~ ‘The Old Poets of China’, by Mary Oliver
~ ‘The Old Poets of China’, by Mary Oliver
Have spent much of the last month on beautiful beaches that aren’t mine.
Mountain ringed BC lakes like mirrors and, most recently, those endless and magnificent PEI ones made of solitude, red sand, stone cliffs, cormorants and washed up lobster traps.
Now I’m back home.
And where I live the beach has no red sand and the cliffs are more cute than seriously cliffy. Sometimes there’s solitude, sometimes dogs chasing sticks in the surf, families and picnics and the smacking lips of lovers, people who have happily found another who likes ‘long walks on the beach at sunset’. The cormorants are sea gulls and hang around the chip truck. Beach litter runs more to Timmy cups than lobster traps.
Do I look like I care?
Saw a monarch that was caught in the splash of a wave, one wing pinned under a tiny pebble. I saw it as I walked past looking for beach glass, assumed it was dead but reached down anyway and moved the pebble… and the wings fluttered. I let it climb onto my hand and it stayed there drying in the sun until a group of young girls noticed and squealed about a butterfly on that lady’s hand!! and came running over to touch it. Better not to, I told them. It’s already had enough excitement and has to fly to Mexico when it catches its breath. They were that age where their eyes go all bright when you tell them about insects and Mexico and as their hands went down to their sides I saw that they suddenly wanted less to touch it then than to hope for its safe journey.
The winged thing climbed up my arm as I continued along the beach and I worried it would fall off and be trampled on the sand before it dried, so decided to introduce it to a stand of milkweed where it happily fluttered off my sleeve and onto a nearby shrub to check its GPS.
Me on George the tawny horse with a butterscotch mane at the trail ride stables. I say to the trail guide, “Take one of just me and George… I want to put it in my office to look at every day.” George is magnificent and uninspired to moving too quickly. His whole raison d’etre being to follow the lead horse at a reasonable pace and sneak the occasional bit of greenery, which is often as I have no ability to use the reins and George knows this. We are happy together.
Kayla the trail guide. All blonde hair and freckles, a country lass unaware of her sweetness and the charm of her stories about being home-schooled and how she lives for horses, has five part-time jobs to keep one horse and how a horse will tell you what’s wrong with you, emotionally or physically, because if you spend enough time with it the horse takes on your problems and you can see yourself in them like a mirror.
Children in my house eating watermelon and jumping on a mini trampoline. Occasionally at the same time. To which I say: “No choking please… because
I am not in the mood today for children choking in my house.”
Tiny hands shoveling spoonfuls of peaches and ice cream.
Tiny hands picking fat blackberries. Also argument over how there isn’t an equal number of ripe ones for all three sets of hands.
Three orders of poutine at the beach. Most of which is eaten. None of which is mine. Mine is an order of fries.
Seagulls awaiting poutine.
Flip-flops flopping in the water. Until they’re nearly stolen by the lake and the better idea by the wearer of the flip-flops is that I carry them.
Skinny legged beach cartwheels. Dozens it seems, one sweeter than the next. Not mine, by the way. I have neither skinny legs nor ever been able to master the sweet cartwheel… only the kind that goes by a different description. After that, some other gymnastic moves that need only ribbons to make them an Olympic event. (Now there we have something I’m good at: ribbon dancing.)
Lad skipping stones. Correction. Lad trying to skip stones. Lads, I discover, aren’t especially amused when aunties come along and say Want me to show you how it’s done? And then do.
And other stones. Especially those as described in the wonderful Pinny in Summer, which is read aloud to the soundtrack of Lake Ontario waves. (Smiles all around when we find JUST THE PERFECT ONE.)
Cloud shaped like the skeleton of a rabbit. Sad but true.
A radiant palm holding five colours of beach glass: white, green, dark blue, brown and possibly yellow, or just pale pale brown. Either way, ridiculously exciting haul.
multicultural beach today
in many languages
in search of…
welcome to this sandy strand
of laughing stones
The beach was busy today and so many families of various cultures and dress and reasons for being here. Family picnics on the grassy bits, and BBQs fired up, all kinds of games and happy shouts and wet dogs and I sat there taking it all in as I’ve done two million times before because there is nothing especially unusual about various cultures and dress and reasons for being here but something about everyone today made me think that some of these people were new, that some of them had not long been in this country, this town. And the vibe, if that’s what it was, was especially good. It’s extraordinary really, people leaving their own countries for bad reasons and hoping for something good at the other end though they don’t know exactly what that will be and then on a sunny summer day maybe it turns out to be something as simple as a swim or grilled chicken or a pocket full of beach glass.
And I’m so glad to be a part of this day, to extend a smile to the wet dog and the laughing children.
To in some small way, say welcome
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you
When temperatures drop suddenly, especially after being weirdly mild, this thing happens sometimes, over open water. I’ve only seen it once before, a couple years ago. I remember looking it up when I got home and learning that the term is steam devils.
And I think that’s it, the extent of the conversation, because it’s too cold for chat and my head is wrapped in several layers of fleece and so is his and we’re at a distance from each other and the dog wants to move on.
So I turn back to my crouching and picture-taking.
“No,” he yells. “Clouds!”
“Right!” I say, and turn back to my crouching.
And he and his dog move on.
I don’t for a minute believe he’s right about this being clouds, especially given that the ‘clouds’ are only over the lake, not the land. But there’s something in the way he shouts “Clouds!”, that tells me he’s not interested in my thoughts.
Evenso, his arrogance and lack of curiosity makes me more curious, makes me want to double-check my own certainty.
…you, sir, are not trying.
“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.” — Rachel Carson
But not everyone gets out, not everyone walks, not even along the pier. Most people don’t, in fact. They choose, instead, to sit in their cars. Most are alone, some eat, some read, others might be listening to music. (Surprisingly few appear to being staring at devices.) I suppose some talk, on the phone, to themselves. There’s a kind of unwritten code that you don’t look at someone in their car, that they’re here not to be seen, but for some other purpose, something private, if only to contemplate the universe in the shape of a seagull.
I try to follow the code but notice the man to my left smiles as he stares out his window. It’s a grey day, nowhere near sunrise or sunset and I wonder what he’s watching, thinking.
I wonder why he’s in this parking lot at almost noon on a Sunday. Is he a widower, a bachelor, recently tiffed and needing to get out of the house to cool off or is there a happy partner at home glazing a ham?
An Asian man walks past toward the pier. Grey hair, slightly stooped; something about the way he grimaces against an only slight and not very cold breeze, pleasure mixed with something else, reminds me of my dad who was at no time Asian.
But then our looks are always the least of things, and yet…
Maybe it’s this: maybe we’re simply here to watch each other, to catch a glimpse of something that’s real, to be reminded.