I look at a beach and see a stage. A stage with never-ending, always changing scenes. Dramas are played out until the tide, like a massive moving curtain, descends and writes, ‘The End’.
But, it never is the end for the curtain rises again just as it has since time immemorial and drama resumes its rightful place. The ever continuing tussle between life and death takes centre stage while on stage right and left more mundane plays are acted out as the many creatures that make the sand their home as the tide sits above them, begin their housekeeping. Some, such as the sand bubbler crabs, inadvertently produce transitory artistic works as they toss their waste sand balls onto the beach.
Just as in a theatre, props play a part on our sandy stage. Stuff tossed or lost overboard from boats finally ends up at the high water mark while scattered across the stage lies seaweed ripped from the ocean floor during a violent storm. Here also are fish or seabirds whose lives have run their course from old age or wounds or, worst of all, from the disregard of man who dumps fuel oil into the sea, apparently unmoved by the plight of the birds who become coated with the stuff.
My obsession for walking beaches had begun as a boy on holiday in North Wales. Whatever the weather, my parents did not believe in sitting in the holiday home; this was holiday time which meant the beach and never mind the rain.
And, what better way of encouraging children to walk a beach in the rain than to suggest that they may find something exciting? “You never know what you might find,” said my mother encouragingly. “There might be a message in a bottle from half way round the world. Wouldn’t that be exciting!”
To a boy, of course, this was a magical invitation to gather widely. I remember dragging a fine specimen of seaweed for several miles to where we were staying as someone had told me that it would help forecast the weather. If it was damp, it would rain and if dry then it would be fine. The trouble was that after a couple of days it began to smell and if it was damp, it was raining!
As far as messages in bottles were concerned, the only one I found was from a holiday maker in the next bay. And that coconut husk which I fondly imagined had come from some South Sea island had, in all probability, been tossed overboard from a ship just off the coast.
Would that I had a camera in those days. I would now have a picture of a sea mine, a relic of World War II, which had washed up on a Devon beach instead of just a rusty spine from that lethal weapon (fortunately made safe before I came across it) buried somewhere in my garage in a dusty box.
Now, umpteen decades later, I still thrill to walking a beach albeit on the other side of the world. But now I do not drag seaweed home, nor do I fill a bucket with seashells. I photograph them; my camera my constant companion on my meanderings.
I do make some exceptions, however, and I have on my desk, an unusual stone which appears quite porous and which has a hole right through it, fortuitously, just the right size to hold a pen. And, scattered on various shelves are bits of driftwood worn smooth by the sea’s action.
I like walking a beach whether it is a gentle stroll on a hot sunny day or a bracing walk during a storm. On nature’s stage you never know what you might find.