Some things never change. When the sky is radiant blue, the sun is beating down, and the mercury climbing, I immediately think of the beach. Surely the result of a childhood spent in damp, soggy bathers, my hair crusty with salt, sand between my toes, and my freckled skin sticky with sunscreen.
And so this morning, with today’s top expected to be 42 celsius AGAIN, I convinced the family that the only sensible thing to do was head to the beach. With towels and bathers packed, the beach umbrella tucked under my arm, Abby carting the bag full of snorkels and masks, and books and hats squished into the corners of the beach basket, we skittled out of the house whilst it was still a cool 25.
Today’s destination – Birdrock Beach, with its 169 steps steeply marching this way and that down a very steep cliff ensuring there won’t be a crowd :-) It didn’t disappoint – we were greeted with a cool breeze, sparkling water, the pick of the spots under a broad, almost toppling tree, and colours so lush and perfect it was as if they had been painted on especially.
Immediately I swam out – it is only waist deep for such a long way – and floated; the cool, salty, sparkly water holding my body in the way that only the ocean can. Pretty scraps of seaweed floated by, a school of chubby, stripey fish swam round and round below me, brilliant white gulls swooped back and forth across the sky, and the sounds of excited children and chatter of relieved-to-be-out-of-the-heat parents bounced off the small waves.
As I floated I thought about the beach – about the notion of my beach, my magic beach – and what makes that beach so. And decided that Birdrock Beach would probably never be my beach, my magic beach. Not because it isn’t lovely – it is. No, it’s not the location, nor the curve of the bay that makes it my magic beach. Nor the quality of the sand, nor the nature of the waves. It’s not what treasures you find there, or what sits back beyond the beach.
It’s that part of a beach that stays with me when I leave, that makes it my beach, my magic beach. That beach becomes part of my story, part of my heart, part of how I fit into the years I have spent circling this sun and the family I have around me. It’s that part of a beach that when I return years and years later, I recognise myself as still there – I can feel my joy, my laughter, my experiences in the air around me, in the water as it holds me.
When I reached the sand at The Pass, at the far end of Byron Bay, two weeks ago with Mum, the tide was way out and the paisley patterned sky was heavy with a brewing storm. But there were still plenty of people about – families making the most of the last sun-kissed evenings of the school holidays, surfers bobbing out amongst the waves, people walking gently, slowly along the glistening sands. It was magic. All those years of swimming and playing here as a child filled my heart and my senses. All those years of bringing my Abby here when she was small. All the sandcastles we built, the waves we raced in to shore, the mermaids we sculpted and decorated, the shells we collected, the daydreams we had about what adventures waited for us at Julian’s Rocks if only we could get there. I felt a love-filled and familiar ache in my heart and I knew it was my beach, my magic beach.
Earlier that day, I had experienced a similar rush of sweetness at Crowdy Head – a beach further south, down the road from the small fishing village my grandparents lived in when I was little. It is such a modest spot compared to Byron. A small, quiet surf lifesaving clubhouse, an almost defunct fishermen’s co-op, maybe fifty ordinary homes nestled into the gentle hills behind me. But once I picked my way gingerly across the heavily pebbled foreshore and stood at the water’s edge, Crowdy’s gentle, glittering waves rushing in to wet my skirt’s hem, tears filled my eyes and I felt an incredible sense of coming home, of belonging here, of it too being part of my heart – something I never would have expected. It too was my beach, my magic beach.
As for Merimbula, each time we visit, our plans for moving there become ever more concrete and detailed and I know that her beaches are my magic beaches too. When Julian and I stroll along that majestic main beach in the cool, soft purple light of the late afternoon, the dogs bouncing at our heels, sharing our plans and hopes for the future, I know that I am where I want to be and I feel such a sense of contentment. When we hit quirky little Bar Beach- be it to slip down for an early morning snorkel, a visit in the middle of the day with the family (and all the other families!), or to sit with our supper looking out across the ocean and mountains, whilst the sun turns everything in its path to a glittery gold – I feel an incredible sense of warmth, knowing that this will be my beach, my magic beach, one that I will visit and love for the rest of my life.
Which brings me back here to Birdrock. As you probably know, I’m not a fan of Melbourne. I don’t like living here in Victoria. I feel so very far away from everything I know, everything I’m related to, so many things that I love, and four years has not made it any easier. In fact, sometimes it feels overwhelmingly awful and I cry. For four years I have griped about the beaches (they’re mostly yuk with appalling water quality), the weather, the football, the government, the public transport, the roads, the neighbours, the police, the rules, the utility companies, the education system, the health system … give me a chance and I can find fault with almost every part of this state. But this is not a good way to live – for me or my family.
So in this year of 2014, with just two more years to go before Abby finishes school (I must add here that Abby’s school is FANTASTIC – I am constantly impressed by what they share with my girl and how they care for her) and we move to Merimbula and the beautiful Bega Valley, I am going to put a lot more effort into embracing.
That’s my word for the year – next year’s too probably. Embrace. Not everything will be perfect. Not everything will go according to plan. I won’t feel that nourishing sense of belonging. Birdrock Beach will never be my magic beach. And I will never understand Victoria’s obsession with football. But I will work harder to embrace what is put before me.
I will embrace the eight weeks of placement that are looming – not just an amazing opportunity to learn, but the final step I need to take before becoming a Registered Nurse. I will embrace the dark mornings that have already arrived – they are a chance to catch my breath before the day steamrolls ahead with a lovely cup of tea in hand and my husband by my side. I will embrace Abby’s very own version of blossoming – it is such a wonderful thing to watch and share. I will embrace Julian’s tireless efforts at work – hopefully it will all pay off. I will embrace the prospect of working (almost) full time come August – all those extra pennies will go towards building our home. I will embrace the cold and grey when it arrives – it’s simply a marvellous opportunity to cosy up with Abby and stitch more quilts and knit more woollies. I will embrace the responsibilities and talents I have and put them to good use.
Today, I embraced the glorious day we were given. I embraced the hot weather with its beating sun, reminding myself of how much I will miss it in just a few short months. I embraced Birdrock Beach with it refreshing, beautiful water and richly glowing rocks. I embraced the chance to escape, with my family, from the everyday and make it something special.
Magic is wonderful and I know that I need it to thrive, but sometimes – and this is that sometime – I need to accept that I can’t always have my magic, and instead, embrace that which is offered.