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Wind, Sand, Sea

July 27, 2015

As far back as I can remember, my family has holidayed on the beaches of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve come to love their particular beauty and the smells associated with them—salt, seaweed, shellfish, conifers. To get the full effect, they need to be open ocean beaches, like the ones in Tofino or Massett or on the western shores of the Olympic Peninsula, so that when I stand on them, all I see is water. In a pinch, though, I’ll take the eastern side of Vancouver Island or even Vancouver, though it’s really not the same. Vancouver beaches look wrong. They’re too neat, too travelled, and of course, when you look over the water, you always see boats or buildings.

This is what a beach is supposed to look like:

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Note the key elements, and the order they come in: firs and cedars, driftwood so bleached and salt-crusted it looks nearly like bone, small wave-polished stones that crunch under foot and hiss and murmur when lapped by the ocean, mud flats firm enough to hold you and wet enough that your footprints fill in instantly, ocean, blanketing of fog.

But we’re missing something.

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Seaweed! Long ropes of kelp, plus deadman’s fingers, sea balloons, sugar wrack, and more. It smells not unlike salted compost, and the smell gets everywhere, especially at low tide.

And here’s what I mean about drift logs looking like bones.

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But there’s also animal life. Birds:

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So many shorebirds, but also crows and ravens, and gulls. The shorebirds rush in and out with the tide and flock upwards if you approach. The crows and ravens are more intent of scavenging shellfish and keeping an eye on you. The gulls are bastards. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see bald eagles. They’re also bastards, but beautiful ones.

Sand dollars:

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Usually found looking like this, or broken up. I’ve only seen them still in their skin a few times. It feels a little like a coarse brush, a little like sandpaper, and it’s purple. There are other shellfish too—mussels, oysters, moon snails, and of course, clams.

How you know you're on a clam beach

How you know you’re on a clam beach

Mussel and oyster shells sometimes keep the flaky black outer colouring. Everything else, like the driftwood, is bleached  over time. Snails end up more of a pinkish tan. Everything else turns white. These beaches have a limited palette.

Imagine walking over sand as smooth and shiny as a mirror, lungs filled by fog, wind whipping around you, chilling your ears and nose and fingers. Everything is grey and white. You can’t tell what’s sand, what’s sky, what’s water. All you can hear is water, either rattling through the shingles or crashing against the sand.

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When the waves recede, they leave foam…

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… and tide pools, and always, always a sense of distances to great to comprehend.

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When you straggle home, wet and cold, tired from walking on sand, hungry from the salt air, and you dump the sand from your shoes, socks, pants, and places you wouldn’t think sand could get, and you grumble over how you lost track of time and you were sure the car was closer, and all you want is a warm bath, it’s still worth it. Pacific beaches are magical.

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I need to write her a novel.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Harold Rhenisch permalink
    July 28, 2015 9:48 pm

    We should so sometime! Thanks for the beautiful post!

    • anassarhenisch permalink*
      July 28, 2015 9:55 pm

      We absolutely should. It’s been years!

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