On Tallow Beach
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Going down to my local beach always reminds me of being born. I’ve been cocooned, writing for ages on the “inside”, when suddenly I hear the roar of the breaking waters, the contractions begin and the big push to get out into the wider world is on. The birth canal is the path cut through the big entrance dune, which I enter through a shady tunnel of tuckeroo trees. I emerge on the “outside”, wide-eyed, wet, salty or licked alive by the wind, reborn into any one of myriad scenarios, for this beach, like all beaches, has its moods, its changing casts and hues.
These alter, subtly or dramatically, from hour to hour, from moment to moment. If I come down morning, noon and dusk on the same day, I can be gobsmacked by the awesome manifoldness of creation. I may find myself invigorated by an early splash in a choppy, overcast Pacific, burnished by midday’s merciless rays, then swaddled in sunset’s rubescence. When I can retain the raw receptivity of infancy, the innocent eye of childhood, these are votive scenes. They’re precious gifts and just the jolt to get me breathing deeply.
Cresting the dune one autumn morning, I crane my neck for a quick preview. A long clean streak of space, it’s unpeopled, for the Easter break is over and the tourists have departed, but it is far from a subdued natal setting. It is all airy animation and effulgence down here. The sky is a glistening jellyfish blue (some jellyfish actually manufacture their own light); the light is crystalline, flowing down onto the beach in a white confluence. The salty, sybaritic smell of freedom, like a heat-seeking emission, flies straight up my nostrils.
A lenient sou’easter has the clouds doing some stunning shapeshifting. Overhead, the cumulus have pearly white crowns and distended underbellies of pale taupe. Down at Broken Head, they’re draping whole ravines in dark nebula. Up towards the Cape they are pure ivory, backlit, trailing diffuse streamers of light. Banked in holy masses, they look like religious postcards drifting towards Queensland. This sky, like every sky, like a finger print, is unique. The clouds the clouds the clouds I say, a reflexive daily mantra. The cumulonimbus out to sea are storeys high, their slate foundations fat with rain and hung low enough to graze the horizon.
I look and look at that blurry hyacinth line which the dictionary calls “the range or limit of scope, interest, knowledge”. For a short while, I project my thoughts beyond it, directly -- give or take a few islands -- to Chile. The Chileans, I assume, revere their land and seascapes, too. There must be literature, art, to attest. Some other time I might ask at the library; right now I’m up to my limit on the borrowing quota.
In a library book I once happened upon an extract from Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830-3) which said : “We know that one earthquake may raise the coast of Chile for a hundred miles to an average height of about five feet. A repetition of two thousand shocks of equal violence might produce a mountain chain one hundred miles long and ten thousand feet high. Now should ... one of these conclusions happen in a century, it would be consistent with the order of events experienced by the Chileans from the earliest times.” That made the survival tactics of Mother Nature and the Chileans sound pretty impressive. But Chile is a momentary idyll. The true, magnetic compass of my interest is here, latitude 28:41, longtitude 153:37, and now, 11am-ish (I don’t wear a watch anymore).
Most natural landscapes, even those which superficially appear barren or bland, are, I believe, rich, multilayered and idiosyncratic. Initially, their surface lines form a pattern of immediately obvious attractions and deficiencies. But since most of them have survived colorful histories that are longer than we can comfortably comprehend, they may also harbour less apparent qualities -- such as antediluvian wisdom, ingrained contradictions, unalloyed compassion, buried vulnerabilities. They may hum with hidden powers and stream with serpentine stories, dark mysteries, magic, myths, poetry and parables. They may cradle deep energies from which may flow either or both of the twin tributaries of delight and tribulation.
These interred treasures cannot instantly be detected or grabbed at by the greedy or the casually curious. Rather, it seems, they may unfold themselves, their portents, promises and higher purposes when we are in the right frame of mind. My own (adult) receptivity to these disclosures developed very subtly, very gradually right here in my own locale. My experience is that place is an active force, capable of a cogent interaction with us, capable of carving a deeply meaningful intaglio in our hearts.
