Today the wife and I planned to go to a park, and on the way, ran into a beach.
Well, more of a wee bit of coastline than a beach, but she was chuffed.
It was Christmas bloody morning on that wee scrap of sand, I can tell you. It was like she was eight.
We walked down the uneven steps, watching the sand gather in the corners, accumulating. As we neared the bottom, I made a conscious effort not to slip on the not-quite-dry seaweed.
But she was preoccupied.
Oh my god look at the barnacles. Look at the little muscles. Look at the seaweed.
And I did. And I sort of saw everything again, through her. I grew up ninety minutes away from some of the world’s best beaches – I went there to see relatives, or for day trips, or because we lived ninety minutes away from some of the world’s best beaches. I was constantly going through growth spurts and too big for my rashies. (Sunshirts – surfers wear them?) I remember finding sand in all sorts of funny places at the end of the day, I remember getting terribly sunburnt, I remember school trips. I remember sand always on the floor of my brother’s Jeep Wrangler.
I lived in the suburbs, but the beach was never far away.
But it was different for Valerie, who can tell you when a show was filmed and where by the consistency, colour and texture of the snow.
We reach the bottom of the steps and bless her heart she says, Is that ice?
I looked down, and, to be truthful it did look like ice.
“No, love, it’s sea glass.”
Oh my god it’s sea glass! Look at the sea glass!
And so we picked our way along the beach in this way, I wandering along behind with her stopping every minute or so to bend down and look at something. Wee dead crabs. Kelp, seaweed, driftwood, stones.
Look at this, feel it, it’s all dried out, look.
She kept bringing me things. Marble, granite, worn smooth by the sea. I felt like one of those penguins where they walk along the beach and the male finds the perfect wee pebble and presents it to the female and then they mate for life?
Here, granite. Marble, here, look. Oh, oh, come over here. It’s a crab claw, a wee one. It can pinch, see?
And it was lovely, it was exciting, because it reminded me of when I was little. All the sandcastles I’d built, all the times I’d stood just at the edge of the sea and watched the waves wash over my toes, the taste of seawater in my mouth and salt in my hair for days.
And there was Valerie, experiencing everything and allowing me to experience everything again.
I fell in love with her sheer enthusiasm. She smiled a lot that morning. It was nice.
I wanted to take her home, to show her what I knew a beach to be. Not this little corner of coastline, all covered in rocks and grey-black sand. (Although, it was lovely! So lovely. A beach is a beach is a beach. But there’s a part of me that is particularly protective and enamoured with Australia’s beaches.)
I wanted to show her long stretches of white, yellow sand, breaking and curving beyond the horizon. I wanted to show her how the sand in one section of the beach squeaks under your feet while you walk. I wanted to show her the sheer number of shells you can pick up as you walk. I’m sure she would even be interested in the bluebottles washed up on shore, and all the little crabs crawling beneath the surface of the sand.
She got so excited by the littlest things.
Oh that’s a shell, look.
“The challenge is to try and find one that’s whole,” I said.
Oh here’s another, it’s thicker.
“That’s coral. It’s porous, see?”
Oh. Is it?! That is so cool.
“I found some more sea glass – green, this time.”
Green?! Green sea glass!
It was lovely. I realised just how fortunate I had been to grow up not-too-far from the best definition of a beach I knew. And I also realised how fortunate I was to be able to share that with her.
I was, I am – very, very lucky.