A prayer

Other people’s words about … the view

At the back of the hotel was a garden. Along its edge ran an earthen pathway pillared by palms. it ended in a low iron gate. They had not noticed the gate before, but now they saw it opened directly onto the beach. Stepping through the gate, they were confronted by the white and blue of ocean and beach in limpid morning light. Bare-chested fishermen were pushing wooden boats into the surf, chanting prayers together for luck. Women in fluorescent knee-high saris walked past in pairs and threes, with fish-baskets on their heads.

From ‘Sleeping on Jupiter
by Anurahda Roy

First, an update: we didn’t go camping at Yorke Peninsula during my fortnight of annual leave as we’d planned, after all. For a variety of reasons, it was impossible to get away. Instead, we spent the two weeks flitting back and forth between our main home in Taperoo (a coastal suburb twenty kilometres north of Adelaide, where most of my jetty photos originate) and our old beach shack at Aldinga (a coastal suburb forty-five kilometres south of Adelaide, where many of my other beach photos come from). So the view from the steps down to the beach was different from the one I’d anticipated, though it was still a view to revel in.

A view to revel in

I complained recently about my dread of autumn and winter, those months of the year I always think of as the grey months. But my complaints this year were premature. Sometimes in South Australia, in the early weeks of autumn, the wind dies off, giving way to still, sunny days; endless blue skies; cold, clear nights. That’s how it’s been here for the last four weeks. I could not have picked better weather for a holiday by the sea, even without the campfires I’d hoped for.

One afternoon at Aldinga I took a walk heading south along the beach, beyond the spot where cars are permitted to drive onto the beach to launch fishing boats. It was one of those days where the horizon — that mysterious line between the sky and the sea — seems almost invisible. A boat glided over the surface, somehow suspended between the two, and the headland in the distance was shrouded in a mist of sea spray. The sea changed colour as I walked, from opaque blue, to glassy blue, and then to silver.

Tyre tracks in the sand
Invisible horizon
Gliding boat
Sea spray shrouding the headland
Opaque blue
Glassy blue
Silver and shining

As I walked, I thought about the words I’ve quoted right at the top of this post. I write about the beach here on my blog as a place, always, of beauty and wonder: a place where I swim and stroll, wander and wonder. But that’s a very Western, privileged, twenty-first-century way of viewing it, isn’t it? The beach in the world Anurahda Roy describes — modern-day India — is another place entirely; and her sea is a different entity. In her world, the sea provides the means for people to strive to make a living, and the making of that living obscures the beautiful view.

I am lucky enough, mostly, not to feel the need to chant a morning prayer for luck, as the fishermen in Roy’s passage do. But if I were the praying type, I would utter a prayer of thanks for the view of the beach I had that day, and for every day I get to live by it.

When the wall comes down

Other people’s words about … the view

When I was about fourteen or so, I studied a poem in school by David Campbell, called ‘On the Birth of a Son‘. It was a sonnet, and I didn’t know much about sonnets, except that Shakespeare wrote a lot of them. It never occurred to me that a contemporary poet might write one.

This sonnet by David Campbell has stayed in my mind ever since. It remains one of my favourite poems. Here it is, in its entirety:

The day the boy was born, the wall fell down
That flanks our garden. There’s an espaliered pear,
And then the wall I laboured with such care,
Such sweat and foresight, locking stone with stone,
To build. Well, it’s just a wall, but it’s my own,
I built it. Sitting in a garden chair
With flowers against the wall, it’s good to stare
Inwards. But now some freak of wind has blown
and tumbled it across the lawn — a sign
Perhaps. Indeed, when first I saw the boy,
I thought, he’s humble now, but wait a few
Years and we’ll see! — out following a line
Not of our choice at all. And then with joy
I looked beyond the stones and saw the view.

On the face of it, this poem is about becoming a parent — the fears new parents have; the limitations parenthood imposes on their lives; the unexpected, unsettling joys it rewards them with. So it might seem strange that Campbell’s words have always resonated with me, though I have chosen, deliberately, never to become a parent.

But that’s the thing about great poems: they are universal. They manage to strike a chord in different people at different times for different reasons.

For myself, every time I read this poem I am moved by the contrast the poet makes between the act of looking inward — at his safe, pretty, cosy life — and the act of looking up, out, to glimpse a view of the world, and his life, beyond.

The view beyond. Recently, I went on a camping trip to Yorke Peninsula with my partner. We returned to the same spot we always return to, driving down a long, undulating, unpaved road to get there — one that is corrugated and dotted with puddle-holes, dusty with sand stirred up by other passing vehicles, and lined with dense thickets of bush where brown snakes lie coiled, sleeping.

