Owls hooted in darkness, frogs croaked in the marsh, wind swooshed loudly through the pines and gnarled cypress. At the campground it was a cold, heavy night—nights behind storms are always so, the sky impenetrable, moonless, starry, and with cold hands I held cold bottles of beer, drinking one after another, until finally the frogs and wind and roar of surf knocked me out.
At first light I smelled cow dung—the wind was offshore. Quickly I rose and walked out to the beach, where large swell broke in mass confusion. There was no one around, no runners or dog walkers, no coffee drinkers, no fishermen, no surfers. It was six-thirty on a freezing Tuesday morning in late January, night mist still clinging to the beach, gulls huddling together at the mouth of Salmon Creek, flowing fast and fat with rain and brown farm silt. My grandfather once fished here, and my mother, a Sonoma native, would frequent this beach as a child, the beach where the water was dark and the surf fierce, an environment with enough grit to shape one’s life into a soul forever spliced with nature.
East was a psychedelic sunrise, orange and pink swirls painting the sky above the ridges of Mount Roscoe and Irish Hill, the grassy slopes specked with silhouettes of sheep and black beef cattle. To the north was rocky coast easing eastward into these soft hills, unspoiled by homes or wineries, and to the south lay a thousand acres of sand dunes, rimming Bodega Harbor, leading into the low sheared mound of Mussel Point, piercing the Pacific.
I was standing on the north spur of California’s infamous “Red Triangle,” an ocean fetch extending seaward from Bodega Bay to the Farallon Islands, twenty-seven miles west of San Francisco, before veering southeasterly to Año Nuevo Island, near Santa Cruz. Hence a problem for surfers: since scientists began monitoring shark encounters and the species responsible for them, the Red Triangle has been the world’s leading site of great-white attacks on humans.
Sonoma County’s Department of Fish and Game believes Salmon Creek Beach to be particularly “high-risk” for surfers. This morning, just beyond the breakers, rising and falling slow-motion in the swells, a small commercial fishing boat from Bodega Harbor motored north, circled by a squawking cloud of white gulls. Watching the boat, nets and lines cluttering its decks, out to kill fish, I thought that conversely the DFG should declare any ocean near humans as “high-risk” for the sharks.