Saturday, May 29, 2010

On the Waterfront

I am down at the town beach, staring down the promenade and out over the water.  There is a brick wall behind my back, warm in the sun.  My feet are propped up on a balustrade, and I can feel my hair waving tendril-like in the small breezes that slip over the wall.  Two swallows are building a nest underneath my right foot. Their wings fuss against each other like sandpaper.
            It is high tide.  The beach here is a vast sand flat, perfect for walking and crabbing, that stretches out almost a kilometer and a half from the shore.  Ships cannot dock on this coast; they wait, anchored out on the horizon, doing all their business with tenders that run back and forth from the wharf.  This afternoon the sand flat is flooded with water of the most peculiarly intense shade of blue - electric ultramarine.  In summer, the wind kicks the water into whitecaps, but at this time of year it lies still over the sand like a rolled-out bolt of china-silk.  Small, local wind squalls rip across it, darkening the water to ultraviolet in the creases. They blow across the silk like a clouds of watercolor paint blown across a sheet of thick cartridge paper; the edges of the color seeping and soaking into the fabric. 
            The sand flat ends abruptly and distinctly at the Blue Line, laid down as sharp and clear on the seafloor as if it were drawn with a color marker.  The Line is the outside edge of the sea grass meadow -the highest point at which the leading edge of the sea grass can stay submerged at low tide. When the King tide is out, we go walking along the line, shin deep in a glass-water aquarium, with minnows and baby puffer fish darting fearlessly out of the grass around our ankles.

Today I gave myself a treat; after all the packing and moving and unpacking and re-sorting, I walked down from the post-office to the beach, through the Botanical Garden. The Garden dates from the 1920s, and is deep and dark and green - a world away from the thin, sallow shade of eucalyptus, and from the parched and scrubby yellow grass that we tend in our backyard, watered desultorily when we can spare the water, counting on it to nurse itself through the long hot dry until some wet come in winter.
            The Garden has tall, solid trees growing from fat-bladed tropical turf and thick black soil: big oaks and giant fig trees, whose leaves have a waxy tropical sheen and whose enormous buttress roots trap the sea-breezes and keep a cool, damp darkness.  Underneath then I feel myself expanding, spreading loose and wide - a giant stomata, breathing for a great big leaf.
            There is an aviary with peacocks and sulpher-crested cockatoos and stupid chattering budgerigars.  One of the cockatoos claws its way up to the wire fence and said "Hello Cocky!" and looks at me penetratingly with its big black eye.  I am teaching it "Buenos Dias!" but we aren't getting much forwarder. It's an Australian sort of bird-  stubborn.

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