When we weren’t flying in the forest, we were diving in the deep and floating on the foam … our homestead haven extended to nearby woodlands, wetlands, bushlands and beaches.
I didn’t realise it then, but nature was the salve to any stressors. It sustained our spirits and soothed our souls. It taught us endless lessons.
I remember the way of water the most – a cooling complement to the environmental heat and my inner fire. As an infant, I had learnt to swim alongside learning to walk, holding onto my Dad’s shoulders as he swam lengths.
Intrepid weekends were for wilding. The old gold ‘Opel Cadet’ would catch the light as we loaded up: paddleski, dinghy, cooler box, fishing rod, prawn pump and the usual beach gear. Destination: Pelican Island, a small islet that had serenely staked claim to a space between the concrete of the small craft harbour and the crash of Alkanstrand beach’s waves.
Flanked by a lagoon on one side, and flowing into a gentle tide on the other, you had to swim or paddle to reach it in those days. Its small central jungle of trees provided the perfect play area and respite from the midday heat, although you had to be mindful of the monkeys! Surrounded by driftwood and dead crabs, sparkling sand and screeching seagulls, we enjoyed being marvellously marooned for the day.
If fishing was on the agenda, we would pump the mud flats for prawns. The sucking and spitting sound of the makeshift pipe-pump was so satisfying. Then Dad would tie a rope from the back of his trusty old blue, fibre-glass-patched paddleski to our little orange dinghy. My brother and I would pile in and our beloved rescue dog would jump onto the front of Dad’s board for the journey across.
For added adventure, sometimes we would start at the estuary mouth, where crocodiles and hippos were known to roam. Any little bash on the bottom of the dinghy would cause much excitement. Our fishing rod lines would be trailing out the back as we slowed down to nature’s (and Dad’s paddle) pace.
Beach days at Alkanstrand were a different kind of wild: waves crashed the shore, dolosse divided the tide, and a little waterfall was to be found if you ventured beyond the yellow and red swimming flags. Dad would run his stretch of sand and we would adventure along behind. A mini mangrove, she revealed some of her shoreline secrets each visit; her humble trickle a treat every time. We would build dams in an attempt to slow her flow; hinder her journey to the vast salty horizon.
I can still conjure the memories of opening to the ocean. I loved to feel her freedom and force, to tumble in her turbulent waves. It was all about surrender: just when I thought I might run out of air, I found myself at the surface. And as much as she could thrash and crash, by diving deep – beneath the visible display – it was possible to find yourself in the most silent water-world.
I would close my eyes, fill my lungs, dive down, and feel my belly touch the sand. I would enjoy being suspended in this space, praying in this place, before bursting up behind the wave I had chosen to experience at its foundation rather than its foam.
The beautiful thing about water is that it continues to flow, it can shape shift, and it simply moves around any obstacles. It’s power and purpose lies in the fact that it can be both strong and soft, on the earth and in the ether … just like me.