Friday, July 30, 2010

The Crossing

The sun cast a glistening silver veneer over the white-capped waves breaking onto the sand bar of the river mouth, and black-back gulls swooped in endless pursuit after shoals of small fish that were stranded in shallow pools created by the ebbing tide.

Patti, holidaying in a quaint, whitewashed, fisherman’s cottage with scarlet geraniums growing near the door, opened the blinds and breathed deeply; a sigh of relief escaping her lips. Two days of persistent fog and cool winds had until now jeopardised her chances of crossing the wide expanse of sand to explore the island that was accessible at low tide for only a few days each year. Today the correct combination of sand bar, tides, and the welcome sight of the sun creeping above the horizon made an expedition feasible. After hurrying through breakfast she quickly packed a lunch, a water bottle and a muesli bar into a waterproof backpack, unchained Buster, her elderly golden retriever and together they ran down the narrow gravel path to the river’s edge. Beyond the vast expanse of wind rippled sand and tiny pools stood the island, a rocky sentinel guarding the river-mouth.

“Come on Buster”, Patti called. “If we are going to make this crossing today we had best hurry before the tide begins to turn. I suppose I should have told them at the shop where we were heading for the day. It’s too late now.”

Slipping of her sandals and buckling them together Patti began the trek towards the island. She knew great grandfather had manned a whaling station, last century, on the far side and she understood there were still signs of habitation from those bygone days. The island also housed an expanding colony of white herons, which Patti hoped to take a photo of, if time allowed. She looked back. The village appeared miles away, but she knew the island, at low tide, was about a mile from the mainland. Not far to go now, she thought. Buster raced ahead sending flocks of gulls and terns into the air. Patti strode onto the island, threw her bag and shoes onto the sand, and ran in decreasing circles yelling out “I’ve made it! I’ve reached the island!” She executed a full cartwheel; she ran towards an outcrop of jagged rocks, climbed to the top waving her hands wildly, and joined Buster in a crazy bird chase. An adrenalin rush fueled her sense of achievement making the trip worthwhile.

The noise of a huge wave crashing on the shore turned her attention to the tide. Not only was it on the turn, but it was also filling the pools. Patti was anxious. What to do? Should she camp on the island until the next tide, or risk the journey back? In the distance dark clouds were gathering behind the hills … a sure sign of rain. She grabbed her pack, whistled to Buster and hastily retraced her steps across the slowly filling passageway with the incoming waves crashing gently at her ankles. Buster splashed ahead, but Patti decided she would feel safer if he stayed at heel, and called him in. Together they headed homewards, Patti keeping up a running conversation with the dog in an attempt to calm her rising panic.

They had retreated half way. Patti did not like the sight, or feel, of the seaweed swaying on the tide and wished she had not been so foolhardy. Why hadn’t she checked the exact time of low tide? If they had left an hour earlier this would not have happened. Buster swam as he attempted to catch a piece of wood drifting by. The water was up to Patti’s knees, and there was still some distance to travel. A rogue number seven wave hurled seaweed onto Patti’s thighs and she felt a rising sense of terror. She couldn’t swim, and while Buster was an excellent swimmer, she knew it was beyond his capabilities to rescue her should she be swept off her feet. The water crept up and desperately she rolled her loose-fitting trousers even higher. No way did she want to have the weight of saturated clothes pulling her down. A waist high wave rolled in catching her unawares. Patti held in check a scream as fear threatened to completely overwhelm her. When the wave finally curved into debris-laden foam Patti spied dry sand, and safety, only meters away. She stumbled to the shore and ran up the beach collapsing onto the warm sand and whispered to Buster, “Shall we do this again tomorrow old boy?”

Buster looked at her, tail between his legs, as much to say, “You must be crazy”.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Across the Bridge

It has been many years since I last thought about the bridge. Recently, on a nostalgic journey to my childhood home, I wandered across the dew-laden grass in search of that bridge to another world. Sadly all traces have been obliterated; by time, and floods, and willows that grow and wither only to be replaced by others.

The bridge was narrow with rails on either side, rails that I thought were old railway lines until corrected. I have been informed they were constructed from timber, three by three inch lengths. No photos appear to have been taken, and while many of us remember the bridge, few of us have the same recollections.

