Grief (Scott’s Beach)

Somewhere past Westport the road linking the towns along the western coast of the south island turns sharply into the mountains, switching back and up and back and up through dense tropical greenery on a vertiginous climb toward the sun.  On the bluff, a patch of grassy shoulder looks out across the valley, eye to eye with the peaks of the ambling range.  And farther on and below lies the smokey sweep of blue where in the distance water meets the sky.  Standing at the edge, the only car on an empty road, the view could be painted on canvas, a dream while I sleep.  How did I get here?  On the descent the forest seems to hover ominously over the narrow road.  Kilometers stretch into eons as the road throws you against the mountain’s flank, swiveling and sliding down the slope.  As you emerge from the jungle into the wide grassy plain that separates ocean from stone, the golden glare of the sun slowly settling in the west is almost painful.  A rainbow sign welcomes you to Paradise, population 650, “Mobile phone free zone.  Some of us like it that way.”

The snaking pavement rolls into open curves past a town time forgot, all low clapboard houses and open swaying fields.  A farmer looks up from his work to wave as we pass in a cloud of dust.  The road lays itself flat across the plain, water blinding white to the west, a rolling waving expanse of green to the east, until finally it dissolves into gravel and dead ends under sycamore trees swaying to the song of surf beyond.

The campsite is a few vehicles parked in the shade and a hut with a handful of toilets and half as many sinks.  A river flows out of a towering forest of palms and ferns to meet the sea.  At low tide a wide expanse of silk-smooth silt emerges from its flow.  An ancient colossus that once stretched its arms some 60 feet into the sky lays naked, fingerless, marooned on its side.  The wide stretch of beach ends abruptly against a cliff at the north end, the jungle pressed against its stony shoulder.

A two hour walk through the forest brings you to a beach untouched by time.  Emerging from the shady path the horizon rushes away into the distance.  Huge boulders dot the white-gold arc of sand that extends to the cliffs in either direction like some trick of scale.  As if the gods above are looking down at the waters’ edge and we are simply ants in a pebble’s shade.  The blue water roars and rolls and crashes against the shore, a Sisyphean beast in its ageless struggle to regain the land.  We sit on hillock of sand.  I wade thigh-deep into the suck and swell of the surf.  The sun hangs motionless over the horizon.  The only sound is the wind and water.  The world recedes to the feel of sand under my feet and sun on my skin.

I start to walk, leaning into the gale which swallows the noise of my footsteps and leaves only the muted rush of my breath in my ears and the deep percussion of my beating heart.  When I turn back Gail is obscured by a rise in the beach or maybe a boulder in the distance.  How far have I come?  I walk further, just to see what will happen.  To find out where it ends.  I come upon a solemn brotherhood of yellow-eyed cormorants who appear at the water’s edge and startle me.  They eye me in cold suspicion until I pass and then return to their meditation, wings open to the ocean’s song, necks arced in supplication to the sky.

Soon after the sand begins to vanish under clusters of steadily larger stones.  I pick my way between until the waves rush up between and swirl around my calves and I begin to climb, clambering over the steadily larger hunks of stone.  I press onward leaping from footing to footing, climbing on all fours when the sides are too steep until I turn and the beach behind me has disappeared behind the cliff.  I’m standing on a boulder worn by the sea into a pillar.  A rough circle with a smooth flat surface around which the waters boil and foam as they throw themselves at the wall of rock behind me.  The ocean engulfs me, the expanse of horizon book ended at either side by the rock wall that towers behind me.  I trace the flight of a gull as he swoops, a fly-like speck in the distance, until he disappears and there is no longer any living thing that moves except the blood in my veins and the air in my lungs.  When I scream your name the wind tears my voice from my open mouth leaving me with only the hum of each extended syllable in my throat.  I stare at the infinity of sparkling opalescence to where it dissolves into the smokey blue grey haze.  I wait.  In the face of an endless ocean what is the use of one human tear.  One ragged sob.  One aching heart beat.  I stare into the glare until I feel my eyes burn, silent vigil becoming a kind of prayer.  When I turn away from eternity and begin climbing back across the rocks toward the beach, the wind is at my back, easing me on.  The cormorants ignore me as I pass, intent on their open armed salute of the slowly falling sun.  Back on the path the sea’s bellows are swallowed by the trees.  The light is dappled and soft.  The air cool and gentle.  The beach recedes back into prehistory, to its home.  The evening sun slants around our torsos through the jungle green.  Back at the campsite we drink wine from a box, make a fragrant driftwood fire, watch the sunset and swat at sand flies.

In that place that knows nothing of time I see you emerging from the ocean, feline and fish-like, hair slicked against the nape of your neck, all lean brown muscle and boyish limbs.  You carry nothing.  Need nothing.  Your back is straight.   Your vision keen.  Your chest rises and falls over the unobserved action of your lungs.  You wear the salt water like a second skin.   An ocean sprite.  A wood nymph.  A miracle of vision.  A boy that never was.  You stand on that pillar, feet pressed against the stone, sparkling water dripping from your limbs, brow furrowed as you scan the horizon.  The gull swoops and dives in the distance and disappears.  The roar of the waves rolls and echoes around the rocks.  You turn your head to catch the last echo of your name on my lips.  But already I am long gone and far away.


For Mason
with an eternity of love
13/01/13 – 16/02/13




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