No strain…. no pain…. just easing effortlessly not so much on the breeze as part of it; and she was enjoying herself. She knew I was watching and she revelled in it, fully aware that my envy had turned to awe at her skill, her freedom to harness the forces of nature and her instinct to bend them to her own use.
Normally she would just have hovered and hung on some invisible cord, alert to the tide as it ebbed from the sands and watched in that archetypal hawkish-eyed way for the floundering fish, the ruminating rodent, the meandering mollusc or some other tittilatingly tasty alliterative target that would feed her and her family.
This was nature;
THIS was nature; and when she swooped although I couldn’t see what had baited her aim, I wondered what unsuspecting prey’s was in for a nasty shock. But not this time!! I had forgotten or perhaps had not fully believed that this performance was not about the food-chain, survival of the fittest or even nature’s imperative.
This was just for me!
This was the Bolshoi at play; this was the Cossack in his own village; for me (pathetic and sad as it may seem) it was also Agnes Smith or Helen Rafferty at St Patrick’s hall having denied me a dance, flicking their hair and strutting their stuff with some other nerd, all of them knowing I was looking, knowing I was watching and knowing that I was jealous; this was a performance with no purpose other than for her to show off and me to admire or even covet.
(As for the apparent dissy I got at St Pat’s by the way, I won or at least I will win in the end. I WILL forget about them both without any regret and I hope they realises that! In fact I don’t even care if they aren’t aware of just what a prize they missed, tomorrow I won’t even remember their second names! That’ll teach them!)
No flap of the wing, no rush to gain height, just catch a thermal here and there and with the ease and knees of the downhill skier, steering the turns and slopes and gradients, using them to keep her speed and direction. So the sea-hawk caught the up-draughts, the down-draughts and the cross gusts to stay where she pleased, go where she wished and all the time to stay in the focus of my vision as effortlessly she did what came naturally…… and man thinks he can fly!
We’ve taken 3 million years to even unpick one strand of the magic that the nestling of these magnificent creatures master in a few short weeks.
And then she was gone; not totally, just from my sight as like the dog-fighters of the past she flew into the sun knowing that I could not follow her.
She had entranced me and as I turned away from the blinding light, I was suddenly aware that I was back on a beach walking in the direction I had originally come. I had run the opposite way earlier and as I retraced my steps in the solitude and silence I smiled at the antics of the big bird.
My eyes caught the imprints of my patterned soles in the sand. The lines left were almost fern like, almost fossil like yet fresh enough for me to still hear my feet crushing the millions of bright white shell fragments as I had jogged along the water’s edge.
It was mid-afternoon and the temperature was still in the low 30’s.
The sea had ebbed so far into the distance that the intervening sands appeared more desert than beach, and the distant shimmering of the water made a good pretence at being no more than a mirage, something that a ragged trousered destitute might desperately imagine as he clambered over the last sand dune, his hands and feet racing against the disappearing solidity beneath his desperate clawing.
I had found the beach by accident and even now it appears in my memory like a sworn secret from a best pal, never to be broken under pain of him never talking to me again.
Turning right on the A1 not long after Townsville, I had been looking for a stretch of sand where I could park up and go for a run. That would have done me and allowed me to recharge my batteries both physical and personal. Sometimes God just says “Ok, today’s your day.”
Unpromising at first since I couldn’t actually see any beach but could smell the freedom, I foraged through some broken shrubbery and probably seen the same view that had been there for as many years as the sea has had tides. The water-line had apparently receded and as the long stretches of sun-drying sand filled the vista, so the flotsam and jetsam of trees and branches appeared like thirst dried carcasses of beasts of the desert hit by a sudden drought. Buffalo, camels, cattle and a variety of different beasts were represented by the gnarled, white, salt dried, hollowed remains of the stranded trunks that littered the shore. It didn’t take much to narrow the eyes and hear the dying breaths and screams as the animals strained every sinew to reach the salvation of the green and nourishing hinterland. Alas all in vain and alas only my imagination.
And there out beyond the edge of the other side of the ocean lay the dark palm islands sitting hazily in the rising evaporation like Conan Doyle’s lost world. Perhaps the stranded carcasses had not been desperately seeking the safety of the land, perhaps they had been fleeing an even worse and terrible fate that lay in wait for the unsuspecting adventurers, at the top of those von Karajan like peaks. Perhaps when the sun was going down and casting the shadow of the mainland across the intervening water, a roar would echo back to the watchers on the beach and whoever or whatever ruled that dominion once more would send its message of fear and victory to those who had the short-lived false victory of escape.
As they had dived into the reef waters and started their journey, perhaps they had failed to notice the change in blue to green lending the sea an hint of a mystery that lay undiscovered just below the surface; perhaps in the deepest trenches where no one had looked before the fleeing were dragged into the bosom of the waves and held there until tiredness left them with nowhere to go but to expire on the deserted tide-less beach so far from danger, so near salvation yet powerless to go forward or back.
And there amongst my scrambled imagination was my trainer impression. One that if by some cataclysm another meteorite was to crash into the earth and cloud the sun with a billion tons of ash, some future day evolutionary branch of life would come along and wonder what strange genetic mutation of the past had feet or appendages with such an even stranger form.
I followed my footsteps back to where they stopped at the base of the rocks lining part of the shoreline. The most marvellously red rocks I had ever seen which I assume was some form of Copper deposit, but there again it could have been anything and was mixed with a kaleidoscope of other colours – a geologists dream.
The waters had receded even further now and as I strolled to the edge of the world, I looked back and there was the perfect ice cream sundae. The fudge of the beach, topped by the raspberry rocks, coated in the lush green mint choc chip of the land’s greenery and surrounded by a blue of the sky that only comes second to the azure of the Virgin Mary’s habit.
And then as I retraced my steps back to my travelling home, the sun behind me, a shadow as large as an archaeopteryx appeared at first surrounding me and blocking out the sun, then getting ahead of me silently kissing the sands and hovering, teasing me to turn, shade my eyes and see her.
She hovered there following my steps silently and then as I turned up the beach undergrowrh, she must have lowered a wing and like the sailor tacking to use the prevailing wind she appeared for one brief swoop and hover, and then that magical creature jetted off to do the things that she really needed to do, her point proven beyond all doubt!
What a beach! What a discovery, what peace and serenity. What a find.
I shouldn’t publicise it. After all it is a secret. But if you listen closely you’ll hear the waves returning and they’ll whisper to you just once….Toomulla Bay.