The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Beach

I don’t remember arriving at my Grandmother’s for the first time. By counting down the years I know I was about five years old at the time, a tiny blond child with cornflower blue eyes. My Grandmother lived in a house on the shore. From the living room on the second floor one could look down past the sea wall, a concrete walkway about the height of a man, to the beach. It was white sand with a scattering of driftwood, framed to the east and west by black rocks glistening with seaweed, scrapey with barnacles and clusters of mussels, gleaming wet and hot rock dry. Those rocks were to become one of my favourite places. For a five year old child they were the perfect playground. The barnacles and the height made them seem dangerous and their secret valleys contained odd creatures left by the retreating tide: crabs, molluscs, strange eel like creatures, and tiny fish darting through pools of water cradled by stone.

And the beach always changed. It changed with the season, from summer swarms of strangely fleshy adults lying passively like crusty bread on their multicoloured towels, to the fall driftwood pickers in their black and yellow rubber, to winter’s crashing storms which would smash against the sea wall and send spray into the sky. Just at the edge of my vision, near the horizon, was a series of small islands. To me those islands were fantastic and faraway places, the Tir-na-Nog of my childhood, places where strange creatures lived, where wondrous magic was to be found, places which could only be seen: never reached. In the winter I would often stare at them for hours, nose pressed against the living room window, spinning stories of the Sea Queens and Kings who lived upon them; of the robots who were their knights; of a thousand things. And I would see the ships, huge freighters mainly, like massive castles, which would steam by and I would wonder where they had been, what they had seen. I never thought of them as machines, but rather as huge beasts with a life of their own, creatures to be tamed that they might bear you away to dreams.

Perhaps my favourite change of all was simply the tides. Low tide was the best: as the sea withdrew it would reveal a wonderland of sand bars, troughs of water and a trove of sea shells and small darting creatures caught in the pools it left. I would intrepidly investigate. During the winter months on went the gum boots, in summer I splashed about in trunks. The tide was my test, too, for it was jealous of its treasures, always coming to cover them again, and I took great pleasure in outsmarting it and the currents as the tide came back in. With a practiced eye I watched the gulf between my sandbars and the shore and like an eel I took to the water to make my passage back when the sea’s return could be ignored no longer.

The beach was my preserve, others came on it, but it always seemed somehow mine . . . mine and the seagulls. There are those who dislike seagulls, but I have always had a deep fondness for them. My grandmother loved them and I learned that love as well. Sometimes I would feed them, stale crusts of bread tossed on the wind, a whirlwind of seagulls, their strident cries ringing out, descending upon me. Other times I would just watch them, the spiral of their flight lovely in itself. Their squabbling and sudden flight, their long swooping glide with that final tilt as they landed, their sharp eyes as they watched me. The beach was their fief, and mine, for they allowed me on—perhaps in pity for this big flightless graceless thing who could never feel the wind lift him, who could never look down on the sparkle of the sea, who could never fly a wingspan above, watching it flash beneath.

I have never returned to that beach, nor will I.

(This is a reprint.)


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  1. That’s lovely.

  2. Kirk

    Pure magic, Ian.

  3. Jeff Wegerson

    I have a seagull skull that has been sitting on the dashboard of my car since last summer. I love the long hooked beak.

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