Chasing clouds

‘It took me years to see that path and to find my pace.
When I finally got moving, I hoped I might be able to run forever.’

From ‘The Long Run’
by Catriona Menzies-Pike

We’ve had an unusually dry, cold winter in South Australia this year — the driest, I heard recently, since the mid-1960s — and so the days in the last few weeks have been mostly clear and crisp. Global warming and environmental concerns aside, I love this weather.

And here’s a first — I have even grown to love the short days this year!

Sunrise, bird, tree.

Some mornings, I get up around 6 am, and go for a run before work, as the sun rises. Running before breakfast, I’ve discovered, is a completely different beast from running later in the day: sleepy and not yet well-fed, I run more slowly (which may not seem possible, but apparently is) but also somehow more smoothly. It is as though the calm of the night, the deep, rhythmic breathing of sleep, still hang over me. I feel light, buoyant, in my body and in my mind, as though I’m still moving through my dreams. My joints are loose and easy, and the exertion of the run seems somehow separate from me, not part of the dream I’m in.

Meanwhile, as I run along the esplanade path or by the shore, the sky grows rosy to the landward east; and the sea turns from silver, to grey, to blue, to the west; and the scent of the sand drifts up to me, filled with chill and damp; and sometimes a sliver of moon hangs above the tops of the pine trees lining the coast.

And I know that I’m awake. Alive. Grateful to be here.

One day

Other people’s words about … the sea

After lunch, as a reward for their fine behaviour, Nurse allowed them to bundle into coats and hats and bolt from a back door along a path that ran behind Mr Styles’s house to a private beach. A long arc of snow-dusted sand tilted down to the sea. Anna had been to the docks in winter, many times, but never to a beach. Miniature waves shrugged up under skins of ice that crackled when she stomped them. Seagulls screamed and dove in the riotous wind, their bellies stark white. The twins had brought along Buck Rogers ray guns, but the wind turned their shots and death throes into pantomime.

From ‘Manhattan Beach’
by Jennifer Egan

I have never been to a beach in the kind of winter that Jennifer Egan describes in the passage above. Many years ago, in Michigan, I walked across a frozen lake (and thereby learnt the meaning of the term ‘wind chill factor’), but that was a lake, not the ocean. I’d like to experience that wild, violent chill, just once in my life.

The beach I know and live by has its own seasons of peace and restlessness. Often, the early months of Autumn are times of softness and stillness, and this past April there were several days when the sea lay like blue, shining silk on a bed of sand.

I took the photos in today’s post one evening around sunset in the first week of April.

As you can see, my coastal world is utterly unlike Egan’s, but there is wildness at its essence, all the same.

Out and about: the last summer days

‘When you’re walking the view shifts and changes.
Walking’s a form of hope.’

from ‘The World Without Us
by Mireille Juchau

 

Here’s the thing I always forget as summer draws to a close and the annual grey-weather dread steals over me: there are moments, at this time of year, when the wind drops, and the sea becomes shining and silken and blue.

I took the photos in today’s post as I wandered the beach at Largs Bay one afternoon a few days ago, in the week before Easter. The day was so still, and the tide so low, that the pine trees along the Esplanade were reflected in small pools of seawater that had formed between the sandbar and the main ocean …

… and out on the water, ships hung suspended in blueness, somewhere between sea and sky:

It was an afternoon that reminded me that there’s joy and beauty in every season — yes, even in the seasons you’d rather not be heading into …

The best-laid plans

Other people’s words about … waiting

Nick didn’t call me that morning, or that night. He didn’t call me the next day, or the day after that. Nobody did. Gradually the waiting began to feel less like waiting and more like this was simply what life was: the distracting tasks undertaken while the thing you are waiting for continues not to happen. I applied for jobs and turned up for seminars. Things went on.

From ‘Conversations with Friends
by Sally Rooney

I hadn’t planned to write this post. I thought that I would be — I planned to be — too busy to post anything between now and next week. I had family celebrations planned, after all, and a holiday trip away with a dear friend, and even a couple of shifts at work.

But I haven’t been well this Christmas, and so most of my plans for the holiday period so far haven’t eventuated.

Christmas is a tricky time, isn’t it? For some reason, I often get sick around this time of the year (and at other times of celebration). Like Sally Rooney’s narrator, Frances, in the passage above, I keep waiting for this to change, but the thing I am waiting for — not to get sick at Christmas, not to feel sad about getting sick at Christmas — continue[s] not to happen.

