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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 14 - Names In The Sand

“We wrote our names giant-like in the sand and drew pictures of the family in descending size. We knew with certainly that when the tide returned next time our sand drawings would be lost forever. Nobody else would see them before they were obliterated because this little bay was an empty gem of a place…’’ Gayle Woodward recalls idyllic childhood days.

As I grew I began to rebel against having always to do Girls’ Things. I wanted to do exciting things and hated the thought that I would have to cook and clean and sew and knit for the rest of my life.

My Dad understood and began to take me with him on special journeys. A few times he took me fishing with him. It was a
special feeling to be rocking very smoothly and gently on the green shiny water and to see the baches left far behind us and looking rather small. I don’t think we ever got a bite. It was probably the wrong time of day. We talked little, but the peace is something I remember vividly.

I also went exploring with my Dad. We would climb the cliffs at the far end of the beach at low tide. This was quite precarious, not only because of the narrow slippery sheep tracks we walked on when we climbed higher than the rocks but also because of angry shrieking gulls which dived at us again and again. We could feel the wind of their wings as they tried to urge us away from nests and young. I felt especially honoured to have been chosen to take part in these adventures and learned that you can do it if you try.

It also gave me a view of those secret little white sand beaches that appear when the tide is low. Little coves really, that could not be seen or reached from the main beach when the tide was high and covering the rocks. But we could and did climb down onto sand that sparkled in the hot sun. Crushed shells that produced a hissing sound as the water sluiced in and out in quiet surges were magic sound and sight that affected me deeply.

My father loved the sea, and he taught me that every seventh wave would be a big one. We would sit high on the cliff counting the waves as they rolled in to break on the rocks, trying to test our theory.

The beach itself, a long, white-sand wide arc, was an ever-changing interest of ours. When very young, we made mounded sandcastles from the white sand and decorated these with pipi shells found while wandering. Then there was the satisfying feeling of dragging a stick of driftwood behind you as you went for the long walk from the creek end to the other rocky end. It produced a wavering, churned up rut in the sand that could be walked on to flatten it on the way back.

Burying the parents in the sand was fun and took hours. Or you could make a car in the sand, often needing parental help to mould the seat, which you could sit in when it was all finished. There were tumbling star-shaped grasses that you could carry from the grassy banks and throw into the air. When the tide was low - and it did go very low on this long flat sea bed - the grass would dance and skip lightly and speedily on the wind, accompanied by sand whipped up and ghostlike as it raced along.

Rock pools glistened on hot afternoons. Sea anemones would react to a finger gently stirring the warm water and tiny crabs would scuttle away. Sometimes, a rock pool would offer up a special prize - a wonderful spiral shell that magically sounded like the ocean when you held it close to your ear.

I wrote in 1966 aged 17:

“As a family we walked. My parents enjoyed walking and there was never any question that my sister and I could do anything else but go along. We kids wore straw hats with elastic under the chin or legionnaire type caps with long flaps that protected the neck and ears. One of the parents carried a bag with Ships Lime Juice made up in a bottle. A very sweet concoction, which certainly quenched the thirst but got rather warm and sickly on a long walk to Pie Melon Bay.

This small rocky bay could be reached after a tiring walk up the zigzag track that wound its way up the hill at one end of the beach. There were a few houses on the hill whose front gates you passed on the way up, but the best part was the ever-improving view of the beach as you proceeded higher. When you had reached the top you expected some sort of reward for your efforts, but all that you had arrived at was a dusty road with scrubby bush and titree on both sides. That was the part of walking I did not like.

Away from my beloved beach, I thought the exertion of walking constantly up hill just not worthwhile and I lagged behind. There was always encouragement because “just around the next corner you never know what you will find”. And at last this would prove to be true as we came upon a stile, which we could clamber over to leave the road and find ourselves walking in thigh-high soft grass. The smell of the sea would be on the wind and although you could not see it, you could hear the waves crashing onto the rocks below. Expectation was high then and the walking became easier.

Soon a view of the bay would appear below us. A small rocky promontory reached out into the sea, effectively dividing the bay into two coves. The sand was immaculate, the place was uninhabited, except for the donkeys and we felt ownership of it as we descended the long trek down the hill and onto the beach.”

Thirty years later, I was to learn that a rich family had purchased that bay and built a beautiful house on the land, and I cried. The pie melons of the beach’s name grew rambling and wild on the flat sand hills. Dear little pumpkin-shaped fruit, which could be revealed by carefully peeling back the paper-like wrapping.

We wrote our names giant-like in the sand and drew pictures of the family in descending size. We knew with certainly that when the tide returned next time our sand drawings would be lost forever. Nobody else would see them before they were obliterated because this little bay was an empty gem of a place, seagulls cawing and donkeys braying the only sounds heard and never any footprints found on the sand.

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