to be a pilgrim
Graham R. Cooper
A few days ago we went on our annual winter pilgrimage to a small beach just south of the Timaru township. A place that’s significant to us because it’s where we go to collect seaweed for the vegetable garden.
The waves pounding its headland – the Patiti Point cliff edge – steal the land. Powerful coastal storms during the first half of 2017 sluiced away huge volumes of beach gravel from in front of the cliff, and subsequent storms have prevented any renewed build-up of the wave-buffering gravels. The erosion has continued at an ever more alarming rate. The Deerstalkers Club, losing land to the sea, had to be relocated to a site 500 metres further inland.
None of this is evident from the gritty-sanded beach we walk along to gather seaweed. The promontory has taken the full force of the waves, and presumably much sediment has built-up north of it along the coastline. I couldn’t help speculating as to whether the cliff’s loss and the consequent added buffer further north had been factored into a property developer’s gain: new houses on a low rise some fifty metres back from the sandy beach.
We parked across from one of the houses, in the small public carpark. Its floor to ceiling windows gazed out to sea; two flags on separate poles staked conflicting claims: land ownership, and the freedom of the open sea. A sou’west breeze fluttered the New Zealand flag, and what looked like a maritime signal flag. A metallic “clink, clink, clink” as halyard rings rhythmically tapped the metal flag poles, also tapped into the romance of masts, high seas, adventure.
Sea breeze, fluttering flags and a metallic clinking set the scene as we walked down to the beach and took in a seascape in stark contrast to the mountain landscape of home. I’m a landlubber: a beach, a brief swim and on rare occasions, a short boat trip, the limit of my longing for a personal acquaintance with the sea. My love of lake, river and sea is real but, for the most part, a vicarious experience.
While I’m elated to learn that the Giant Bladder Kelp we are stuffing into sacks grows in underwater forests, donning diving gear and getting in amongst it and a myriad other wonders of the deep doesn’t cross my mind.
Fear of the unknown has me retreating into my landlocked shell. To enrich my experience of waterways and the ways of water, I need to visit beaches, lakes, rivers and other places where water and land meet: to be a pilgrim who lets the power of those places work upon him.
That’s all from Little Owl Gully for this week. Next Monday I’ll tell you about getting the seaweed bagged up and brought home to spread on the vegetable garden.
Thanks for your company. Bye for now.