The Wave Organ

Undah dah sea… undah dah seeea!

A cup of coffee in one hand, my head buzzing dully in the other, the frothy sounds of Sebastian’s ode to easy sea living float out from the Dynamo Donut kiosk.

Donuts. Ah, yes. I extract my head from its anchor and take a bite. The strong wind that shook the sky clear of clouds earlier that morning snaps boat flags to attention and sends my crumpled napkins swirling from the tabletop. Grasping stupidly about me, my head pulses to double, triple its size, and I try to bring myself back to equilibrium. Eat the donut, drink the coffee.

Simba gives a prepubescent roar as I tuck back into my treat – a yeasty donut studded with warm, crinkly strawberries that provides the fatty nourishment my margarita-addled body craves. The Disney favorites soundtrack slips into an unfortunate late-90s Phil Collins number, and I get up and head for the jetty before my headache has a chance for a resurgence.

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Kite surfers skim the bay beneath colorful sails pulled taught by the unrelenting wind, and a small flock of brown pelicans glide smoothly overhead. A group of young men lie on their bellies in a patch of sand shielded by the jetty, warming their swim-soaked bodies in the sun, seemingly oblivious of the wind. I pass the crook of the jetty, nearing its end, but my intended destination is nowhere to be found. Although the lure of fried sweetness was certainly a motivating factor (on this day in particular), my true purpose in venturing to the Marina district was to see The Wave Organ. I continue walking, sipping coffee long turned cold by the chill gusts. Snatches of gull chatter reach me from the harbor, caught and carried along the wind.

And then, there it is. Great hunks of mottled granite carved with designs water- and sun-worn. Steps, alcoves, and shallow terraces climbing over each other haphazardly, and Seussian cement pipes spilling and snaking over slabs of stone and poking absurdly from creeping groundcover. A piece of Atlantis washed ashore.

I crouch down to the mouth of a pipe jutting from beneath a squat stone altar and press my ear against it. At first, all I hear is the wind circling the pipe’s walls, wooshing softly. Glub. Glub glub glub. The gurgling swells, filling the pipe and my ear. The ocean splashes and swirls, then recedes suddenly, bubbling and murmuring as it goes. As wind replaces water, I get up (much too fast for my body, which is still operating on a delay), seeking out another portal of communication. Kneeling on a stone bench running the length of a short, curving wall, I place my ear to a row of pipes perched above. Nothing but the low whistle of wind. An ebbing tide has pulled the sea back, rendering the taller pipes mostly silent.

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Next to a short cluster of pipes sticking out of the stonework like periscopes, I watch the waves splash lightly against the algae-slick boulders edging the jetty. Cupping my ear to the pipe, I hear the ocean gently swoosh and slap inside. With a swirl and a suck the water flows out in rhythm with the retreating sea.

A couple, each bundled in shades and a puff of scarves, cuddle together in a shallow alcove. Their conversation mingles with the whipping wind and trips along the organ’s bobbing grasses and out to the bay. My innards [mostly] re-balanced, I make my way back down the jetty toward the tinkly tunes still dancing from the donut shop’s windows.

*

The Wave Organ was completed in 1986 by the artist Peter Richards and master stone mason George Gonzalez, during their residency at The Exploratorium. It is accessible seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

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