The new year has started and its good to be home after a great vacation. We spent time at the beach this year on the northern NSW coast, south of where the huge floods occurred. Its was the first time I've ever been away from home on Christmas Day and for lunch Tim and I opened a cold beer and shared a bag of chips with Tom & Charlotte. The beach has that magic quality of simplifying life.
It was wonderful to live on the beach, thanks to the generosity of friends who (with unfathomable kindness) not only posted us the keys to their house but left us beautifully wrapped gifts too. We had left Sydney stressed and strained from a busy December and the culmination of a difficult year but within days of arriving the beach was healing us. It was like opening the window on our souls, and letting the salt air blow away all the cobwebs!
I loved seeing the dramatic change in scenery every day. Some days the sky and the ocean would be the clearest azure blue, divided by a heavy brushstroke of deep water along the horizon. Flocks of majestic black cockatoos, my all time favourite bird, would fly overhead with prehistoric grace and pink gallahs would gather in the spindly branches of trees on the lawn. Then dark clouds would gather turning the ocean a steely grey, the waves would gather momentum and the water would be churned into a roaring surf, saturating the air with salt spray. Many times we were caught on the beach when the rain suddenly fell in sheets soaking us to the bone and we'd bolt for home, by which time the rain would have abruptly stopped. You could almost hear Guanyin's playful laugh echoing along the rocky cliffs on these occasions.
After the storms we'd venture out to find the beach changed; nature's hand inspired to sculpt a new landscape for us to explore. When we first arrived the beach was covered in smooth pebbles of every size and shape. How incredible that water can carve stone and what a timely reminder of the virtues of patience and perseverance! I was compelled to collect red stones for a while, a deep ochre that glowed against the beach's subtle pallet, but they lost their enchanting lustre becoming dull and lifeless when I took them from their home. Then black rocks with unusual shapes found their way into my pockets and I grew particularly fond of a flat, smooth cornered, perfect square. We walked the beach at dusk when pale crabs emerged and scuttled before us and suddenly constellations of white pebbles stood out in the semi darkness, making me feel like Gretel following crumbs in the moonlight.
Then overnight the ocean took back stretches of pebbles and tossed up a crop of seaweed instead. Clumps of slippery neon leather, roots and all - plants that had never known the dryness or gravity of land before. More storms came and went, flooding the lagoon and carving cliffs into the sand and then we were thankful we'd enjoyed plenty of sunny days in the water before a colony of bluebottles were beached. Such pretty, delicate looking creatures with their electric blue stingers and dainty floats.
Generously the beach accommodated us, loaning playthings without a care. An overhanging tree that provided dappled shade and doubled as a swing. Sticks to construct a lean-to with, cast a spell or write in the wet sand with. Boulders to arrange as stepping stones and pebbles to excavate like dinosaur bones. Sand to pat into castles decorated with shells and seaweed flags, or to dig into paddling pools making barriers against the incoming tide. Playing in the surf - terrifying and thrilling all at once, compels laughter and brings out the child in all of us.
Tom & Charlotte totally adored seeing their cousins and loved playing by the lagoon, crossing plank bridges and floating stick boats down the current that ran swiftly with all the accumulated rainwater. Tim and his brother Peter pursued their hobby, taking their cameras out before dawn to capture the 'magic moment', that heavenly split second when the clouds light up with colour right before the sun breaches the horizon. And I became fascinated with seashells. The kids and I spent hours classifying and drawing them - so many species I've taken for granted! Cowries, cones, periwinkles, limpets, volutes, top shells, screw shells, whelks... the wonder and diversity camouflaged on a beach is truly breathtaking. An interesting piece of trivia - cone shell snails have venomous harpoons which have claimed at least a dozen lives.
Before we knew it twenty-eleven had arrived and it was time to start packing up and picking up our responsibilities, and its great to return home with some tips from the ocean. I am in the process of paring back and polishing, sorting and sifting through my house with the steady incremental progress of water carving rock. Thank you beach for reminding me not to give up.