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My Solitudes : Chapter Twelve : Seacoast in Spring : Excerpts

I am early for my ‘appointment’ with the sea today. Because the trip from my home to this beach involves so many different trains and buses, it is next to impossible to work out an efficient timetable for the journey, and I no longer even try to do so. I just make a note of the time I would like to arrive, and leave the house about four hours before that. This may turn out to be an accurate estimate, but sometimes, if the connections are very unlucky, it may actually take as much as five hours. Today though, the fairy godmother of train journeys has been kind to me; I never waited more than a few minutes at any of the transfer stations, and two of the trains turned out to be expresses. It has taken no more than three hours, ‘door to tent’, surely a new record for the trip. For the first time ever, I am arriving here before lunch! How will I use this extra ‘bonus’ time? That’s easy to answer: doing nothing!

For the last half-hour or so of the journey I have been able to see the sea from the bus window, and the water appears very calm today. There is no wind to speak of, and I have seen no waves rolling up against the shore. This suits me fine; I’ve seen stormy weather down here, and I’m quite happy to learn what a calm day is like in comparison.

When I finally reach the beach itself, I see though, that it won’t be a completely ‘dead calm’ day - there is a light breeze blowing in from the water - but the sea is indeed very smooth compared to all my previous visits. Without the constant swooshing sound of the water sliding up the sand, it almost doesn’t feel like the seaside; it’s so quiet!

I dump my pack by the rocks at the north end of the beach, near the entrance path, and take a look around. The first thing I notice is that the tide is very far out. This is a puzzle, because according to the tide tables I checked before leaving this morning, high tide today comes just before noon, and the low won’t be until around nightfall this evening. The water is supposed to be at its highest point just about now, but there it is, out farther than I have ever seen it. I must have looked at the table for the wrong date somehow. Well, it can’t be helped; at least it’ll be interesting to see when and how far it comes up as the afternoon goes on.

Because the water is so low, there are many rocks exposed that I haven’t seen before. Even quite far out from the shore - an area that I had thought was open ocean - there are many rocks poking out of the water, and I can now understand why I have never seen boats of any kind coming into this cove. It must be very dangerous indeed, and the fishing boats always keep well clear of this area, passing by back and forth quite a long way out to sea. I can see also, that I am going to have fun on this trip, exploring the ‘new’ area of shallow rock pools that is now exposed.

When I look down the length of the cove itself, I am surprised to see that the basic shape of the beach has changed since my previous visit. It is still a crescent shape of course, curving down to the headland at the south end, but where before the whole cove was a gentle slope of clear sand from end to end and from the base of the cliffs to the water, a wide area of it is now a rough expanse of gravel and rock, sloping quite steeply to the sea. What has happened? I can’t imagine that construction companies have been here to steal all the sand; it must have been winter storms. This is a major change. The pleasant beach area where I sat and swam on my very first visit here has been almost completely washed away.

Is this perhaps a seasonal variation? Does this happen annually - the sand slowly building up through the year, then being swept away in winter? The more I think about it, I suspect that this is not the case, and that an exceptional storm must have caused this damage, as I don’t see how this could possibly be repaired and get back to normal before summer arrives in a few months. But of course these words I am using - ‘normal’, ‘repaired’ - betray my rather selfish viewpoint on this. I suppose this change is a completely natural processes, and that the sand on this beach comes and goes as the weather patterns dictate. It might be that it will take a decade to rebuild the beautiful beach that I enjoyed here on my previous visits. Well, it can’t be helped, and who knows, after I’ve got my camp set up and have had lunch, perhaps there will be plenty of things to see on this ‘new’ beach when I go exploring down there.


Taking half of one of the sandwiches and a big mug of hot coffee prepared on the stove, I head over to the area at the north end of the cove where the jumbled rocks form sheltered pools, and scramble over and around them until I find a place to ‘perch’ near the open water. It is such a fine day! I sit with my feet dangling down towards the water, and eat my lunch slowly, while enjoying the feeling of being in the open air. On my previous visits, I enjoyed swimming in a kind of circular ‘pool’ among these rocks, but that is now nearly high and dry behind me. That’s not going to be a problem when it comes time for a swim this afternoon, because there are plenty more similar places now exposed by the lower water level. I know nothing about how these rocks are eroded by the action of the waves, but it seems common that circular areas become opened up, perhaps through some swirling action of the water.

There is another such pool nearby, perhaps about two meters deep in the center, with a couple of openings at the side through which the sea swell is flowing in and out. If I close my eyes and listen to the sound of this water, it’s hard not to hear a deep and slow ‘breathing’. It’s on about a ten-to-fifteen-second cycle; the water flows into the pool over the rock lip, then after a hesitant pause the reverse flow begins, gently at first, then swelling up, then dying back down as the water levels balance out. It is silent for a moment, until the arrival of the next gentle sea swell spills water back into the pool. Over and over ... It’s actually quite mesmerizing, and I am sure that if I were to find a smooth place on this rock and lie down, I would be asleep in minutes! Or perhaps actually hypnotized by the sea ... “You are getting sleepy ... You are getting sleepy ... You will do my bidding ...”

No! Not yet ... I’ve just arrived; it’s not time for a nap yet! Looking at the water level a bit closer, I really am confused by what is going on with the tide. It has actually moved further out while I have been sitting here eating. According to the schedule I read, this is what it is supposed to be doing at this time, but it seems incredible that it could go out any more. Was that schedule perhaps correct, and this is just past high tide after all? During all my past visits, I have never seen it this low, but I would be the first to admit that I don’t have a clear understanding of the ins and outs of tides. I do have the vague impression that there are special spring tides, but always thought they were particularly high. Perhaps I have it mixed up, and they are actually very low. That would seem to be what I am seeing here today. Well, we’ll find out soon enough; as the schedule said it would be lowest at nightfall, let’s just watch and see what happens ...


Breakfast is a bit joyless; although I am able to find enough items in the remaining food bag to make a kind of meal, without my daily portion of granola or muesli, I feel like I haven’t eaten properly. But a giant mug of hot coffee dispels any gloom, and I sit on one of the seaside rocks to sip it slowly and watch the sun arrive.

It comes up very red, and as always, it surprises me how quickly it moves once it pops above the horizon. The haze is so thick that there is no danger at all in looking directly at the red ball, at least not for the first few minutes that it is here. It produces a wonderful glittering reflection across the surface of the sea, and as I watch, one of the fishing boats chugs slowly across this, becoming silhouetted for a moment against the brightness. I’ve seen this before - I have a woodblock print at home with this exact scene! Hiroshi Yoshida sketched many designs for prints while travelling around the Inland Sea back in the 1920s, and images of traditional fishing boats against the light was one of his major themes. It’s funny to think of him all those years ago doing exactly what I am doing now, sitting on a beach thinking about printmaking!

The view I see now - this fishing boat on the sea - would indeed made an attractive print, but I think it’s best for me if I don’t follow his models that closely. There are plenty of other interesting scenes here, and it’s important that I do my own thinking. I do wonder though, if in the next century, some young printmaker may be sitting here planning possible print designs, and thinking to himself, “Hmm, that’s an attractive scene, but no, it’s too similar to one of those famous designs created back in the Heisei era by Dave Bull, in his ‘My Solitudes’ series ...”