Simultaneously, it occurred to me (also not for the first time) that I am a very, very lucky woman.
I was on my favourite beach. It was nearing twilight on a day that had been cold and rainy, but burst forth with a brief blast of sun just as the day was winding down. That momentary flash of warmth was enough to send me flying for an end-of-day run.
Of course, when I got to the shore, it was grey and misty, and a wicked wind was openly pummeling the coastline without reserve, buffeting my poor little ragtop like a poorly-set sail. A weaker person than myself might have turned around and driven home. But I had just rediscovered ‘my’ beach after missing out on it last year due to an injury involving broken bones and a couple of surgeries, and I was determined not to let a moment of summer pass me by this year.
Resolute, I wrapped myself in a sweater and set out.
This particular beach and I have a long history. When I was a little girl, my parents used to bring me here. For some reason, although the place is often bright, clear and sunny now, every memory I have of it from back then is the way it was today – foggy, cold, windy. My mother would goad me, insisting that I join her in the icy waves (for some reason, my father was exempt – he was permitted to remain onshore, dry and warm). Even at such a young age, I was made to feel it would be an unforgivable loss of face to opt out, although the water was so frigid I would feel it in my bones for hours afterwards. My mother took hours to tire, laughing as she jumped in the swells and bodysurfed on the breakers, and it was unthinkable that I should go in before she was ready.
I remember sitting afterward, wrapped in a blanket, teeth chattering as I tried to regain sustenance from the bread and cheese we’d brought with us, my long bedraggled hair draped over my shoulders like seaweed. That half-painful, half-blissful sensation of the feeling returning to numbed limbs, the heavy drowsiness that set in before the drive home.
As I got older, I stopped going to the beach with my parents. Childhood turned into teenage-hood and now the beach took on a new significance. It was a place far from the interference of adults – a place where bonfires were lit, beer drunk, and youthful bonding took place. The beach became a place I saw only at night, lit by the headlights of cars and the tips of cigarettes (or other smokables). The water became a mere backdrop for our furniture of driftwood logs and stone fire pits. The roar of the surf and the cover of the night lent this place I knew so well from my childhood a new air of mystique and perhaps even a little danger. Nature in its rawest form meeting with youth in its rawest form.
Then I grew up and moved away. But somehow, perhaps due to being born so close to the sea – or maybe because of my early indoctrination – I found I sought out similar places. A boyfriend and I discovered another beach that felt a little like this one, on another part of the coast. It had a similar rustic feel, the same untouched beauty, the same wild roses that tossed their scent on the salt air, the same kelp-strewn sand on its long-reaching arc that disappeared into the horizon. We would take picnics, brie and baguette – I realize now, my own version of the aged cheddar and crusty rolls my mother would pack – and we would nap in the sun on the handwoven Mexican blankets we spread in the shelter of the dunes (this was before the population of such areas made the protection of them necessary – we were careful to avoid disturbing any residents). In fact, there were times we would spend entire days in the sun there and not encounter another person. We even made love there a few times, quietly and sleepily after a long day of running and swimming, on our brown wool blanket.
More time went by, and desperate to see ‘the world’, I took off on a road trip across the country, fully expecting to be blown away by the rest of it.
And while this is a land full of marvels, Canada, it took seeing the rest of it and coming home to recognize the beauty I so took for granted here.
Today, walking on this beach that I’ve rediscovered, I realized that I live in the most beautiful place in the world. Yes, there are tropical isles where the sky is always blue and the waters are clear, and there are waterfalls, and flowers the size of your head…but I get high from the unpredictability of our wild North Atlantic coast. I love that my beach has moods of its very own. I love that some days the sand is completely covered in organic rubbish spewed up from the bottom of the ocean, rotting and swarming with tiny sand flies; other days, it is jellyfish, as far as the eye can see. But those days are rare. And those days make the rest of the days – the ones where the sand is pure and perfect, where the sun shines hard and hot and makes you want to merge body and soul with the crisp green seafoam – that much more delicious.
Ironically, this beach has also now become a place of bonding for my father and I. That’s right – he has finally entered the water, too. Years ago, he took up windsurfing – became completely smitten and is now teaching the art to me. Like when I was a child and he patiently taught me to ride a bicycle, a motorcycle, and later, to drive a car, he now patiently (and excitedly, when he watches me successfully perform a tricky maneuver) watches me learn this new form of transportation. We leave the beach sunburnt and exhausted, but exhilarated at the end of the day.
As I ran tonight on that beach – ‘my’ beach – I did a full turn as I ran, and saw that I was alone. Not a soul as far as the eye could see, except the gulls scouring the shore for crabs and clams to smash open on the rocks. These are my favourite times here.
The fog was hanging heavy, and between the surf and the wind, I realized I could have sung at the top of my lungs and barely be heard, even by myself. The wind was so fierce that I was able to spread my arms wide and lean into it, give myself up to it, without falling over. The wind took the laughter away as quickly as I created it.
A lot of time has passed since I began going to that beach. I haven’t followed the path that most of my friends and acquaintances did – that one involving marriage and kids and the suburbs. I didn’t want to (remember, I started this story by telling you I was selfish.) In that time, I’ve followed most of my whims – a luxury I realize very few people have. And now, I am able to afford myself the decadence of my daily dose of negative ions, spending time getting strong and getting to know myself as I suspect few are permitted due to the constant background noise of life. As I watched a seagull maneuver itself into the wind to navigate a landing in such ferocious conditions, I recognized the technique I perform myself as a skydiver, and my chest swelled as I remembered how lucky I am to have been given this particular life, the freedom and the opportunities. I thought of the people who will never know what it is to see the ocean, to surf on the waves, to experience flight. I spread my arms to the wind again, my hand-painted batik scarf (a gift from a boy I once knew, who helped nurture this freedom of spirit I now enjoy) whipping around my head, and I smiled a thanks to the universe for bringing me back here.
Is it still selfish if you are grateful with every ounce of your soul?