Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Black Oystercatcher

Swooping in on the coattail feathers of a recent Haematopussed post by the inimitable SteveGull, here is my humble first offering as staph writer at BBB. Happy to be here. Honored I am. Luminous beings are we.  Cass

For months we called this place Dead Seal Beach. The first time we came here the gulls were probing the eye sockets of a bloated elephant seal. Weeks later, the color of the seal skin was that of the other materials in the wrack line and the body was difficult to pick out at a distance. Later still, while watching a black oystercatcher hammer something to death in the nearby intertidal, my daughter pointed out that I was standing on the baked, deflated carcass.

On a map, this place is labeled Point Pinos and if you were standing here on the late afternoon of October 12, 1997, watching oystercatchers pick through the tidepools while picnic blankets were laid and wine glasses held up to the light, you would have seen Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. bank steeply out of the sky and bury himself into Monterey Bay.

Once while standing near the dead seal, watching the oystercatchers, unable to look away from their fleshy legs and lipstick bills, a woman started talking at me. Sitting in her car smoking a joint, she told me she was here when the plane went down. For many weeks after the crash she gathered pieces of the plane off the beach. Again and again, the plane crashes in her dreams.

She is there now, at the beach, smoking still. Her life on a endless loop of falling sky and rising vapors. Of wading through small scraps of memory in the sand.

On my last trip to this place, I brought my friend Cyrus. He is a Persian James Dean.  Like the late great actor he has a weakness for booze and motorbikes. Unlike the meteoric movie star, he is anchored to this earth like a cypress, and he will live to be an old and beautiful man. And as an old man, with a head full of flowing white hair, he will tell the story of John Denver’s body as it was told to him from a diver, a man we met at this place. With the sun behind him and the oystercatchers hammering away in the gentle surf beyond.

A team of rescue divers was sent to the crash site for to retrieve the body. They shone their lights in the darkness scanning the shallow sandy bottoms. Gardens of brittle stars carpeted the sea floor, their ghostly arms waving to the men from their burrows. The divers gulped air, and their exhalations formed great shimmering bells in the water column as they rose to the surface. No body could be found even though the crash site was fairly protected from heavy surf and strong tides. The dive team had responded quickly to the crash.

What they did find was a large pile of sea stars. Bat stars. Patiria miniata, the ‘tiny father’. The body beneath these animals, this star buried in stars, had already been consumed beyond recognition. The divers unable to speak their horror, their breath bells larger coming more quickly now, looked away from the body and into the abyss and then back to the body. Back to the abyss.

Already, the body was coming apart in pieces. The tiny fathers had been busy.
No one knew how to proceed. Finally, after a series of confused hand gestures and head shaking, someone found the left hand of John Denver and slid the wedding band off his ring finger.

The men follow their bells towards the surface above.
The crushing weight of the ocean spills off their shoulders as they ascend.
The reflected stars scatter as they are born again in the night air. 


  1. Right on! How embarrassing to die from running out of gas. I am changing my will now so my family has me consumed by Tiny Fathers.