After making sure Mom is safely home, I take the long route back along the beach. The evening mist creates a mysterious, deserted boardwalk. A figure in the distance, hooded and hunched makes me quicken my pace.
The black night sky, the black water, contrasts against the crashing waves' fluorescent white foam. It's an almost indescribable beauty, with a certain fright, like the opening scene of a macabre, 1950s horror film. The dark sea, and from the sea emerges,--a monster, an alien, or worse: a dead body.
This night, like many nights, out of the darkness emerges, something not so frightening, but rather comforting--the marines.
North Island and South island, are two US Naval bases on Coronado. It is a home base for the Navy seals and ocean/beach training for navy personnel. I have come to love the unexpected training that happens among us civilians. From the safety of the shore, I've watched seals slide down ropes into the sea; watched helicopters dip into the ocean; I've kayaked among (though at a required distance) long distant swimmers. I've seen 18 year-old boys newly recruited from the mid-west, who've never seen the ocean, try to paddle against the surf. Hoards of trainees have passed me on the beach, running in combat boots, full dress and packs on their backs.
Tonight, they are running in full dress, life jackets, and they carry on their heads, a dinghy. I assume they will enter the sea. Brrrrr....I'm dressed in one of my dad's over-sized, soft fleece jackets and wishing I'd worn a hat. How treacherous to enter the dark, cold, unknown.
I quicken my pace to keep up. Their efforts, their bravery, are inspiring. I wonder how long I will have to follow to see them do what I would never be willing to do: Paddle at night, paddle in the cold, paddle fully dressed.
Up ahead in the distance, is a flashing yellow light and a scattering of trucks and men so tall and strong, they seem like a different species. To observe naval training requires discretion. One cannot stop and watch. The tall, tall man is already asking the few people who have sat down to watch as if it were an opera, to "Move on."
My persona becomes just a night walker. No one would suspect I followed the troops just to see them launch.
As I loop back, having expected these marines to be going out to sea, I'm surprised to see a dinghy paddling into the shore. Stretched as far into the night sea as I can see, is another and another. Each boat is loaded with marines, all paddling with the surf to beach land. A big wave rolls and almost capsizes one of the boats. Keep paddling, keep paddling, I will to the men. How many times have I been dumped by a wave? How I wish them success on this misty, dark, night. My paddling adventures are always in the day time, always in a wet suit. But I am usually alone.
We break them down, so we can build them back up, better and stronger than before. I hear the words of a colonel speaking about the new recruits. Unfamiliar with the ocean, during the night, the cold ignored, the acknowledgement of fear discouraged, certainly they are being broken. But when they succeed, when they land on the shore, they are being built.
The next morning, as punctual as a German train, 8:00 a.m sharp, the national anthem plays from both ends of the island, and if one is still, one will hear the call to patriotism. How unsettling, how comforting, this all happens while I'm still laying in the comfort of my bed.