Only connect: When we can

Other people’s words about connection

[My friend] Maeve took a strand of my hair and smoothed it into place as she talked. I was afraid of her leaving [to work in Vietnam]. Her breath was warm on my neck, her fingers easing through my hair. I depended on all of her small intrusions of affection. In Vietnam it would be hot, and I would be lonely in Sydney without her.

From ‘The Inland Sea’
by Madeleine Watts

I met a friend I hadn’t seen for several months for a walk on the beach recently, and we walked and talked and laughed and commiserated with each other, and I thought again how I miss her when I don’t see her for a while, and how sad that feeling of missing her is. But I also thought, knowing that I would miss her again when we’d walked away from each other that morning, that what I feel in missing her, mixed in with my sadness, are gratitude and joy for having met her, and for knowing her, and for seeing her when I do, and for talking to her when I can.

This, for me, is what Madeleine Watts means when her unnamed narrator says, of her friendship with Maeve, that she depend[s] on all of her small intrusions of affection. It is such a lovely phrase to describe that connection we feel with the people we love, such a perfect description of the way we bump into our friends and then ricochet away from them and then bump back into each other again.

This morning, as my friend and I walked, she touched my shoulder from time to time, and I in turn bumped her elbow a moment later. Sometimes she spoke too softly for me to hear her — because that’s something she often does, speak softly — and I was too embarrassed to keep asking her to repeat herself. And then sometimes I spoke for too long and was worried I was boring her.

And this, too, I think, is what Watts means when she speaks of those small intrusions of affection from our friends — without which, I sometimes think, it would be impossible to live.

A morning together.

Lately I’ve been reading …

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 …


Other people’s words about … the world below

For a time I was obsessed with the idea that I could live under the sea. Not … using a great tank of air strapped to my neck. No, I wanted to dive deep down, skimming the sandy bottom of the ocean with my bare skin. I wanted to glide through fingers of pink weed and velvety fronds of green and come face to face with a mullet, or a gummy shark, slide up to the rubbery flank of a great whale and feel her song vibrate through my cheek to the very centre of my brain and understand what she told me.

From ‘Skylarking
by Kate Mildenhall

We’ve all felt like the narrator in Skylarking, at some point in our lives, haven’t we? Living by the ocean, as she does in Kate Mildenhall’s novel, I often think about the world below the surface of the water.

In the summer heat, on days like the one pictured below, I feel like that even more. It was about 5 pm on a day in the middle of January when I took this photo at Taperoo Beach, and it was 42 degrees Celsius. It was too hot, truly, to spend much time with a camera in my hand. Moments after I’d put the camera away, I slipped into that silky, blue expanse and felt the water washing softly over my skin.

Sometimes when I swim on afternoons like this, I see shoals of little white fish darting ahead of me, or a blue swimmer crab scuttling along the bottom of the sand bed. Sometimes I see a sting-ray. Sometimes I feel fronds of seagrass and kelp brushing over my limbs as I swim. They are tiny hints of that underwater world that seems so fascinating and so close, and yet, somehow, so very far from reach …

Snatched phrases on … (Christmas and) the sea

‘The sea is flat silver under a lapis sky.’

From ‘I am, I am, I am’
by Maggie O’Farrell

Christmas in my neck of the woods is all about summer, so what better way to celebrate it than by the sea?

That’s how I’ll be spending my Christmas season, anyway — how about you?

Meanwhile, I just wanted to wish a quick merry Christmas to everyone who reads this blog.

Thank you for your companionship once again this year … and here’s to more reading next year, as well as walking, wandering and (of course) time spent by the sea!

Rebecca xo

Snatched phrases on … the sea

‘They’d ended up sitting on the beach,
the sea a great black heaving beast,
sighing and rolling under the white light of the moon.’

From ‘Between a Wolf and a Dog
by Georgia Blain

I don’t have any photographs to accompany this post because I still haven’t yet managed to get the hang of the craft of night-time photography. But isn’t that a wonderful image of the sea at night? — that great black heaving beast, sighing and rolling. It makes me want to go for a night-time walk on the beach right now …

But no-one was awake

Other people’s words about … the sound of the sea

Sometime after midnight the rain and the wind stopped. The room filled with the sound and smell of the ocean, both amplified somehow, as if it were about to pour through the windows, full of storm debris — ground up shells, rotting wood, seaweed, the husks of marine animals, endless other fragments suspended in the salt water, all of it caught in the roar of the waves. But by then there was no one awake to hear.

from ‘The Restorer
by Michael Sala

Living as I do between two houses close to the sea, I’ve noticed how the smell that drifts towards each house from the beach differs not just from day to day, but also from house to house. Our house at Taperoo is pretty much at sea level, and though it stands several streets back from the beach, on days when the wind is westerly, blowing straight off the ocean, the air that drifts into our yard is rank with the smell of salt and damp sand and rotting seaweed.

