I confess that writing this blog post right now is distracting me from an otherwise engrossing translation project. But I can’t sit writing at the kitchen table all my life. Sometimes I have to get out and get down to the seaside to refuel. And there I’m distracted by small things on the sand.
Strolling along a beach, heading for a rocky outcrop, I’m easily sidetracked by what lies in the drift-line. Mostly it’s broken shells, seaweed, stones, twigs and branches washed up by the high tide. But occasionally something catches my eye from a distance and I leave the water’s edge and head over to take a closer look.
It could be a lost thing. Like a coloured water-ski rope. Somewhere in the Pacific, a water-skier is asking “where did that rope go?” Well, if you’re looking for it, it’s on the beach at Guerilla Bay.
It could be two lost things. Like shoes. Somewhere along the south-east coast of New South Wales, a young girl is asking “where are my new runners?” Well, they’re on the mud flats of the Clyde River in Batemans Bay. Did they wash off the side of a boat? It could be a heart. Did someone lose their heart on the beach at Guerilla Bay? Because, well, I found one. Is it yours?The WordPress people have asked this week for photos of our distractions.
But enough of this blogging distraction. Back to the project.
A writing exercise. Describe nature imitating art.
I thought how pleasant it would be to pass through the quiet town and take a solitary ramble on the sands while half the world was in bed. […] Nothing else was stirring – no living creature was visible besides myself. My footsteps were the first to press the firm, unbroken sands; – nothing before had trampled them since last night’s flowing tide had obliterated the deepest marks of yesterday.
Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë
Late afternoon, south coast, New South Wales. The last waves of the ebb tide roll in, low impact waves thinning out as they feebly stretch their way up the shore. They wash back, and watery fingers gouge long grooves, dragging rutile particles from a pinpoint, down and out in fine sinuous curves, crisscrossing and lying darkly over each other. Peppery grains gather at the edges of the patterns, sharpening the lines. People and dogs tread obliviously over the etchings; not one is without a footprint. On this beach, unmined for mineral sands, the waves retreat and carry some of the lighter sand into the ocean, leaving rutile behind, a heavy mineral that resists movement and forms patterns like fine charcoal sketches. Mined beaches have the rutile sifted out and the whiter quartz grains put back where they were found, making a new beach that is strangely light, where there are no artworks at sunset.
Next morning, I go early to the beach to look for lines in the sand. They’re all gone, the art has been washed away and the rutile is no longer gathering in dark rivulets. The night tide has stirred and blended it with the regular quartz grains. As I, like Agnes, make the first footprints in the sand, I see the dark specks that soften the glare. In the late afternoon the sketches will reappear, no two lines ever twisting the same way twice, not drawn with a pencil or brush or sculptor’s tool, but with the ebb tide.
PS I posted this piece yesterday about nature imitating art, and today the WordPress Photo Challenge is… Life imitates art. That’s a coincidence.
Marianne at East of Málaga says we take trips at least once a month. Some of us go to countries at the other end of the world and towns on the other side of the continent. But we all leave our dwelling places now and then and, intentionally or not, end up in a park or an orchard or a beach we’ve never been to. Marianne wants to know where we go, where our trips, long and short, take us.
For Christmas I was given The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Volume 9 and over the past days I’ve read six or seven of the stories. I’ve noticed that, like a good tale, each one builds in tension until there’s a turning point, a part where something bad happens and a solution has to be found.
My piece of travel writing won’t end up in The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 10; it was just a happy trip to the south coast of NSW, trouble-free from start to finish. Just one day, a short holiday. The only turning point was at our destination, at the end of the afternoon, turning the car homewards.
We like to take our time, to stop and smell the coffee. So after an hour in the car we typically stop in an old country town, Braidwood, for morning tea. This day, we found many of the cafés were closed, the owners away for their summer holidays. But behind the shops of the main street a small bakery-café was still open, operating in an old rusty-roofed cottage, with some empty tables and chairs outside under the grey dry sky. Under the roof, above the door, out of sight here, some dried bread dough letters form a curious introduction to the bakery: “Fee fi fo fum”.
From Braidwood we drove up over the misty mountains and down to the sea. Our second stop for the day was at Circuit Beach. Last week you might have seen some photos of my family skipping stones here. It was a tricky little bay of a beach, with a multitude of flat stones, trunky gum trees and a small cave.
If Circuit Beach is good for paddling and stone-throwing, it’s no good for bodysurfing. So we moved on to Malua Bay and found a beach divided: a flagged area for swimming, and a no-go zone for swimmers. My lot said the waves were piddly, and the surfers might have agreed.
Real men need real waves, so we drove on till we found a place with a rugged name, Guerilla Bay, where cliffs were steep and corroded, and grey mounds of rock rose above the sea. But you can’t surf water that’s millpond flat. It was only good for stone-throwing, which I’ve discovered looks great in black and white.
We hadn’t given up, because there was always the old favourite to fall back on, a beach which deserves its name, Surf Beach. The sun came out for the first time that day, the others went swimming and I sat on the beach photographing them. They’re in the water, far out, where real men surf. And I’m safe on the sand.
Pretty good day, huh? It’s worth the two hours in the car to get there, and another hour driving from beach to beach to beach, and the two hours back again. Back home inland, I laid a few shells on the windowsill to remind me to return to this place of rare pleasure.
But there was another reminder, at my local shop. They’ve started selling Dojo bread that comes up from Braidwood three times a week. It’s good bread, but I need my strong arm to get the knife through the tough crust. Fee fi fo fum.