I walked along the path to Jacks Beach from Hastings this morning with the sun out and the frogs in full voice. I stopped for a bit, took a couple of photos, and recorded some audio. Take a moment to listen if you like. If you’re interested in doing the walk, here’s more details
A beautiful morning with a south-easterly blowing offshore. At the the point, just south of Fishermans Beach, watching Gannet diving for fish. White against the steel blue sea, they disappear into the sky as they edge against the wind and then come full into focus again with their white bodies just before the plunge.
They were a fair way out but it was nice to see them and I watched for a long time.
I’ve been thinking a bit lately about my relationship with the sea, and why I haven’t written more about that, in an overt way. The sea, and its associations, imagery and sensations, is in a lot of my poetry, but I’ve rarely written specifically about what it means to me to live near a vast body of water.
I live on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne, Australia, a beautiful place that sits between two bays; the vast dish of Port Phillip Bay, locked in with a narrow and dangerous entrance with Melbourne at its head and the narrower, more tidal, Western Port Bay with its mangroves and reefs that are open to the south-west swells from Bass Strait and where I spent a lot of time surfing.
I’ll often say something off-hand like I couldn’t live away from the water, but I think I really mean it, but what does it mean to be near the water like this? It is something more than the ease and convenience of being near the sea that’s happening here? I remember reading one writer (Roger Deakin?) pondering what difference it might make for a person in England growing up on a chalk landscape like the South Downs, as distinct from a place of limestone or something else.
The philosopher Denis Dutton has argued in Aesthetics and Evolutionary Psychology that people around the world have an intrinsic appreciation for a certain type of landscape — a grassy field with copses of trees, water and wildlife — because it resembles the Pleistocene savannas where humans first evolved:
Beyond a liking for savannahs, there is a general preference for landscapes with water; a variety of open and wooded space (indicating places to hide and places for game to hide); trees that fork near the ground (provide escape possibilities) with fruiting potential a metre or two from the ground; vistas that recede in the distance, including a path or river that bends out of view but invites exploration; the direct presence or implication of game animals; and variegated cloud patterns.
I’m not sure this explains the sea, or dangerous places like mountains, that are fundamental to some people.
A while ago I was reading the harrowing accounts of the carnage of war in John Keegan’s The Face of Battle while on holiday in the beautiful landscape of Augusta, by the sea, in Western Australia. The contrast between the two worlds: the evoked horrors of the Somme in World War I and the sheltered estuary I was reading in, full of sea birds, big light-filled sky and reflected calm, could not have been more profound. After reading of the terrible realities of war it was physically calming and somehow restorative to walk out into the light and the sounds of the ocean.
This weekend I walked beside both bays on sunny winter mornings. At Mt Martha, Balcombe Creek was over-brimming after the rain last week and about to spill into Port Phillip Bay. At Somers, on Western Port Bay the next day, Merricks Creek was flowing clear and cold into the milky sea.
Does any of this explain what the sea means? Or what it means to live beside the sea and not beside a great river or a mountain? Not really. Except that it does mean something and does matter, somehow.
I was delighted to learn this week that my short poem At the Edge has been selected for inclusion in the Love the Words annual e-anthology, a celebration of the power of words and the work of Dylan Thomas published in Wales for International Dylan Thomas Day published by Infinity Books UK
They write: ‘Every year, ‘Love the Words’ (a quote from Dylan Thomas) asks for contributions to its annual poetry competition as part of International Dylan Thomas Day, 14 May. This year, writers around the world were asked to pen a poem on the theme of ‘water’, inspired by Dylan’s name – which means ‘son of the sea’ – as well as by his seaside, childhood home in Swansea, and his estuary home, and famous writing shed, in Laugharne. Writers were free, in this year’s contest, to interpret ‘water’ in any way they wished, and to write in any form. There were, once again, poems and entries from all around the globe, with over 400 entries received. It was a very hard job to whittle this down, but we did, to roughly 50 poems – a record number for our anthology this year! – and, this time around, we found it too difficult to choose single winners and would like, instead, everyone included here to be able to say that they ‘won’ the competition. We only wish we could publish all 400+ poems! We’re incredibly grateful to all of you who entered; the standard of writing this time was impeccable; and we hope you enjoy this year’s resulting anthology, which demonstrates, we hope, our shared wish to always, and forever, ‘love the words’. It’s what Dylan would have wanted, we feel, and we’re very, very grateful to everyone who shared their words with us.’
I’ve written before here about the importance of Dylan Thomas in my early reading and writing, in Remembering Dylan Thomas (2014) and The Dylan Thomas Collection (2005), so it was particularly pleasing to be part of an anthology of poetry inspired by him.
‘A thoughtful, sometimes melancholy book as the author finds solace from the stress of life in visiting and re-visiting some ancient oak trees. It is always alert and sensitive, and links to both science and mythology about these trees as well as some extended conversations with experts of various kinds, but there’s a little too much strain in the ‘awe’, ‘wonder’ and ‘glee’ for me as the writer climbs deeper and deeper into his woody meditations.’
I should have added that it DID have the effect I like, even when I sometimes haven’t loved the book, that it drew me out into the world and to re-visit some local oaks in The Briars near my house. So, it was worth reading after all.
Above: one of the oaks near my house. (Photo: Warrick)
I was lucky enough to visit Walden Pond on a trip to the USA over ten years ago now, in a time when travelling overseas seemed a normal thing that one might aspire to. It was a pilgrimage of place, to the place that inspired Thoreau in his life and writing.
You can read a bit more about that trip on my earlier post HERE
I was reminded of all this by this short film I came across, just called Walden, a Ewers Brothers Production with input from Ken Burns and narrated by Robert Redford. I enjoyed it on a rainy late winter morning. You might too.