I was filling my water jug with warm water for after my swim when my friend Anna texted me: Don’t swim! After that, the notifications poured in. An underwater volcano erupted in Tonga and tsunami warnings had been issued for the west coast of the United States.
As someone who is afraid of waves of all kinds, tsunamis represent my fears on steroids and so, naturally, I’m obsessed with them. All my life giant waves have populated my nightmares so vividly that it feels like I’ve actually experienced them. When I was a kid we had one of those Time-Life photo books that included a series on tidal waves (as we called them then) wreaking havoc somewhere in the world (I can’t remember any of the details). I used to pour over those pictures, putting myself inside the scene, experiencing the thrill of imagined fear from the safety of my sun-soaked bit of carpet in suburbia.
In December 2004, I was standing in line with my toddler at a Second Cup coffee shop in Montreal when I saw the headline: Thousands dead as a tsunami crashes into Southern Asia. My breath caught as I took in the devastating photographs and I pulled Eliza close. Images from that tragedy still flash into my mind; the unimaginable loss of life; the terror that must have preceded it.
During the 2011 tsunami in Japan, I went down to Point Isabel here in the east bay to watch it make its west coast landfall. It was predicted to be a minor event locally and so I wasn’t afraid as I stood at the rocky edge of the path with a crowd of other curious people and dogs (Pt. Isabel is a dog park). All at once the water dramatically receded as if sucked by a giant straw; as if we were watching the tide go out in fast forward. Then a wall of water slowly made its way toward shore. It was a low wall—just a foot or so—but its relentless approach was ominous. I could imagine what it would be to experience that same powerful force times twenty.
After realizing I wouldn’t be swimming this morning, I drove down to the bulb anyway to see what there was to see. It was eerily empty: the prime swimming parking spots were all free. I felt a bit of trepidation as I pulled my lonely car in; was I crazy to be here? I walked down to the beach and was relieved to see a few other souls. The bay seemed full and energetic, but there were no dramatic waves as I stood there watching. After a few minutes, I imagined I was seeing a wall of water on the horizon (I wasn’t) and skedaddled.
As for my swim today, I have a tentative plan for a nearly full moon swim at sunset, but from what I’m reading, it can be hard to predict how long a tsunami event might last. So, I’m going to head to the pool right now in case bay swimming is out for the rest of the day.