Saturday, June 27, 2009

San Francisco's Ocean Beach, with the Cliff House on the right.

The Woman, the Myth, the Legend

This morning I educated myself on life and times of "San Francisco Carol," a 75-year-old woman that is living Ocean Beach. It's hard to say "next to" or "near" Ocean Beach, as SF Carol is more "of" the beach, and of the elements, than most Bay Area natives could ever dream.

According to the Surfer's Journal article I read this morning, Carol Shuldt has been body surfing naked since the ripe old age of 10, and has since become something of a local legend in her own right. An extreme case of naturalist tendencies has seen Carol, in decades both past and present, sleeping on the beach despite owning a beach house, recycling to the point of composting her own waste, and becoming a staunch anti-drug advocate (she was even said to have battled it out with Timothy Leary in the '60s).

Her OB digs, a peachy A-frame bungalow, comes replete with wild cactus and other greenery obscuring the front windows, and a psychedelic mural on the side featuring Saint Francis of Assisi at it's center. Over the years it has provided shelter for many well-known surfers, as well as drug addicts she has taken under her wing in the hopes of rehabilitation. Oftentimes, according to the article, she has accommodated so many house guests that she sleeps in her kitchen.

The pictures in the feature story are both revelatory and inspiring (unfortunately I do not own a scanner), and there is a portrait of Carol laughing that I would love to describe: her shoulder-length, wavy orange-red hair is pinned into a '50s era bouffant, and her fuchsia pink lipstick provides a perfect frame for the generous rack of fierce, slightly-yellowed pearlies. What appears to be a kitchen hand rag is tied at her neck and draped over her back like a cape, and her pastel-colored, daisy bikini top completes the retro look. But it is her skin that is most striking: it's braved the elements for so long that it appears to have resembled the elements themselves.

Carol recalls the times she spent with her first husband in her twenties and thirties:
"It was like a family...Your generation has such a hard time understanding because you're into technology. But people didn't just drive to the beach, call their friends on their cell phones, surf, and drive away. We lived on the beach and lived with the beach. There was a community around the fire. We needed the fire. We had to live with the elements. We had to feel."

Her skin, now shriveled, coarse; and with deeply marked grooves, is lightly speckled brown to create an overall brownish tone. While I am sure that many a pale San Franciscan has spotted Carol on the beach and shuddered at what may be viewed as unsightly skin damage, her unorthodox flesh could also be seen as an evolution of sorts, for I am sure it has shielded and camouflaged her against the rough sands of many a Northern California beach.

Even her demeanor appears rooted in the elements. Jaimal Yogis, who authored the article (in addition to Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer's Quest to Find Zen on the Sea), and also happens to be Carol's neighbor, writes:
"She speaks in a stream of consciousness that is akin to watching sea foam change into multiple patterns--connecting, separating, reconnecting--in the ebb and flow of the tides."

It just struck me as such a revolutionary concept: become more connected to the elements, and you can not only understand them--you can become them.

1 comment:

Sean Wraight said...

Hello Amity,

I REALLY enjoyed this post... What an amazing woman and what an amazing story her life tells. Your writing really does imbue a certain excitement about a very unique woman and left me wanting to know more.

Wonderful stuff Amity! Very inspiring.