On Living, Dying and Exploring Beaches
― Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook
My favourite beach is usually the one I’m standing on, lying on, sitting on, swimming off, kayaking by or sailing past no matter where in the world I may be but truly, there is no best beach in the world. Beneath the most polluted and abused appearance, beneath that mangrove mud, despite those heel busting pebbles, all beaches are good, are beautiful as Tasmanians will testify about the beach that once held a lake but now lies drowned at the bottom of a dam.
I love their shapeshifting nature. I love the element of surprise a beach throws up, if not in an altered shape then by the unexpected flotsam and shells suddenly exposed. I love the intoxication of salty air suspended above crashing surf or still water in sheltered coves. There is nothing about a beach not to love except when the waves are at your ankles and the cliff at your back.
When the centre isn’t holding, when disintegration within, without, and all about fast forwards, a beach is a good place to go to elongate time, to contemplate the underpinnings of things, to return to what is real and simple and beautiful.
For a small island Tasmania has an abundance of beaches. I’d done my first walk for this blog before I discovered that Andrew Short had long ago realised this. He became acquainted with them in 1990 and 1996, walking them, measuring them, counting them. But they’ve changed. The sea is having its way with the dunes and there have been changes wrought by marram grass, recreation, marine farming – all sorts of human insistences and arrogances founded in ignorance.
Tasmania also has a plenitude of islands. There are the larger islands most Tasmanians know – Flinders, Cape Barren, King, Maria and Bruny – and then there the scatterings of island groups, most with a beach or two at the very least, but some rock alone with seal haul outs and seabird rookeries.
Long ago, long before I discovered Andrew Short’s work and his astounding figure of 1,269 beaches on mainland Tasmania (with a further 348 on a few selected others) I’d thought of creating a beach blog. I started taking pictures of the ones we were walking – Verona Sands, Half Moon Beach, Nutgrove, Cosy Corner – but this project quietly died before I’d even selected my blogging software – or stopped in disbelief before that daunting number – 1,269. That was a hapless, short lived effort and I hope this time I do a little better.
This week I attended a conference at Wrest Point Casino in Hobart. It’s built on Chaffey’s Point (aka Wrest Point) with beaches to the left of it and beaches to the right, the suburbs behind where once there were forests and behind the largely built up foothills the mountain, a reminder still of what the land closer to the river once was like. We talked about living and dying while engaging in creative pursuits while outside the Derwent flowed, the seagulls sat on rocks and watched it and our small yacht lay tethered to the marina rocking on that timeless water.
I like the notion of trying to live each day as though it’s your last but it can be hard to achieve. When it happens it can infuse a little intensity into life, a little like a threatening diagnosis can make life feel richer, poignant, and totally desirable at that point of potential loss, or conversely, how being fully immersed in a creative project illuminates a day and brings together apparently disparate events and objects. Beaches, rivers and the sea. I thought that if I knew the year was going to be my last then along with people and animals I would surely include books, boats, beaches and waterways.