Each day we passed our time the way we always pass our time there. Each day we woke to the same view.

But it is a spectacular view: of open skies, of wide seas, of sprawling cliffs and rolling sand dunes. It is a view of a life beyond the life we normally lead. It is a view that sets me free.

I live a small life: small things give me pleasure. I consider myself, mostly, lucky to be able to live this way. And yet it’s good to escape from time to time: to look up and out and beyond.

And to see, again, the beautiful view.

Notes

  1. You can find a link to this poem here and here.
  2. All the photos in this post were taken at our campsite in Yorke Peninsula in February this year.

When summer came

Other people’s words about … summer

Summer came, clanging days of glaring sunshine in the seaside town where I live, the gulls screaming in the early dawn, a glittering agitation everywhere, the water a vista of smashed light.

From ‘Aftermath
by Rachel Cusk

I live in a seaside suburb like Rachel Cusk. Gulls scream outside my window most mornings, flapping over the roof, perching on the top of the stobie poles. I find great solace in their shrieks. Like the call of a wattlebird, there is nothing elegant or beautiful in a gull’s cry. It is gloriously unapologetic, and harsh, and guttural, and wild.

There is a particular kind of summer day at the beach: the sand is so hot along the path from the road across the dunes that if you are making your way barefoot — or if you are a dog — you have to run over it towards the shore to prevent the soles of your feet (or paws!) from burning. The sky throbs; the air is windless, hot, salt-scented; and gulls stand in the shallows, waggling their legs as they stare down into the clear water, searching (I think) for fish. It’s so quiet in the hot stillness that you can hear the little lapping, bubbling noises the water makes as the gulls’ legs move about in it.

A vista of smashed light.
A vista of smashed light

I haven’t swum in the sea much this summer. Due to the storms in December and early January, the water is muddied and polluted. But I love the beach at this time of the year, regardless. I feel no glittering agitation, as Cusk does: only joy.

It’s the heat. And the light. And the gull-shriek-rent air.

How (not) to surf

Other people’s words about … surfing

He tried to show me the basics [of surfing], but he made it look too simple. Surfing was in his muscle memory, in his blood, in his thoughts. It was like his shadow, simply part of him …

We got back into the water one more time, and the sea tugged me under and tossed me around under a wave, like a plaything, like it was laughing at me. I came up ready to go home, mouth full of salt, hair full of sand.

from Season of Salt & Honey
by Hannah Tunnicliffe
( p. 134)

My partner is a surfer. In his fifties now, he started surfing in his teens, catching a ride to the south coast with an older friend who had a driver’s license.

Though I love the sea, I have a fear of waves, of getting dumped. Still, when the two of us first met (nearly twenty years ago now), I wanted to give surfing a go. I wanted to see what made him love it so.

So he took me out into the salt water at Yorke Peninsula, he on his surfboard and I on my boogie board, paddling hard. He set me up for a couple of waves. Each time, when the wave rolled towards me, he said, ‘Now!’ and then, when I froze, he gave my board a push, and away I went. I rode the wave towards shore, lying flat on my belly on the board as he’d shown me, and it was fast and terrifying and exhilarating all at once.

And I got it. I got what he felt out there in the ocean. I got the magic of it. The awe.

Yorke Peninsula waves
Yorke Peninsula waves

But I’ve never attempted it again. I can’t read the waves or the currents. I’m afraid of getting caught in a rip. I don’t understand the sea. I love it; I’m awed by it; but I don’t know it.

She gives me that sad, hopeful look that says [surfing] can be for everyone, should be for everyone. That surfing is the best thing in the world. Her strange, blue-grey eyes fix on me, like she wants to explain. I imagine her in the sea, like a fish, moving as though made for the water. She would know where to put her feet, how to balance, how to fall without hurting herself, without drowning. She’s probably one of those girls who rides the waves as though she’s dancing with the whole of the ocean; her and the water taking different roles, moving in different ways. The ocean leads and she simply responds.

(p. 134)

I think, for me, the sea will always remain a beautiful, mysterious, unknown quantity. There are different ways of loving it, perhaps. Mine isn’t the way of the surfer, but it’s still there. It will always be there. I have lived by the sea for twenty years or more now, and the sand and the salt and the sea are in my blood.

And that is enough for me.

Storm approaching, Yorke Peninsula
Storm approaching, Yorke Peninsula