During the night the southerly gale raged; rain continued steadily until the small hours before becoming sporadic; squalls in darkness. The wind persisted, then, at 5:32 a.m. an earthquake jolted the house; hard and swift, as if the world had tried to kick me awake. It succeeded.
By dawn violent gusts had begun to boot the sky to bits, breaking the concrete-coloured layer into rough clouds. A listless sun mustered enough strength to wash a little colour over the clouds—salmon, mauve, a faint lilac, a muddy, weak yellow-brown, and behind it all the washed-out duck egg blue of clear sky. It didn’t last. The temperature continued to drop—on TV that evening I saw snow closing down the Desert Road—and by late morning the cold showers had returned. Once, I heard a soft rattle on the windows and looked up to see sleet driving in and sliding down the panes. I muffled myself in fleece and thick socks and fingerless gloves; I drank hot cups of tea; Ralph did his best to keep us both warm; but finally I could bear the cold no longer. I lit the fire in the late afternoon and Ralph relinquished my lap for the prime spot where he could toast his fur in the front of the imprisoned flames.
“Where are the eagles and the trumpets?
Buried beneath some snow-deep Alps.” 
After the southerly I rode again along the coast, out towards Pencarrow Head. Pedalling hard to heat up, squinting into the late sun, everything salted with the smell of fresh-thrown kelp. Feral goats browsed the gorse hillsides; a pair of oystercatchers fossicked just out of reach of waves that ran up the beach, stretching towards the wrinkled pink legs then retreating, hissing as they slid back down. The birds made short runs, stopped to look, probed among the stones. Along the shingle beach, blackbacks picked dying mussels from the wrack, lifted them high into the evening and dropped them to break and ooze on wet shingle. I stopped and watched; saw the moment of release—the beak opening, the black silhouette of the shellfish beginning its final arc, the long fall beneath beating wings.
“the rocks are rushing towards me
I am about to be dashed on my home
I have never known such speed
nor such solicitous wings
following my fall.” 
I watched the conclusion—the big gull, hard-eyed, picking at the limp flesh, shaking it hard to free it from its shell. The transfer of life: mussel becoming gull. Eventually the gull would become something else, perhaps those flies rising in dark clouds from the wrack where a few feathers still clung to desiccated tissue glued to the bones of a wing; perhaps voracious sea lice; perhaps the crabs waiting for high tide and the chance to creep and scuttle sideways and pull and tear, always alert for the shadow overhead. What might remain of the gull might dissolve into the sea, to be filtered by the mussel anchored for a while to ...
where I have breathed in
and breathed out
sucked and silently squirted” 
The ferries were sailing again. The Arahura slid up the harbour, a deep thrum resonating through the evening like the first hint of an approaching earthquake; the giant engines of orogeny. By now the world had turned, obscuring the sun; the shadow of the western hills crept up the bluffs and valleys behind me, another kind of encroaching tide. White goats, yellow gorse, ochre slipfaces. In the curve of a sheltered bay, small, widely separated waves flowed in, hardly more than long ripples, drained of physical energy but full of poise; a kind of elegance and grace in the way each ran along the surface of the sea, unbroken except where the near end touched shore and crumpled in a soft collapse of foam that followed the curve of the bay. As each wave passed, the almost iridescent colours of the reflected sky shimmered, heaved, then relaxed, waiting for the next long pulse.
“I think we come here so our words
can fail us, get humbled by the stones, drown,
be lost forever, then come back
as beach glass, polished and anonymous,
knowing everything.” 
I biked home into the twilight, into the cold, knowing everything and able to explain nothing.
Photo 1: Shoreline, Point Arthur, Eastbourne.
Photo 2: Coast near Pencarrow Head.
Photo 3: Feral billy, loc. cit.
Photo 4: Sea, rock, mussels. loc. cit.
Photo 5: Breaking wave, Point Arthur.
 T.S. Eliot, from A cooking egg. In: Collected Poems 1909–1962. London, Faber & Faber (1974). ISBN 0 571 05549 4.
 James Norcliffe, from Last confessions of a bivalve. In: A Kind of Kingdom. Wellington, Victoria University Press (1998). 128 pp. ISBN 0 86473 351 8.
 James Norcliffe, op cit.
 Don McKay, from Finger pointing at the moon. (Thanks to Matthew Hollet for pointing me to Don McKay’s poetry).
Photos and words (other than the quotes [1–4]) © 2006 Pete McGregor