* * *
Straight ahead a couple is fishing. She has just caught something. A white flash flails desperately on the sand until she smothers it with a weighted covering. I am a fish-eater. I avert my eyes, and thank that creature for its life. The fishers have picked a good spot. Half a dozen gannets circle overhead and suddenly one dives so ferociously, so ... vertiginously, it must surely smash itself on the aquamarine tube below. But no. Although a diving gannet hits the water at 96 kilometres per hour, this plunge was, as usual, aerodynamically perfect. It is hard to tell if the bird has caught something because gannets seize fish in their serrated bills and often swallow them before surfacing. In any event, it rises effortlessly from the wash. This dazzling routine is one I’ve seen often, yet each time it affects me the same way. My feet take root like a mangrove in the wet shore and I bear a marvelling kind of witness to the sheer risk and dare of that life-supporting manoeuvre. Of course, the gannets, who need neither affectation nor applause to get them through their days, are not being grandiloquent. It’s all just breakfast, lunch and dinner to them. Or is it? Blind instinct, you might say. Or, watching all those perspicacious encores, you might perceive that the airborne artistry is so effortlessly and immaculately blended into their lives that the two are inseparable. Wo am I, grappling to express and assimilate my own creativity into my life, to deny them that brilliant merger?
A swift scan of the sky reveals no sign of a brahminy kite, but a wedge-tailed shearwater is dynamically soaring on the prevailing winds. Suddenly it parachutes with its wings spread to the max. Devilishly it dips, catches another updraft and soars statically (its tail feathers fanned out and flapping furiously), before gliding, then dropping, then beating the force of gravity at its own game one more time, and lifting higher and higher. Is it scouting for food or is it trying to get somewhere? Is it testing the wind direction or is it – here’s that curly one again – just having fun? On a scintillating, red-letter day like today, wouldn’t you?
The tide is way out, the sand still moist from the previous night’s rain and the ocean has sculpted afresh the long bleached shoreline to the south. I start towards Broken Head, paddling in the shallows. A young kelpie up ahead runs withershins around the clear, kidney-shaped lagoon that wasn’t there yesterday, chasing a white-faced heron, scattering the silver gulls who’ve gathered on its seaward bar. I wonder how old they are, for I’ve heard that gulls, aside from being masters of thermodynamics, can live for as long as thirty years. They lift off, soar in a streamlined circle for a few minutes, then descend like a deluge of white teardrops, their harsh, plaintive cries tempering a sanguine sky which, this morning is giving the turquoise waters a run for their money in the universal beauty stakes. Or seen in another light, the ethers and the ocean are not competitors at all, but a smooth double act, moving and gliding in a curvy dance of their own devising. However you view things, it’s quite a scene down here. My bare feet trip lightly along the shore. I step out in a chest-filling faith that a grand choreographer is at work.
* * *
I think about this place, my home, and how it has seduced me, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, into marrying the Muse; how it has enticed me to put down roots in Joseph Campbell country – following my bliss, trusting the garden path of organic creativity to lead me through some fresh green fields along the way. During this, my own organically home-grown “Course in Miracles” and “Creation Time,” I have gained some priceless experience and understanding.
If -- and there is “much virtue in If” -- for just a microsecond, I allow myself to be enlightened, I can feel in my bones that, finally, it does not matter where “time” takes me, or any of us. One day – who knows? – I may check out of this coastal coven. Somewhere, sometime, I’m bound to say my fond farewells to the flexings and fumings of whole restless planet. But on another plane, I remain convinced that a part of me has been abducted and bound (but not gagged) by the spirit of this place.
This text is an extract from Love Letters from Mother Nature: A Meditative Journey, available from Byron Books, Fletcher Street, Byron Bay or online from Bruce Sims Books. Email: [email protected]
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