Beachcombing.


I stand on the sandy footprinted beach, look out to sea, watch the waves and wonder; are any of these waves the reflected after shadows of the Japanese tsunami? Are any of these the haunted wave memory of the shifted seabed, the plunging aftershock, the tortured water that came ashore like a strange spreading cloud? I doubt it, but the very idea brings the need for stillness and thought. If you had ever seen such things, how could you look out to sea or even stand on land and not believe that lasting change, random change, could occur at any moment. If the sea can rise up, the land fall away and sweep all before it, how can you look at a hill or a wave and not feel the uncertainty of fear? If the foundations of the earth can be torn apart, if the oceans can cover the land, how do you not feel fear each new coming second?


The riches of the Earth boil to the surface in the very places where it is mobile and weakest. At plate boundaries, the intermittent slip slide of edges brings wealth most days and destruction on just a few. It’s a gamble that few volunteered for and many live with. It’s a numbers game. But if the dice is thrown enough times, in the end, surely, 00 will come up and that 1 in 100 day will arrive, bringing fear, death and suffering. On such days it would be better to be elsewhere. I look down at the rocks at my feet and know that today, here, is not such a day. I don’t know, not really, not in any real way, but the odds are stacked in my favour. The dice always favour the house, and this is my house. Australia is old and stable, resting on its own plate, miles from the action. P finds a crab and H plays at the water’s edge - the day returns, the remote becomes impossible and a protective shield of denial forms between my mind and all that is possible. It’s only natural.

A silver gull flashes over the beach, a grey and silver wind knife. The sand sings in the bright sun, exposed at the turning of the tide. Water rushes out of Port Phillip Bay. It leaves a scribbled handwriting of waves and foam, of rushes and deep slack eddies, dull undercurrents and fierce, dragging tides. It boils without being hot and a dull smoky roar grinds in the background. Waves break and run. This place is solid, not secure. What you find today will be gone tomorrow, there are few fixed points and reality is as fluid as a lie. The gulls ghost over wave tops and barrel through the sine wave trough between them. Here they really are sea gulls; fluid and white, suitable, suited and fit. Staggered drifts of terns, sea butterflies, pass with bouncing direct flight. A gargoyle cormorant, black and heavy, sits on a greening rock - a solid bird, a bird of water as much as air - guarding the water way to the Bay. The light house, white and smooth, sits on another rock, safe from wave wash and tide spray. It too guards the way into the Bay. The bird and the lighthouse, both watching the running tide of The Rip.




The rocks below the lighthouse seem to have an extra layer today - a grey that coats the green. A silt overcoat, a matt cover to hide the gloss of weed and water. The sea weeds look old and tired, as if they have been land wrecked for too long. The turning tide will wash away many things, but here it may bring clean water to sluice the flood's silty wrapper. Red-necked stints flush from the water’s edge and fly, sometimes above, sometimes below the horizon. This seems suitable for such an edge dweller as it passes from sea to sky and back again. Overhead planes and helicopters spook the birds and drive them to flight.



The wind sings a song of sand and surf and when I close my eyes I could be anywhere, surrounded by the world music of the sea; dull Sunday mornings on the North Sea; bright childhood summer days looking out across the Severn’s mud towards Wales; the empty beaches of western Ireland, with nothing but sea between me and the USA, waiting for letters that seldom came; the beach below Forks, strewn with fallen trees, with a peregrine high on the a cliff edge tree, back when Forks was a real place rather than a fiction. They blend to become an every-beach, each individual, but each the same. Visit a new beach and, more often than not, it's like tuning into a new radio station that plays the same music as your favourite, but with different presenters.


Behind the beach, past the car parks and wind harrowed trees, the land flattens into pasture. Stripped of trees and put down to grass, with sheep gathering in what little shade they can find. Ravens hop and peck, opportunistic camp followers, unloved. Some pastures run to long grass, and in damp flushes flowers bloom. Yellow. White. A sweep of shocking pink flowers covers one paddock. Apparently they are called Naked Ladies, as they burst from the soil bare, with no leaves. I feel strangely reluctant to Google their name for further information. Their part of the paddock is rich with a thick scent, heady and smelling of Boots the Chemist or the cheap perfume applied prior to teenage parties - spray and walk. Human perfume is about the contradiction of attraction and concealment, but in the flowers it’s all about attraction. The insects fly their way down the perfume river, arriving at the source hungry and leaving with more than just a sweet drink. Pollen on the move, the vector for plant sex. The smell seems rather sickly sweet - jelly and ice cream, toffee apples and hint of rot, but it has not evolved for me or my clumsy nose. Butterflies rise in strange abundance, clouds even, from the long grass. Is this what it was always like before we waged chemical war on the pestilent and the pretty alike, is this what it was like before the springs were silent? Blues, white and patterned Meadow Argus, they flee from cover to cover, only those too busy with the future seem to be still.



