For almost five years I rented a small studio apartment behind a garage in Ventura, California, half a block from the beach. My principle residence was still New York City, but I needed to spend part of the year in California, for professional reasons. I ended up in Ventura because I wanted to be near the ocean, I wanted to be within striking distance of Los Angeles, for business meetings and visits to friends and to my sister and her family there, and I wanted to be near Ojai, where a few other close friends lived. I triangulated those geographical objectives on a map and Ventura was the only logical choice.
I sent out irregular reports to friends about Ventura — mostly meditations on place, a record of my exploration of the town and an attempt to create a myth about it for myself, as we always create myths about the places we live.
Here’s the first of those reports, from 9 August 1998:
The beach at the end of my street isn’t wide. At high tide the waves lap up against the embankment of rocks designed to keep them from the houses lined up like books on a shelf, facing the ocean.
Sitting on one of these rocks at sunset I can look south and see the breakwater and the masts of Ventura Harbor, basically a man-made marina. North I can see the coastline for a few miles, curving inland in front of the city of Ventura then back out again to a headland of tall hills.
There is often a lot of coastal mist at sunset. Sometimes the tops of the hills at the headland are covered in it. Sometimes the whole beach is shrouded and it’s hard to make out a surf-fisher fifty yards away. All the permutations of the mist make for strange and shifting effects of the light when the sun goes down.
The water I look out at is the Santa Barbara Channel, running between the mainland and the Channel Islands, which so far have always been hidden by the mist.
The waves at the beach are not large or long but there are always surfers here. They wait out beyond the breakers, sitting still on their boards, sometimes for twenty minutes at a time, hoping for a good wave. They remind me of ducks then. Usually when a wave comes they are up and down in seconds. I think this must be an amateur or novice surfer’s beach.
Still, for those few seconds, riding upright on their boards, the surfers look bitchin’, tuned into something awesome.