I am sitting in my urban oasis today, thinking about a recent trip I took to a placid bit of New England coast with my husband and son. It was a much-needed opportunity to restore my soul and I find that nothing does that so well as watching the waves crash on the sand, squinting through the hot sun, looking out at infinite space and feeling the cold water swirl around me.
Each morning, I went down to the beach for a walk, taking with me a cup of coffee. This was absolute bliss! I would inspect the changes in the tide, the new shells left behind, I would breathe in the salty air and take pictures of the same views I took pictures of all the preceding days. How many pictures of waves and coast can you take? An infinite number, and each time there are differences in the light, the colour of the water, the sway of the grasses…sometimes the picture is of the clear, hyper-defined blue, others are soft and pink and still others are of thick mist into which everything disappears. I also brought my writing materials with me on these walks and found that I was more open to ideas and more constantly inspired to write than I think I have ever been before. And so, because I love the thoughts that came to me during this time and because they impart beauty and peace, I share some of them here.
Day 1: We are driving along the Ammonoosuc River in the White Mountains on our way to the coast. The river winds along the road, rimmed with wild flowers. We stop and dip our feet in its cold, bubbling water as the forested mountains rise all around us, clouds stretching between them in tendrils. Peaceful, clean and vast.
Day 3: It is evening and we have arrived at our quiet edge of beach. Shapes of people float in the mist, not tied to land or sea or sky. I watch my son’s pure and simple joy at jumping in the waves for hours.
Day 5: Yesterday we saw a seal, a small black head floating on the waves. My husband pointed him out through the chill mist and I immediately thought of the movie the Secret of Roan Inish.
Day 6: I am on my own tonight, a warm glass of red wine, the fire on, Thelonious Monk playing a slow tune, grassy dunes stretching from the windows of the cottage down to the sea. Contemplation. Why does the sea seem like something out there, outside my perspective slightly? Like something I can’t quite fathom? My son runs down and into it, embraces it, my husband calmly watches it. I feel like I’m averting my eyes somehow, like I can’t quite meet its gaze – but why is that? Is it because it is too vast to fully comprehend, too powerful to absorb fully?
Day 7: The weather has turned hot and sunny. Now I know what was missing, what I needed to relax, what was separating me from the sea. I was missing the sun, the heat, the blue. Today has been hot and perfect, a proper day at the beach with kite flying, wave jumping, sand castles and the shade of a big umbrella. It seems that the sun burning sand and skin is good for the soul.
Day 9: The morning sun is already hot but in the shade, at the back of the house, the smell of grass rises, cool and damp, floating through the open window on ocean breezes. I slept last night listening to the waves crashing and the soft wind blowing, waking momentarily when the birds started to sing.
Day 12: The light shifts, changing endlessly out across the ocean as the wind blows in, cooling the air and the house. After a night of storms, the ocean is the colour of steel, with the sun gleaming gold further out, highlighting rocks and outcrops not usually seen on a sunny day.
Wild thistles blow in the warm breeze, there is the smell of salt the morning after a storm, and a fishing boat motors past, pulling behind it a smaller craft. I walk along the beach facing into the wind, smelling the salt and enjoying the cool. The bag slung across my shoulder holds everything I need: book, writing materials, camera to capture the same scenes yet again in their ever-changing light and shadows. Today feels like a good day to write, to be solitary on the beach.
Day 13: Standing in the shallows of a large tidal pool far from the edge of the sea, I watch the small aftershock ripples, the inland effects of the loud, crashing tide I can hear from beyond the sandbar – so distant it sounds like the roaring inside a shell.
Simple clapboard houses perch perfectly along the coast, their flags waving, and little else other than a view of the sea. What more is there? What more does one need? I watch as the odd person appears in the grass at the end of their path to the beach, coffee in hand.
The tide is coming in faster now and there’s nothing quite like an early morning walk in its cool, crashing froth. Perfect wave after perfect wave.
Day 14: The fog is so thick today that I can see it billowing through the open window and into the room. The birds sing sweetly and out across the bay, a fog horn sounds from an invisible boat, intermittently.
I sit alone in the cottage, a fire lit and Thelonious playing again, watching the fog and eating a beautiful bluefish. It’s only easy to write when I’m alone. If I was alone, really alone, I would be writing perhaps about the house across on the island or maybe about a middle aged woman who escaped to a quiet seaside cottage to write. Or maybe about a girl in her early twenties who dreamed of living in Ireland, of buying an old cottage by the sea near Balinskelligs and writing, surrounded by a dog and two cats and, eventually, somehow, a child. I can still, 20 years later, see that dream perfectly. And maybe that story weaves into the one about my family I have yet to start writing, and maybe it also folds back into the one about the middle aged woman. Maybe it is all the same story. Maybe it is my quest for peace.
Day 15: The waves are more thunderous today than any day so far. I could hear them through the windows early this morning but here, now, they are magnificent to watch.
My son has found some other boys and has taken off down the beach with them. I watch as they poke about in the waves.
Day 16: Our last day. I listen, trying to hold forever in my memory the sounds of swallows, plovers and other dune birds as they swoop across the grasses. I watch the turns as they coast several meters above the sea, then plummet like heavy daggers to catch small fish. Cormorants with their big, ungainly flapping wings, reminiscent of geese as they fly low to the waves, remind me of Neil Young’s line about “big birds flying across the sky…”