step back

Few things are as possible as beaches. Nothing to do and everywhere to go. That's why we build things in places like this. Castles, lewd messages, circles of shell, witchy trappings of driftwood and, of course, holes.

witch sticks on a distant beach

I often find beaches melancholy. Feels like you've reached the end of something more than just land. When you get there, it's like they're saying 'What now?' or 'Where to next?' The sea's there to remind you of infinite directions, but it's also a solid wall.

You come across this wall of the sea all over the world. Last night I went walking down Marine Parade, enjoying the evening lights in the moody spray. Beachgoers are warned not to enter the water here, no matter how strong you think you are.

There's a fierce rip and just offshore the land drops steeply away. The line is so sheer that waves you think will swallow half the beach with their yawn end up crashing only a few feet high, the breakwater shallow but fierce, churning up tiny black pebbles, bubbles of lead shot, before gravity turns it all back upon itself. You only need to watch for a few moments to know it would be difficult to get out, like crawling from a cauldron.

Some go to the coast for renewal and rebirth. Some go to the coast to recycle. Some go to the coast to live, not just to visit. The line between visitor and resident can blur for some people. For others, the distinction couldn't be any clearer.

island off the island

On our last evening here we chose to stay close to the water's edge rather than climb the bluff and look out over the bay. I've always preferred the purple distance of moon and mountain, rather than the difficult detail of near tide, but we looked on the dangerous waves from an unusual position, making them, in that shared moment, more captivating than any far horizon that retreats with each successive hill.

On Napier's waterfront, an elevated walkway has been built above the shingle, designed to stop right at the point where beach and ocean meet. This allows you to look at the line of breaking surf from above, as well as gazing directly along it in both directions, as if you were a drone capturing the repeating impact of two colliding armies.

Due to the steep angle of the beach, the surf struggles to gain a foothold for longer than a few moments at a time. It shows itself by a cover of confident froth that then thins and stretches itself back. As it thins, dark patches of stubborn shore reappear, and there are a few seconds where the stretched patterns of the white water form a warped constellation, bringing to mind innumerable particles and innumerable stars, or the clawed, tidal hands of the reaper, pulling ever seawards. There is a small death every time a wave reaches its pebbled grave.

Waimarama / Napier 161222