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the day I felt closest to Tippi Hedren

April 13, 2012

Easter Sunday our satellite TV service chose to run the Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds.  I

thought “The Robe” or “Jesus Christ Superstar” would have been the more obvious choices,

then thought maybe the connection was the ducklings and chicks people buy their kids for

the holiday.  Now I think it was chosen for the hammy acting.


Jude and I watched it because it was filmed in Sonoma County, California, where we met and

married.  It was set in Bodega Bay, a place we often frequented in search of the perfect bowl

of clam chowder.  It was by no means Hitch’s best, but when it premiered in 1963 it caused

quite a stir with its theme of birds gone wild — attacking children, a socialite, a school marm,

even an ornithologist.


You know a movie is in trouble when the humans are outacted by the animals.  Not even

Jessica Tandy could rise above the two choices Hitch gave his featherless talent: boring or

hysterical.  There were some great scenes, to be sure, like the one when crows quietly

gather around Tippi Hedren at a schoolyard.  But the story creaked along mainly because

people made incredibly foolish decisions, such as smoking a cigar in a stream of gasoline.


Tippi, in fact, made the second dumbest one.  Although she’d already been bitten by a seagull,

pummeled by crows, then attacked by a lot of seagulls, she opted to investigate avian-like

noises on the second floor of a house besieged by the winged warriors.  Not only did she not

notice that they had torn through the roof, she stepped inside the room and got trapped when

she panicked.  Rod Taylor had to push the door open with Tippi’s unconscious body blocking

it, causing some concern to flicker across his perfectly-chiseled facial features.


The film ends abruptly after that with Rod, Tippi, Jessica, Veronica Cartwright and a large

cage containing two lovebirds all squeezing into an Aston Martin DB2/4 convertible coupe

and driving away, leaving the plot up in the air, so to speak.  I like to think that they went

straightaway to the Audobon Society to complain.


Even though I’ve never been a socialite like Tippi’s character or rarely wear high heels like

she did throughout the ordeal, I identified with her because I, too, had a brush with death

near Bodega Bay.


On a calm sunny day in December 1995 I paddled out into the Pacific Ocean from the very

harbour Tippi had puttered across in a skiff while wearing a mink coat.  I was wearing a sweat

suit.  My mink was at the cleaners’.


I had just bought a small kayak.  After an initial test on a lake, I declared myself seaworthy

and headed to the beach.  My first Hedrenesque mistake was not knowing that my river kayak

was less seaworthy than me.  The second was going out alone.


I stayed close to shore until I paddled around Bodega Rock to see the hundreds of barking

sea lions.  Then I veered over to check out the cliffs of Bodega Head, near the entrance of

the harbour.  After several delightful hours I decided to go in.  There wasn’t much daylight

left and a fog bank was starting to roll in.


My overly-stimulated testosterone talked me into trying to shoot a wave near the cliffs.

That was my Tippi moment.  I caught the wave perfectly wrong and it flipped the kayak.

The Christopher Cross tape I’d been listening to went from “Sailing” to saline.


Panicked, I tried to crawl on top of the overturned kayak.  It turned upright, but it was full

of  — and dead in — the water.  I first thought of tugging it to some nearby rocks so I could

pull it out and empty it.  I dropped that plan after noticing how hard the waves were hitting



For at least thirty minutes I did nothing.  I had absolutely no idea what to do.  I was close

to the cliffs, but they were 100 feet high and, as stated, cliffs. Sunset, fog and hypothermia

were speedily approaching, and I was nonplussed.


Then I saw someone looking at me from the edge of the cliffs.  I waved my paddle and he ran

off.  He headed to the nearest tackle shop, and staff there contacted the Coast Guard. A boat

was dispatched.  It passed by me once because it was getting dark and I was in the trough

between two waves.  It found me a few minutes later.


“How are you feeling?”, a Guardsman yelled.


“Foolish,” I said, extending my hand to be pulled into the pontoon boat.


“Wait.  We have to do this by the book.”  They made me turn around and put a rope over

my chest and under my arms.  They tugged mightily and I thought I might have broken

ribs to add to my troubles.


Fortunately, there was an ambulance waiting on shore.  As soon as I was out of the water,

I started shivering wildly.  The EMT’s noticed this.  They’re trained for that sort of thing.

“We’re going to give you an IV of glucose,” one told me.


“G-g-g-g-g-g-g-good idea,” I heartily concurred, just before they put an oxygen mask on me.


At the hospital in Sebastopol the ER doctor, an avid kayaker, told me of another mistake I’d

made.  “The cotton in your sweat suit was wicking away heat from your body.  Next time you

should consider a wet suit.”


He shared other helpful hints tips until a friend came with some dry clothes.  She took me

back to my van in Bodega Bay.  I was living in it at that time, so all I had to do was crawl into

my sleeping bag.  I slept very well.


The next day, I went to the ambulance shack to thank the folks for having glucose available.

No one from that shift was on duty, but a co-worker wrote “KAYAKER SAYS THANKS” on a

big chalkboard.


Then I went to the Coast Guard station to retrieve my kayak.  Several of my rescuers were

there, so I thanked and hugged  them.  One of them asked me if I’d thought at all about the

numerous sharks in the area.


“No,” I said, “”I thought about a lot of things, but not that.  At one point I looked at my wrist-

watch and thought ‘hey, it really is waterproof’.”


They also told me that the fellow who first saw me and ran for help had trouble explaining

the situation at the tackle shop because he only spoke Spanish.  He was in the U.S. illegally.

Since then, I have advocated for a compassionate immigration policy.

  1. Inveterate Teacher permalink
    April 13, 2012 8:46 am

    I think the title of this should have been “Tippicanoe”…

  2. April 13, 2012 10:12 am

    The movie The Birds gave me nightmares for years! I was just a kid when I saw it first… it also explains why I really don’t like being under flying birds!~ Heh!

    • April 13, 2012 8:30 pm

      Being under flying birds is a rational concern, beanie. I had to dodge a huge load from a great blue heron once.

  3. April 13, 2012 12:59 pm

    Great entry. Almost as horrible as being there! And then you threw in the sharks. Gak.

    • April 13, 2012 8:33 pm

      Thanks, Kate. It was horrible. I’m glad some good finally came of it. Kids, don’t do this at home.

  4. Michael permalink
    April 13, 2012 7:13 pm

    I noticed you left out the part about shaving 10 years off your age to the reporter for the Press Democrat————-We had Bodega Bay Horseneck Clam chowder today, Manhattan style, Dug ’em Monday–Michael

    • April 13, 2012 8:38 pm

      For the record, I did give the EMT’s my correct age, but it was after they’d put the oxygen mask on. I hope we get a chance to chowder or cioppino again some day.

      • Michael permalink
        April 15, 2012 2:16 pm

        We’re ready for that any time you are. Any chance of you guys heading south this year? We would love to see you and whoop it up as much as us old farts can.

      • April 16, 2012 9:27 am

        I’m flying to Kansas next month for my grandson’s high school graduation, but that actualy puts me farther away than we are now. In spirit, I’m always on the back deck or in the kitchen of your house

  5. wkmtca permalink
    April 13, 2012 7:53 pm

    you must look back at that and realize how lucky you were…i think we all have done stupid or ill advised things that we are lucky to have lived thru.

    kris (lower case)

    • April 13, 2012 8:42 pm

      The weirdest thing about that day was reviewing my life as I did nothing else, and deciding that there wasn’t much I’d want to change.

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