Tuesday, June 14, 2011
birth of a wave
here is something i learned about the life of a wave.
it's a fact: waves have lives.
i read a true story in the new yorker a while ago about a wave that changed the course of a man's life. i think the story was called, simply, the wave. in the article, the author, whose name i can't recall, recounted his first-hand experience with a life-altering tragedy involving one killer wave.
i had never thought of waves as being born, as being individual entities in nature, before i read this account of a vacation in mexico gone dreadfully wrong. the author slowly revealed the story of events leading up to the fateful day when his young wife suffered a fatal accident while bodysurfing at a beach they had visited many times.
woven into the story of the recently married husband and wife is the story of the wave, the actual wave which would, after many days or even weeks of rolling toward land, make its way to that mexican beach, on that particular day, at that moment when they were enjoying the gorgeous salty sea with many other vacationers.
the physics of wave-action is complicated and not fully understood. waves are born far out at sea a long time before they actually crash on the shore. wind, sun, gravity, water temperature, and ocean currents contribute to the growing swell. the slope of the shoreline as the wave churns toward land also contributes to wave-action.
what amazed me more than anything in the story was the fact that this killer wave was no thirty-foot monster, the kind you hear about in places like hawaii, the one surfers dream of, and of which surfing spectators are extremely wary, for it can slam into you unexpectedly and do some serious damage even if you are nowhere near the edge of the water.
the wave in this story looked just like any other big, beautiful, picture-perfect wave, but in reality it was an invisible tyrant, releasing nature's unseen power and becoming brutally frightening behind the scenes, below the surface. for the rest of the people swimming and body-surfing that day, the wave was a blast, a thrill; the kind of wave that's lots of fun. no one else was injured, or had ever been injured at that location. and yet....
one wave among many; surges toward one beach; snatches one life.
i will never again look at a wave without thinking about its shore-driven life, without wondering is this wave one of those?