Dawn, and the line of light on the horizon gleams a salmon colour, a thin strip between the great plane of the silver sea and the grey clouds. Higher in the sky, a little of that colour echoes the line on the horizon. The rest of the camp sleeps on, silent, unaware. Twenty minutes later the colour's faded to pale yellow with a trace of bleached brown and the clouds have lost that beautiful, subtle shading, becoming a dirty grey bordering on black, with no apparent pattern. But the sea still gleams, and the camp sleeps on.
The waves here break twice. Out at sea the swell rises, mounts into a luminous green wall then curls over and crashes down in a welter of white. The remains of the wave rush towards shore then begin to rise again,swelling for a second time into a wall that crashes down before racing up the beach. Perhaps the sea bed has some particular shape — maybe a kind of sand and shingle stationary wave — that causes this. Perhaps the waves here echo what lies beneath them, the way the present can echo the past or presage the future.
A bright green scallop shell mould lies on the beach, left behind, presumably, by a family with at least one small child. I make two scallop shells from damp sand, leaving them to dry and crumble in the sun and wind, and I place the mould above the high-water mark. With luck, other visitors to the beach will do the same, leaving small, impermanent records of their visits and leaving the mould behind. I wonder how many generations of this cycle will happen before someone's acquisitiveness brings it to an end.
After supper Anne-Marie goes for a walk around the village and I set off alone for the Cove of Giants. Perhaps because I'm alone, or perhaps for some other reason I don't understand, the small cove feels eerie — wilder than Driftwood Cove and less welcoming but also fascinating, with a greater sense of possibility: the feeling that one might find something extraordinary cast up among the rocks or half buried along the strand line. A great pine log, bleached pale grey, lies propped up and resembling an enormous cannon pointing out to sea. I walk partway up it, enjoying the balancing act, and stop where I can look down into a narrow gap between the log and the rocks. The sea rushes in beneath me, backlighting the gap, and there in the narrow space the silhouettes of several large Leptograpsus shuffle and creep, move a few scrabbling steps and stop, then move again. They look like something in a scene from Alien.
Teasel, that peculiar, distinctive plant, flowers above the high-water mark; a red jandal faded to pink lies warped among pale stones. The giant tree still lies on the shore, more bleached than when we last saw it but still resisting the sea, the storms, the scouring sand. Its branches reach out as if appealing to the evening sky. White bones of a seabird lie on a rock and, nearby, more, with the matted remains of feathers. The evening breeze slides over my skin, cicadas and black field crickets sing in the grass between the beach and the looming cliffs and, out at sea, a gannet cruises south. In the whole darkening world, there's no other human to be seen.
With the Mission Vineyards concert on in Napier in the evening, the camp's almost full. All the cabins are occupied and numerous tents interrupt the once-unimpeded view. Kids scream and yell, get lost, hurt themselves and bawl. Yesterday afternoon a large, dark green, excessively-polished Holden throbbed its way up the drive, circled and parked by one of the expensive cabins, and this morning we find a bulky Landcruiser Prado parked in front of our little one-room cabin: "3400 V6 Quad Cam" the beast says. It might as well have simply said "Notice my status". One can almost sense the tension between it and the Holden: the air beginning to reek with the smell of vehicular testosterone.
But when I step outside this morning into the warm dawn on the last day, no one else has woken, no one else has risen to see the spectacular light and colours over the sea and on the Nor'west clouds glowing above the valley. All the tents are zipped, the cabin curtains closed, the dusty driveway occupied only by a few sparrows — the birds are always the first up — and a dead rat, belly up, presumably a victim of the poison under every cabin.
The solitude doesn't last. Soon the kids begin to prowl, whispering at first, then talking, and so the quiet time ends. Not that they're all noisy, though: a girl, almost a teenager and wearing a T-shirt that says, "I kissed a vampire and I liked it", sits on a large rock in the sun and reads a book. Probably a book about vampires — the Twilight kind of vampires, that is — although I'm just guessing. But I doubt it was about Heidegger's concept of the uncanny; sadly, I also doubt it was anything about the real, non-vampire life living along the shores of Aotearoa.
However, at least it was a real book. In Napier I'd picked up Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting With Jesus; late in the book he comments on research showing how TV subdues the left side of the brain and stimulates the right (an oversimplified but useful shorthand for saying it discourages critical, analytical thinking and encourages emotional responses). Reading that, I wondered: perhaps one of the major advantages of the written word over TV, radio and other auditory/visual methods of communication is that when reading it's easy to stop and think but when watching TV it's much harder to do that. The same might be said of podcasts and videos, although it's possible in theory to pause those. But really: how often do you pause a video partway through, to think about what's been presented? In practice, pausing a video differs so greatly from the simple act of looking up from a page of writing to mull something over that listening/watching and reading amount to two utterly different forms of communication. Thus, even if my guess about the nature of vampire-girl's book was right, and the intent of the book was entirely to appeal to the emotions, at least she had the opportunity to think about what she was reading.
Our time at Flounder Bay has almost come to an end. Or has it? When does a journey end? And when does a journey begin? Suppose your journey involves travel overseas — to India and Nepal for five months, say, then two months in Africa, then brief stop-overs in the UK and France to visit friends on the way home (that nebulous concept that can be pinned down only by the trenchantly dogmatic). Does the journey begin when you close the door and turn the key for the last time for seven and a half months? Or does it begin when you step onto the plane, or when (looking the other way) you book your flights? What about when you first start planning when and where you'll go, or even when you get that first restless urge to move away from mundane life with its relatively regular and predictable (although not necessarily boring) pattern — that sense that there's more to this life than more of the same, and less of this life in which the opportunity to travel still remains?
1. Cushion star: Patiriella sp., one of the most common starfish along the coast of Aotearoa.
2. Snakeskin chiton: Sypharochiton pelliserpentis. Abundant along our rocky coasts.
3.. "They look like something in a scene from Alien": later, the comparison strikes me as ironic — the real world compared to the fictitious, and that particular fiction drawing inspiration from the real world where parasitoids lay eggs in living creatures from which they later emerge. Life imitating art imitating life, I suppose.
1. Shell fragment at Driftwood Cove.
2. The edge of the sea at the Cove of Giants.
3. Writer in the redwood grove.
4. Redwood leaf on redwood leaves.
5. The Pink Jandal.
6. Beached pine at the Cove of Giants.
7. Recycling in the redwood grove.