared his tales of an American youth’s exceptionalism 70 years back.







Awakening a California Girl’s Spirit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe woodsy air born from the thousands of years old coast redwoods filled my lungs on a Sunday morning 45 years ago. My California girl’s spirit awakened. I took the first steps along a new path as nature whispered her song into my ears. Harmonic resonance beneath the aged ones, those sentries of the primeval forest, comforted and healed my wounds of the day.

Though a pup in my personal timeline, I did “Seek ye counsel of the aged, for their eyes have looked on the faces of the years and their ears have hearkened to the voices of Life. Even if their counsel is displeasing to you pay heed to them.” (Kahlil Gibran, The Words of the Master.)

Like now, troubles headlined world news. Fear fueled paranoia. A cyclical change rolled through society. Discourse bred defiance. So I took to the trails beneath the aged trees—some with the wisdom of 2000 years at their roots—sought counsel and listened.

They didn’t speak a word. They simply stood there and inched further into the sky and added rings to their girth. What did I expect? Would instant wisdom rain down upon me? Clearly, that did not occur. But I left understanding that that moment in time was fleeting and temporary. I left understanding that even though we humans cut and  harvested the bulk of this forest’s family, other humans heard the family of sempervirens preservation plea—for the sempervirens’ moment in time is not temporary, unless we make it so.

When time came to leave the redwood forests, I hugged those tall trees in body and spirit. Life brought me births, deaths, conflicts, books, quests, love, sadness and joy. The redwoods faded into my foggy memory.

Recently, age and wear took its toll on my ability to walk. Three separate injuries that first occurred after I left the redwood forests converged into an ugly knee that took me down—not unlike a chain saw to the wood. This down time wasn’t at a complete loss. I choose not to be destined to becoming a beautiful deck or frame for another’s house. So I took the time to grow— I queried and listened to matter outside of my comfort zone. My discovery included a black and white world with divisive and barbed walls. Common kindness, empathy and compassion, I learned, are, according to this sect of thinking, a sign of weakness. Power to the sword. Power to acquisition. Power to me! These thoughts did not seem akin to the wisdom of the ages.

It was as if a mythological goblin slipped out from beneath a muddy rock and tricked once kindhearted people into a dark underworld.

This made me rethink and question my core.

Meanwhile, a relatively simple surgery repaired my knee followed by weeks of physical therapy. I had no idea how far my body had slipped away from well-being. Each day, post-surgery, I learned the proper way to walk, and realigned the ligaments and muscles that literally twisted my knee from forward to sideways. Then one day, I walked for over three miles with no pain. A life-metaphor was in the works. “Strengthen your core,” advised the physical therapist, “and you will return to walking and just about anything you wish.”

The exuberance that overcame me after accomplishing a simple thing like a 3-mile painless walk inspired me to continue both spiritual and physical core strengthening. And this led me to a recent return to that same redwood forest of my youth.

This time I would not only inhale the woodsy air of these ancient trees, but I would embrace every bit of their wisdom. And, yes, I could again trek up an inclined trail—albeit not like the lithe youth 45 years back—but I proved to myself that core strengthening works in both body and spirit.

Nature’s cathedral is not temporary like politics and power. Nature’s temple nurtures without a demand for anything other than reverence and respect.

My silver hair and softened body announces that I’m a senior citizen. A brief timeout at sunrise with the trees brought life back into its proper perspective.

There is much work to do as my California girl’s spirit reawakens.