At ease on this earth

September 22, 2016 § 4 Comments

Other people’s words about … beauty

I am haunted by waters. It may be that I’m too dry in myself, too English, or it may be simply that I’m susceptible to beauty, but I do not feel truly at ease on this earth unless there’s a river nearby.

from To the River
by Olivia Laing

Haunted by waters. Isn’t that a beautiful phrase?

Though the words I’ve quoted above are about a river rather than the sea, still, they ring true for me. For most of my adult life — except for the two or three years I spent in my early twenties, travelling and working abroad — I have chosen to live within walking distance of the sea. In my late twenties and thirties, as I’ve mentioned before, I lived in a series of share households: different houses every eighteen months or so, different housemates. But each of those houses was close to the sea.

These days, I divide my time between two homes. The houses themselves are roughly seventy kilometres apart — one north of Adelaide, one south — but they are both just a few minutes’ walk to the beach. Open a window in either of them, and you can hear waves rolling onto shore. Step onto the front porch, and you’ll smell seaweed drying out beyond the water’s reach — a damp, bleached, faintly rotten smell. Look around indoors, and you’ll see drifts of sand piling up in the corners.

The sea surrounds me. It’s how I make sense of things. It’s how I feel at ease.

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There’s another phrase I love in the words above: susceptible to beauty.

Like anyone else, I have good days and bad days. There are days when I feel at home, here on this earth: when my skin feels comfortable beneath the layers of my clothes, and the warmth of the sun feels kind and good. And there are days when the world seems vast, alien, spinning, remote. What gets me through those latter kinds of day are tiny moments of beauty, out there by the water: pinpricks of sunlight sparkling on the tips of waves, like sequins on a piece of cloth; clouds chasing across the horizon, billowing and grey; a cluster of yellow flowers growing in the dip of a dune, petals cupped to reflect the light.

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I took the photographs you see here late one August afternoon, just a few weeks ago. Sitting at my desk, working at my computer, I felt hemmed in suddenly: by streets and footpaths, by fences and cement driveways, by the sound of my neighbour hawking up sputum in his bathroom. The longing to get away from all of that was so strong it felt akin to starving. I felt hollow through and through.

I shut down my computer, stepped outside, and walked down the road to the sea.

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Five minutes later there I was, standing on the sand, looking out at the water and the sky. It was close to sunset and I wandered a while along the shore, released at last: from work and worry and words. And I saw something, then, that I don’t know how to describe, though I’ll try: I saw spring coming. The air had a certain quality to it — a softness, perhaps, after the steely bleakness of winter. I thought that if I reached out with my hand I might touch that beautiful softness. It seemed possible, just for a moment.

Looking at the photographs now, I don’t see what I did then. Perhaps you don’t, either. But I know that I saw it, all the same. It was one of those moments — those tiny moments of beauty — to which I, like Olivia Laing, am susceptible.

I am grateful for those moments, is what I’m trying to say. They give me a kind of gladness. They bring me home.

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§ 4 Responses to At ease on this earth

  • Eliza Waters says:

    Beautifully worded post, Rebecca. I hear every chord. I have to live near water, too, but in my case, it’s fresh water streams. I would love to live near the sea, but real estate there is astronomically priced.

    • Rebecca says:

      I feel so very lucky to live so close to the sea, Eliza, and to have found not just one but two (little!) houses in which to divide my days, before prices rose beyond our reach (one is more of a beach shack, but it’s still a home to me). Real estate prices by the coast remained ridiculously low in South Australia (because of our terrible economy) until the late 1990s, and then rose and rose and rose.
      We don’t have sea views — both are places are in streets that run perpendicular to the Esplanade, which runs parallel with the beach — but as I’ve said, we can walk to the beach in five minutes. It is an immense privilege.
      I do love the look of your land, though. I think I could get used to fresh-water streams! x

  • […] have quoted from Olivia Laing before, I know. Still, one day a week or so ago as I wandered through the scrub, I couldn’t help […]

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