The bridge was wooden with many gaping holes in its decking. I disliked walking across the bridge and resorted to crawling on hands and knees past the holes through which the dank dark waters of the lagoon beckoned with their livestock of slippery slimy eels lurking in the shadows. I did not relish the thought of falling through the holes and gashing my limbs on the way down as numerous cross branches of willows created a natural barrier through which it was possible to fall only to land in shallow water that barely moved over the muddy bottom.

While no one was able to accurately pinpoint the reason for the construction of this pathway to the other side it is generally presumed that my father and uncle had a hand in the enterprise. These men of a similar age combined their do-it-yourself talents several times over many years to build tracks and bridges and huts, none of which would find their way into the house of the year, or the bridge of the year competition, but all of which were solid and dependable in construction and eminently well suited for the task they were intended.

On a fine day the bridge emitted a golden ambience as dappled sunlight shone through willow leaves, and combined with the call of tuis and bellbirds and the occasional flash of a wood pigeon as it swished overhead, it oozed character. I am sad no remnants remain. I am sad that so few have memories of that wooden structure. On a cold day I never ventured near.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Shark Attack

I was walking along the beach, the tide was well out and while I may have been engaging in a little daydreaming, as I looked inland at the towering cliffs I did wonder where I would run to if a tsunami hit our shores. Maybe I would experience a sudden adrenalin rush and be able to climb the cliff face and manage to scramble past the rubbish dump where seagulls screeched incessantly as they scrounged for scraps to the safety of the farm.

It had only been in the previous week that a sea lion had chased a horse exercising on the sand. The stables situated a mile or two outside the town frequently gave their charges a run on the sand as it strengthened their leg muscles. It wasn’t only the danger of a tsunami I needed to watch out for, but also an attack by a sea lion. That thought was only momentary. There is little sense in indulging in a little panic attack if danger is not immediate. I didn’t like sea lions and should one come pounding up the beach I would simply turn tail and head back to the safety of the motel.

It was a lovely late summer’s day, and I was taking my daily stroll to the restaurant that over-looked the ocean. Once there I would climb the wooden steps, wander into the tearooms and order a coffee and a cake. Most days I sat in a window seat and scribbled notes about the birds or the flora and fauna on this coastal strip for the magazine I freelanced for. There was no sign of the breakers rushing out a mile so I realised that thoughts of a tsunami were ill founded, and by now I was back onto an area with no cliffs.

Beyond I could see the main highway and the main trunk railway line. The sand ran a long way back at this point as it followed the banks of a small creek. Usually I jumped from one little sand island to the next, but today the creek was running fuller … there had been rain overnight. It was a case of taking off my shoes and carrying them, laces tied together, and slung over my shoulder.

A pale skinned youth dressed in black swim shorts suddenly appeared from out of the lupines. In my reverie I hadn’t noticed him. I murmured, “Nice day”, to him as he walked by, restraining a smile as he high stepped on the warm sand. I didn’t think he was a ‘beach person’, but it was obvious he was making the most of the warm day.

A dog is what everyone needs when they go for a walk along an almost deserted beach. It gives a reason for conversation, but not having a dog for company, I resorted to talking to myself. I must add that I do not normally talk to myself! I may on the odd occasion, but there is always a good reason! I was trying to puzzle out what those fish were frolicking in the shallows. There were quite a few swimming and diving on the now incoming tide.

“Shark! Shark!” the cry came from the pale skinned youth as he hurriedly high stepped over the sand towards the car that I hadn’t previously noticed parked beyond the dunes. His swim shorts were still dry … poor lad; he hadn’t even put a toe into the briny. He almost ran past me and I notice his face was even whiter than his body, and I was almost positive there were a tear or two squeezing from the corner of his eyes.

“Where?” I asked. I wondered if perhaps I had spent too much time worrying about tsunamis or sea lions when the real danger was sharks.

He never replied as he moved towards his folk’s car, and safety from monsters of the deep.

I peered towards the ocean and found I had to take of my glasses to wipe them as a sea fog had swept in from beyond the horizon. I could see no shark. Surely he wasn’t hallucinating? Maybe he feared sharks, as much as I feared being caught by a tsunami in a spot where there was no quick path to escape?

Through the haze I noticed the fish frolicking, and now that I was closer I could easily see they were dolphins. Dolphins often came close in and played in the water, showing off to the audience they invariably gathered.