The sea is shallow at Taperoo, too; you can wade out for quite some distance from the shore, heading towards the horizon, without the water rising much above waist level. You can see this, I hope, in the photos illustrating this post, all of which I took a few weeks ago on one of my early-autumn strolls along the beach.

But it’s the sound of the sea I’m thinking of right now, rather than the scents or the sights. Tonight I’m in the house at Taperoo; as I write, it’s three o’clock in the morning and — unlike in Michael Sala’s description, quoted above — I am awake to hear the roar of the waves.

I’ve always been a light sleeper, and, sensibly, my partner long since gave up trying to share the night-time hours with me. I can hear him now in the room next door, rolling over in his sleep, the springs of his mattress creaking, the bedpost knocking against the wall. At the other end of the house, on his blanket in the laundry, our dog sleeps, too, sighing and licking his chops, letting out a little snore.

So I’m the only one awake right now. Somehow, the sound of the sea through the window comforts me in my sleeplessness, connecting me to something outside myself, outside my house, outside this long, dark, lonely night.

In the morning, the sea will sound different — more distant, somehow, less intimate. But morning isn’t here yet.

Not yet.

Snatched phrases (on the sea)

‘[I] stare at the water.
It’s shot with moon, silver leaking all over the surface.’

from ‘Words in Deep Blue
by Cath Crowley

Okay, so I don’t have any photos of the sea in moonlight, because I have as yet to figure out night-time photography.

But the words above reminded me of one of the things I love about the sea, and one of the reasons I so frequently post other people’s words about it, accompanied by my own photos: I love how the sea changes colour, depending on the season, the temperature, the weather, the time of day, the tide. The colours you see below — blue, green, pewter, turquoise, gold, silver — are just some of the many colours of the sea.

You may recognise some of these photos from earlier posts on this blog. Forgive the repetitiveness. That is one of the things about the ocean, I think: the wonder it instils in you, each time you see it, each time you visit it. It repeats itself, over and over.

Roll and thunder and hiss

Other people’s words about … the sea (again)

I could see the sea from the terrace, and the lawns. It looked grey and uninviting, great rollers sweeping in to the bay past the beacon on the headland. I pictured them surging into the little cove and breaking with a roar upon the rocks, then running swift and strong to the shelving beach. If I stood on the terrace and listened I could hear the murmur of the sea below me, low and sullen. A dull, persistent sound that never ceased. And the gulls flew inland too, driven by the weather. They hovered above the house in circles, wheeling and crying, flapping their spread wings. I began to understand why some people could not bear the clamour of the sea. It has a mournful harping noise sometimes, and the very persistence of it, that eternal roll and thunder and hiss, plays a jagged tune upon the nerves.

From Rebecca
by Daphne du Maurier

I’ve quoted from Rebecca before. It’s one of my favourite books. The unnamed narrator’s character — shy, very English, young, terribly lacking in confidence — is exquisitely drawn. The plot is an absolute cracker. And if you want to find out how to use short sentences to build suspense (and I mean short! sentences), read the last half of the book. I have never seen them used so effectively. Stop reading at your peril.

The sea looked grey and uninviting
The sea looked grey and uninviting

And then there is the sea. It’s almost a character in itself in Rebecca. Here in this quote, and elsewhere, the sea is a dark, brooding presence. We’re not talking sunshine and sun tans and happy childhood memories here. This is a sea that threatens and menaces, that fills the reader with a terrible sense of foreboding.

You know me by now. These won’t be the last words I quote about the sea. But honestly? I think they will always be, for me, up there with the best.

The one-legged seagull

Questions, questions, questions

Sunset at Taperoo 17 January 2016 7.15 pm
Sunset at Taperoo
17 January 2016
7.15 pm

If you’ve seen a one-legged seagull, you’ll know what I mean.
Why are there so many of them?
Do they lose their legs during epic battles for territory?
Why don’t their predators attack other parts of their bodies? (Do seagulls have predators?)
And then, too:
How do one-legged seagulls survive?
Do they grow replacement legs, like reptiles grow new tails?
Or does the remaining leg grow stronger over time?
So many questions.
I could google for answers, I suppose,
but I’m enjoying the mystery …