Thursday, 1 August 2019

Of estuaries and oceans

It must be because I'm by the seaside on holiday and staying in my wee bolt-hole, that I've been thinking of place...

Standing at my front door, I look to road's-end where the beach begins. Marram grass covers the dune, its pale green broken by bugloss blue, yellow ragwort, delicate purple milk vetch. The bushy buddleia continues on its take over mission, pushing up from the ground and spreading out, invading. By the tide-line is a scattering of sea-smooth stones, driftwood, a smattering of shells including the ever-present mussels after which the town was named - though older folk use a different name for this side of the river, remembering their fishing heritage: 'we're no' Musselburgh, we're Fisherrow.' High tide is mid-afternoon and the sun is beginning to peek out from dour clouds and lighten the mood. So close to the river-mouth the water is mixed up and muddied, never clear. This is not a beach where waves come crashing in; open sea is further out and here, although the Forth is broad, the tidal ebb and flow moves in a more kindly manner.

On coming back to this place, when I've been away for a wee stretch of time, it's the noise of the birds that always surprises - not quite Hitchcockian, but there are echoes of it as they flap and bicker overhead. Fierce creatures. Yesterday, a herring gull, presumably fallen in battle, lay dead beside the old wash-house in the courtyard. Still body gathered up, it was carried gently to the dune and buried, becoming part of the landscape more literally. Low tide then; the uncovered mussel beds the province of oyster catchers, black-faced terns, black-bellied dunlins, kittiwakes, the ever-present herring gulls, and two middle-aged wellied lug wormers searching for bait.

This morning, as the gulls pierced through sleep, in my half-dream state there were glimpses of another beach in a much wilder place; no gentle Scottish estuary. The sand was bleached white by a stronger sun and finely ground from free-rolling waves crashing on the shore. Blue-green transparent waves curled, glistening in the brightness of the light, then broke, surging into shore before pulling back out again into the deep. Somewhere, there was a hint of coconut oil in the sea-salty air....

It's been many years since I lived by the Pacific Ocean and yet, there it was in sight and sound and smell, and more so in the waves: there's something about the shape of a wave that marks its place in the world. Now, at the end of this day, the brightness and the vivid colours are still at play in my mind's eye, but it's the shape of waves that hold my thoughts. I look across to near where the kettle rests on the bench. Nestling nearby there's a jar of Vegemite and a box of Tunnock's wafers, symbols of the land of my birth, and the land I now call home. I wonder about the shape of my life, and how that marks my particular place in the world.

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