BeachCombing the Soul
Each day at the beach held a gentle routine. The solitude became less and less threatening as I relaxed into it, walking the beach twice a day, cooking simple meals, feeding the goldfish that swam in a large planter by the deck, sleeping, and writing. The mornings found me waking early as the first rays of sun reflected off the water and shimmered across my upturned face. I arose eagerly and walked the length of the beach, pants rolled to my calves, enjoying the surprisingly warm water at the edge of the tide. I marveled at the plucky seabirds, pipers and oyster catchers running alongside searching for their morning meal in the wet sand. They felt like the perfect companions. I’ve always enjoyed beachcombing, and the treasures underfoot competed with the rumbling surf for my attention. There was so much beauty everywhere that it was hard to know where to look.
I took breakfast in a lounge chair on the deck, eating cereal, sipping tea and writing in my journal before skyping with Mark each day. I read, napped in the sun, and took small trips to explore the nearest town and surrounding coves, each one with its own unique microsystem of ocean, land and sea life. The driving wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, although I drove like an old lady, hunched over the wheel and hugging the left side of the road as I rounded the many curves. I turned on the windshield wipers every time I reached for my blinkers, but I managed not to kill myself or take anyone else out.
One day, I passed a graveyard on a grassy hill. The sight beckoned me and so I turned the car around at the first side road I saw. I found a narrow dirt road winding along the bottom of the hill, the graveyard rising on the left and brush dappled dunes skirting the other side of the road. The road led past the graveyard to a tidal inlet that lapped at the base of the hill, hooking a hairpin right to run parallel to the water.
I followed the road to a dead end and then u-turned to come back around to the graveyard. A gate led to a well worn foot path that zigzagged up the hill to where the graves stood on a bluff overlooking the inlet. I strolled amongst the graves, reading the markers and admiring the stone work. Delicately carved birds or angels graced the tops of some. Many of the graves were surrounded by mounds of seashells, linking the dead to the cycle of life of the estuary running into the sea from dunes and grass covered hills. Gulls wheeled and cried overhead. The grass smelled pungent and the salty air ruffled my short, scant hair. I felt a joy amongst these graves that surprised me. Gratitude for my returning health flooded me as I walked amongst the honored dead.
I fell asleep early each night at 8 or 9pm, the gentle murmuring of the ocean lulling me into oblivion, but awoke and wandered about the house in the dead of night. It wasn’t anxiety that wakened or plagued me now. Actually, my mood had shifted dramatically and I felt incredibly at peace. The moon and stars shown brightly outside the tall windows on both sides of the living space. I’d never seen the Southern Cross and I was drawn to the strange beauty of the unfamiliar astronomy. One night, I grabbed a flashlight and traipsed down to the beach to lie on my back and lose myself in the velvet night sky. It was only the chill of the sand beneath my back that kept me from falling asleep where I lay. I reluctantly headed back to the comfort of my bed.
The anxiety that I’d fought on my trip ebbed away with each day, and I found myself enjoying my solitude, wishing it could last longer than a week. I knew I was on the right track when I made the final decision to continue on the last leg of my journey to the South Island.
I had some help with this decision.
“Now, Dib,” Matt admonished me on the phone. “There is absolutely no way in hell that you can travel all the way to New Zealand and not see the best part of it!”
I hadn’t heard his voice in 6 years, but he sounded exactly the same.
“We’ve been looking forward to seeing you for months. Where are you planning to stay?”
“In ChristChurch at a hotel close to the airport.”
“Oh no! That won’t do at all. You have to stay by us. Our neighbor has a little cabin that they rent out. I know they don’t have anyone there now. You’ll be right near us and we will spend the week with you.”
“Naomi wants me to visit her too in Kaikoura” I said.
“Well we can figure all that out later. But you are definitely coming and that’s that.” There was no resisting his will.
I had met Matt during one of my very first Isabel adventures in the summer of 2007. I called Isabel that spring to wish her a happy birthday.
“You know what I want to do to celebrate my 40th birthday?” she said.
“No clue,” I answered.
“I want to fulfill my dream of kayaking with killer whales. Wanna come?”
“I know you are kidding,” I said. “ME? kayaking? Killer whales? Hah!”
But she wasn’t.
That’s what a great friend does, helps you see outside the box to adventures you never would have thought of yourself. We headed out that July for a sea kayaking camping trip on the Johnstone Strait in British Columbia.
Matt greeted us as Isabel and I disembarked from the 6 hour boat ride to the island on the Strait.
“Hi, I’m Mitt” he said in a thick Kiwi accent. “And I’ll be your guide for the trip.
Isabel and I nodded and stole side glances at each other, as Matt turned to the task of unloading the boat. The clients from the tour before us formed a quick luggage brigade on the beach, and we fell in line to help as we unloaded all the gear from the launch.
Isabel and my eyes met over the bags, “Oh My God!”she mouthed. “He is gorgeous!”
There was no doubt about it. Matt was pretty incredible, and it’s not too far off the mark to say that when he removed his shirt for a swim, the angels sang. We both fell in love with him at first glance. Okay, so he was young enough to be my son and I loved Mark more than life itself. But beyond Matt’s beautiful face and lean rippling muscles, was a well of kindness and light that showed in everything he did and said. A few days in his capable care felt like a lifetime of friendship. Matt’s girlfriend, Helen, showed up for part of the trip, and we adored her too. They were just those kind of people that bring you into their hearts and lives immediately. It was impossible not to love them.
We’d kept in touch via FaceBook, mainly through Helen’s postings and replies. They’d married a few years back and now had twin girls, a dog and some chickens, a real family. Now that I was letting go of my last bit of nerves, I was psyched to see them. My tough decision made, I geared myself up for the last leg of the trip, the South Island, as I relaxed into what was left of my time at the beach.