• Otter Views: Election Day

    by Tom Stevens

    Resolved to make sprightly use of Daylight Savings Time, I set off for my neighborhood polling place at the unaccustomed hour of 6:30 a.m. It was a beautiful misty morning. A little north swell cornering around Lover’s Point prompted a brief sea view detour.ऀऀOn still mornings, PG’s rocky shoreline can atomize even small surf into a fine floating vapor, part salt, part air, part fog. One of these ghostly blankets clung to the shoreline Tuesday, rising and falling as softly as breath, muffling the thump of incoming waves.

    Seen through a slowly turning prism of mist, the early sun looked golden and smoky. As its rays probed the fog, sparks of color flashed on slick water, like rings on a sorcerer’s fingers. As the morning warmed, this atmospheric kaleidoscope soon thinned and vanished.

    Turning inland, I chose a street off my usual grid and followed it uphill. Chunky green name-and-date boards mounted beside front doors bespoke this neighborhood’s antiquity. So did the big oaks, pines and cypresses that had lived long enough on that street to buckle the sidewalks. I trod respectfully over their roots, as some of these trees had shaded the canvas tents of stiff-collared Chautauqua-goers.

    An elementary school’s fence diverted me into a newer neighborhood with smoother sidewalks but fewer old trees. The absence of Chautauqua-era shade seemed to have emboldened these homeowners. Some yards showed ambitious banana belt landscaping that would have startled the ancestral Methodists.

    At length a cluster of “no electioneering” signs and a steady commerce of cars announced the polling place. Over the years, the exigencies of school and work have made me a voter of the slack mid-day hiatus, when near-empty polling places can prompt gnawing doubts about the democratic system.

    But this a.m. voting produced a sort of caffeinated elation. By the time I arrived, every booth was full, and a line snaked back from the sign-in table. Happy to join so many others, I also felt grateful to live in a state that doesn’t suppress unwanted voters in the name of fraud prevention.

    After inking in my chosen arrows, I turned in the ballot packet, received a “Yo Vote” Monterey County sticker, and wondered how to wait out the hours until TV coverage of the results would begin. On this election day, those hours promised to pass anxiously. Much strong feeling had been roiled up.

    The act of voting is usually quick and eventful. You mark the ballot, and certain specific results are set in motion. This candidate is elected, or that one. A tax will be raised, or it won’t. Zoning is altered, or it stands. Even if your vote doesn’t produce a winner, simply marking the ballot feels like positive action. You’re doing something.

    The lead-up to voting is much longer and less edifying. This seems especially so in a media-saturated era of “attack ads” that hammer the nation’s fracture zones. The recent presidential and Congressional campaigns stoked latter-day Civil Wars between red and blue; rich and poor; young and old; worker and owner; immigrant and native-born; true believer and infidel.

    Certainly America has endured far darker times and far worse internal schisms than these. But seldom has the nation been force-fed such billion-dollar media buys of anger, fear, deception and accusation. After so many months of vitriol, voting seemed a profound relief.

    Hoping to savor that relief for a while, I drove out to Asilomar to check the surf. A handful of riders waited far offshore while head-high combers thundered toward the beach. After a few minutes, a set of huge blue waves broke seemingly in mid-ocean, virtually closing out the bay. I decided to remain on land.

    While I was walking the beach, a graceful motion sequence caught my eye. It was a line of pelicans gliding low over the ocean toward Carmel. Twos and threes and long vees of pelicans have enlivened previous walks, but I had never watched the big birds encounter heavy surf before. This was a revelation.

    A stiff southerly wind stymied the gulls, petrels and crows that beat effortfully into it, but the pelicans employed a different strategy. As each flight of pelicans topped the roadside dunes, the leader angled toward the ocean and descended to within a wingtip of a breaking wave.

    Fluid as air or water, the trailing birds dipped their wings and fell in line precisely, casting a kinescope of pelican shadows along the cresting wave tops. As I watched, I realized they were using the surf’s updraft to accelerate into the headwind. It was a purely beautiful spectacle — as serene, graceful and inspiring as our politics are not.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on November 9, 2012

    Topics: Otter Views

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