So why am I writing a post now, after all? Partly, I’m writing because I have unexpected time on my hands. Mostly, though, I’m writing because I wanted to reach out to other people who might also be feeling sad — whether unexpectedly or otherwise — this Christmas.

I don’t have any advice. I wish I did. The only thing I can find to do at times like this is to wait them out — which is ironic, given Rooney’s words above.

Still, whoever you are, wherever you are, if you are feeling sad right now, know this: you are not alone. Sadness is part and parcel of the deal.

And it passes.

Like the weather, like the tide, like footsteps in the sand, like all those hackneyed things — like Christmas, even — sadness, too, passes.

Snatched phrases on … the sea

‘The sea pronounces something,
over and over, in a hoarse whisper;
I cannot quite make it out. But God knows I have tried.’

From ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’
by Annie Dillard

Sometimes when I’m walking on the beach I close my eyes and listen to the sea as I keep walking. It’s a way of shutting out the beauty of the visual world, in order to concentrate on the other kinds of beauty accessible to me at that moment, in that particular space.

The sea murmurs.
It sighs.
It whispers.
It roars.

Like Dillard, the language of the sea is one I can’t make out …

… although unlike her I’m not sure that I want to try.

I’m happy just to keep listening.

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.

At ease on this earth

Other people’s words about … beauty

I am haunted by waters. It may be that I’m too dry in myself, too English, or it may be simply that I’m susceptible to beauty, but I do not feel truly at ease on this earth unless there’s a river nearby.

from To the River
by Olivia Laing

Haunted by waters. Isn’t that a beautiful phrase?

Though the words I’ve quoted above are about a river rather than the sea, still, they ring true for me. For most of my adult life — except for the two or three years I spent in my early twenties, travelling and working abroad — I have chosen to live within walking distance of the sea. In my late twenties and thirties, as I’ve mentioned before, I lived in a series of share households: different houses every eighteen months or so, different housemates. But each of those houses was close to the sea.

These days, I divide my time between two homes. The houses themselves are roughly seventy kilometres apart — one north of Adelaide, one south — but they are both just a few minutes’ walk to the beach. Open a window in either of them, and you can hear waves rolling onto shore. Step onto the front porch, and you’ll smell seaweed drying out beyond the water’s reach — a damp, bleached, faintly rotten smell. Look around indoors, and you’ll see drifts of sand piling up in the corners.

The sea surrounds me. It’s how I make sense of things. It’s how I feel at ease.

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There’s another phrase I love in the words above: susceptible to beauty.

Like anyone else, I have good days and bad days. There are days when I feel at home, here on this earth: when my skin feels comfortable beneath the layers of my clothes, and the warmth of the sun feels kind and good. And there are days when the world seems vast, alien, spinning, remote. What gets me through those latter kinds of day are tiny moments of beauty, out there by the water: pinpricks of sunlight sparkling on the tips of waves, like sequins on a piece of cloth; clouds chasing across the horizon, billowing and grey; a cluster of yellow flowers growing in the dip of a dune, petals cupped to reflect the light.

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I took the photographs you see here late one August afternoon, just a few weeks ago. Sitting at my desk, working at my computer, I felt hemmed in suddenly: by streets and footpaths, by fences and cement driveways, by the sound of my neighbour hawking up sputum in his bathroom. The longing to get away from all of that was so strong it felt akin to starving. I felt hollow through and through.

I shut down my computer, stepped outside, and walked down the road to the sea.

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Five minutes later there I was, standing on the sand, looking out at the water and the sky. It was close to sunset and I wandered a while along the shore, released at last: from work and worry and words. And I saw something, then, that I don’t know how to describe, though I’ll try: I saw spring coming. The air had a certain quality to it — a softness, perhaps, after the steely bleakness of winter. I thought that if I reached out with my hand I might touch that beautiful softness. It seemed possible, just for a moment.

Looking at the photographs now, I don’t see what I did then. Perhaps you don’t, either. But I know that I saw it, all the same. It was one of those moments — those tiny moments of beauty — to which I, like Olivia Laing, am susceptible.

I am grateful for those moments, is what I’m trying to say. They give me a kind of gladness. They bring me home.