There splashed about our ankles as we waded
Those intersecting wavelets morning-cold,
And sudden dark a patch of sky was shaded,
And sudden light, another patch would hold
The warmth of whirling atoms in a sun-shot
And underwater sandstorm green and gold.
from John Betjeman East Anglian Bathe
My usual view of the cliffs at Hunstanton is to walk out along the beach and turn to see the red striations as a backdrop - well behaved dogs or persistent kite-surfers in the fore. This morning, I turn left instead and pull myself on to a good ledge maybe 8 feet off the ground. I scrabble into a cross legged position, my bottom is stained red with the dust (there have been worse things). I sit and watch the waves.
I like it here tremendously. The wind is strong, the tide is coming in. I imagine that in all but the highest tide I could sit here, splashed and buffeted but essentially comfortable. This is the the kind of thing that a braver person would test out.
I have become invisible, seated here with my whiskey and notebook. I hear a young boy calling to his father on the beach and only when he is 6 feet from me does he jump down, half a step off balance. Neither of them had seen me.
A Norfolk constabulary vehicle comes down the beach. Am I violating common sense and local ordinance by sitting on the cliff? I have no intention of climbing, officer (I rehearse my defense). My flask is small, concealed and dignified... but there are empty beer bottles laying around and although they aren't mine will still require the right tone of indignation. The beach turns rocky just a bit further down, my Jedi mind tricks are powerful enough to sustain the illusion, and the constable goes back the way he came. Routine run, I'm not the droid he's looking for.
Bright lines of shells mark the sand. When I walked up to the ledge, my footsteps sank and were lost quickly in the wet sand. I stopped to take photographs and my shadow was a constant above the moving patterns of wind, water, sand. I lost a sense of horizon in some of the close up photos, and had to use my stick to catch myself before falling.
The hardened sand has captured the gestures and reactions of the earlier ebbing tide. The spent waves of the flowing tide create a veneer, the surface of the water is mottled with remnants of white froth settling over ridges that have formed in curved parallel, extending past the edge of my vision. Looking straight down between my feet, a shallow eighth of an inch of water moves in concentric circles, standing waves created by the wind, pushing in to a localised center. If I raise my eyes a fraction, but let the focus fall to a greater distance, this localised activity becomes a band of shimmering summation, a feather brush rushed across the waters surface.
Small lines, not yet waves, more like long strings shaken between two children, crossed over each other one lined up to catch the wind, the other floating on the rushing tide. The tide is pushing straight, the wind presses against the crests. The tops of the waves curl in on themselves about 50 yards out. These are close phenomena, before the breaking foam, where I can walk without my ankles getting wet.
In The Tuning of the World , R Murray Shafer quotes Thomas Mann ("The Magic Mountain") . The Strand refers to a beach, probably very similar to this one on the English North Sea.
"Day after day one walks along the strand, listening to the indolent splashing of the wavelets, gauging the gradual crescendo to the heavier treading and on to the organized warfare of the breakers. The mind must be slowed to catch the million transformations of the water, on sand, on shale, against driftwood, against the seawall. Each drop tinkles at a different pitch; each wave sets a different filtering on an inexhaustible supply of white noise. Some sounds are discrete, others continuous. In the sea, the two fuse in primordial unity. The rhythms of the sea are many; infrabiological - for the water changes pitch and timbre faster than the ear’s resolving power to catch it’s changes; biological - the waves rhyme with the patterns of heart and lung and the tides with night and day; and suprabiolgical- the eternal inextinguishable presence of water”
Sitting, listening, the ocean is mantra. I add one of my, comfortably perched on the ledge.
Appearance is flat. Above the sand and shells, I don't have the sense of waves breaking towards me but instead of discrete horizontal bands of activity. At the farthest distance, crests of waves are merged together so that they appear the same scale as the concentric ripples by my feet. Water rushes in from the North sea, along the Lincolnshire coast, until rubbing up against the square end of the Wash and rebounding down to hit the shore here by Hunstanton. A graceful sweep. Tomorrow morning, I will still see the tracks where the police car turned, a line that mirrors the current, answering my question how high the tide comes in on an evening.
I will have to lose the image of my ledge surrounded by the high tide while I sit, deep enough in to not worry about slipping even if I fell asleep, maybe chilled by an odd wave. Lights on offshore turbines, distance, trawlers. None of that, the water doesn't come in enough.
The sky moves in counterpoint to the waves and wavelets. The image rests flat behind a heavy pane of glass. A small flock of birds, passing notably above this plane, settle to the side. I think they are Egrets.
They are probably gulls, the only reason I say Egret is because I have a friend with a birdwatchers Day By Day picture calendar, and for the past few weeks has been heavy on the Egrets. The good ones, he sends me copies.