A brown falcon settles down on the flimsy branch of a dead tree, waits oh so briefly and then flies on - its body seems still as its wings corkscrew through the air. Pigeon flush and fly. The smell of sea air remains, the call of distant gulls and barely heard rush of the waves calls me back to the everybeach that lies just over there, just out of sight.


The road to Phillip Island was lightly garnished with dead foxes and rabbits - alien road kill. The Sat Nav seemed to have downloaded the maps for Bolivia or Mogadishu - “At the next junction turn left and drive away from your destination” . I turned it off. Each lamp post of the bridge over to the Island was topped with a Pacific Gull, each a picture of stillness. Pelicans sailed on the water under the bridge, each a picture of motion. Cape Woolami is just over the bridge. Turn left and park where you see the sea - I did not need the Sat Nav to tell me this thankfully. Most of the car spaces were full of surfers' cars, some old, some new, but most with bumper stickers and slogans. Young men called each other dude and swore with casual indifference. Time and a place boys, time and a place. It became apparent that I was in the middle of the World Knee Boarding Championships - I’m not making this up! A PA crackled with names and encouragement, but at least the amplified language does not veer into the Anglo Saxon. Wildness flies. I try to think positive man, but I fail.


The beach cuts down to the sea with an ankle turning steepness, the water is deep close in, safe to stranded in a single breath. I encourage the kids away from the water's edge. Brilliant, brutal, light reflects from the sand, the waves rush, each step breaks the crusted surface of the sand. The headland, away from the crowds, beckons. We walk past a dead seal pup and a penguin - both smell. I check the penguin for a flipper tag and think of the five fingered limb within. A deep time relative, with a shared history that diverged an unimaginable time ago, brought back together, here on this beach in the autumn sun. A cow fish, hard and dry, lies on its flank looking for all the world as if it has been carved from wood and sand, painted and left out to dry. The kids play in the sand and we make little progress - today is not the day for a walk.




A set of steps cut into a moss coated, slimy green soak brings us to the cliff top, where we sit and watch the surfers, eat chocolate and sip some water. Thick fleshy plants coat the ground, and snails coat the plants. Hidden between the bulked up leaves are hundreds of shells, mostly empty, some still home to a living snail. Any movement off the path is accompanied by a sharp, ugly, bursting of shells. Patches of bare ground, stamped with webbed foot prints mark the entrance to shearwater burrows. Most of the cliff top is a shearwater rookery, although there was little evidence of it other than the bare ground. It could easily be mistaken for a rabbit warren. What little evidence that could be seen were the bodies of dead chicks - scattered with surprising frequency among the plants. Gulls and ravens played catch as catch can with the corpses, a gruesome game of tug of war over bones, feet and broken wings. It was not a pretty sight.


A hawk flies over the cliff tops, distant and difficult, flushing most of the birds. It is mobbed and flies away, becoming a distant speck, as the clamour of alarm calls fades. We sit down for lunch, trying as best we can to avoid the snails. An Australian White Ibis, not looking the least Sacred, eyes our lunch, anticipating but not receiving. The day ticks over. Another beach adds its flavour to the everybeach mix. Under a clear blue sky, next to the rushing sea we walk back towards the car.

5 comments:

mick said...

Sea, sand and water - nothing to beat it! The photos of the pier are especially nice.

Boobook said...

Excellent and poetic blog.

ladyfi said...

What a wonderful place for beachcombing, swimming and just enjoying life.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Lovely post! It's like reading a beautifully-illustrated book, almost a poem.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Stewart.
Everyone has picked up on the poetic expressions. I love the "grey and silver wind knife" reference to the Gull's wing.
Pink Belladonna Lilies, by the way. In the Amaryllis family (not true lilies, therefore, but usually referred to in those terms).
Nice post and beautifully expressed.
Denis