Day 131 in the time of coronavirus and the situation in Beirut remains dire. The death toll has risen to 154 and the number of injuries is up by a thousand to 5000. There is rioting in the streets too for people are angry at governmental negligence. They doubt there will be any meaningful attempt to address the weaknesses in the system that allowed the disaster to occur. I fervently hope that amongst the citizens who are suffering there is a sense of community and family to bind them, hold them, otherwise how do they go on.
These are difficult times. The pandemic runs like a low, deep rumble below the surface, putting people on edge. Where once we might have sailed through blips, small things can sometimes sideswipe us. Feeling uneasy myself I headed out to Karekare on Saturday to collect a small set of bookshelves and a collection of books on nature writing that I’d left behind following my residency last year. I’d fully intended collecting them on my return from a summer holiday in the south but it didn’t happen and then we went into lockdown. This past week though I have felt a deep urgency to gather in my treasures and regain more of my life.
It was like being reunited with old friends. I was mightily glad to see Sara Maitland and her "A Book of Silence" and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her "Gift from the Sea" too. Now I long to place them on shelves in my new home. The waiting has stretched out and still I am living adrift without my belongings. But soon, soon… Just a little more patience.
It was good to walk on the beach at Karekare with my friend, to take a route I’d walked almost every day for three months while on the residency and to feel again the natural world working its magic. As I emerged from the pohutukawa glade and took the path above the watery ponds I remembered the frogs last November and the tremendous din they had made, a sound so strange and unfamiliar it sounded like the speedway. Further along I remember coming upon a father and three teenagers also entranced by the performance. I didn’t know them but we stood quite still listening, mouths creased into smiles.
Always there is a lift when, at a turn on the path, the sea comes into view washing around the small island named Paratahi, the same as before and different. And then to draw near and hear the clash and sound of cymbals and to breathe in the ozone. I’m convinced the powerful force of huge waves breaking on the shore at Karekare creates a denser kind of ozone, one that goes straight to the brain and sharpens focus. The sea today was the purest white fondant, the wave tops fluffy.
This was the brilliance after the storm for the previous night had been a wild one according to my friend. By the time I wound down the ravine, passing under the vast pohutukawa that spans above the road, and emerged from the tunnel of native foliage into the green valley all was washed clean and glistening, leaves shining in the sunlight, bulbous trunks of the nikau projected in vivid lime. Beautiful.
When I got home I looked up my Karekare journal and found this excerpt. It began with a reference to John, the photographer who had also been in residence.
“I have to confess to a wish that sneaked into my head today, in response to John’s encounter with the gannet. Coming out to the beach I had wanted to find something for myself but Anne Morrow Lindberg writes in her small volume "A Gift from the Sea" that ocean treasures ‘must not by sought for.’ It doesn’t work that way, she writes. ‘The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient.’ Rather we must practice patience.
'Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach —waiting for a gift from the sea.'