Last Tuesday we did an exercise. Rick suggested (I think) we write about taking a walk, perhaps along a beach, and change from one mood to another. This is the result, although I have modified it somewhat from the rougher original.
Perranporth, Polzeath, all the beaches of Cornwall: people gather there en masse on sunny days in summer. It is as if an oil tanker had struck a rock somewhere and smothered the sand with animate, bubbling, oil. The hedonism, the laughter, the flash and buzz of excited children, as lovely as it is, can overwhelm. I need to walk away. I need to climb the hill to get above it all, to throw my desperation into the void between sea and sun.
I walk without shoes. I need to feel the stones, the broken shells and sharp grass, under my pampered feet. I need to feel lungs pumping heavily, a rapid exchange of gases, salt air replacing anger and frustration, the vast sky displacing claustrophobia. I need to feel the dizzying fear of the vertical when it is close enough to touch. I need them all. I need them to wipe the world’s slate clean. I need emptiness.
When I reach the highest point, it is all but gone. It is like an agitated child that has finally given in to exhaustion and coiled in gentle sleep. I pull across his blanket, stroke his hair and lower myself onto a tussock. I sit and stare. I watch the wave-sets, sneaking in to shore as if under a carpet, coming to the end of the journey upon which the storm had set them days ago. I see them throw themselves onto the sand and rocks, exhausted, spent. Far out I see the gulls; I see them gliding, without effort, like paper, caught in the breeze. I watch the horizon, looking for the curvature of the Earth. I get up and continue on.
When I am able, I descend to another beach, where I am alone. There are no attractions. There is no food, no drink, no cheap plastic toys. This is too far to walk for families and their facsimiles of home. There is nothing for them here. There is only wet sand, soft like marzipan. It is a cool poultice for my feet. The waves rush in and greet me with kisses. I kneel and baptise myself to ward off the hot sun.
A lone kite-surfer hops and skips his board at the edge of the breakers. He is a hunter. His kite is a great bird that he has caught and is now trying to wrestle out of the sky. He leaps and it carries him high, high above the waves, high above the spray, high above the floating gulls. As he crosses the sun I think of Icarus, but he lowers gently onto the glittering water, and keeps moving. At this moment, I know I am ready to return.