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  • Writer's pictureLianne van der Walt

The sea is calling

The sea has always captured my imagination. As a child, a holiday at the sea meant banana splits, cream-soda flavoured ice-cream, pink and white striped sticks of rock candy and the story of ‘The Little Mermaid.’ Rock pools, jellyfish, blue bottles and molluscs appearing in the receding tide fascinated me. At night the sound of the sea was amplified, you could not see it in the dark, but you could hear it. The seaside always seemed to be a world away from our ordinary lives.

Forty years later our new home in Newcastle is only a 7 min walk from the beach. No longer do I have to dream of a holiday at the sea. Early in the morning we stumble out of bed hoping to catch sunrise as the first rays of light appear over the sea. Every day is so different. On the short walk to the beach we hear maggies (magpies) singing in the tall Norfolk pine. A municipal notice attached to a pole near our house warns of ‘swooping’ magpies. We have yet to be attacked although I had to break up a fight on a neighbour’s lawn. Four magpies had pinned a youngster on his back and were viciously ripping out his feathers. I charged at them waving my hat and screaming like a banshee. They all took off screeching and have not been seen since. Magpies remember faces so there is a good chance I am now at the top of their hitlist.

Back on the beach, I prefer walking on the sand to actually swimming in the sea. Our beach is particularly good for watching surfing, kite boarding and hang gliding. It is easy to drift off into a meditative state while listening to the rhythmic pounding of the waves. Worries and concerns seem to slip to the back of my mind as I look to the horizon and feel my thoughts start to wander. The sea provides me with perspective, drawing me out of the limiting experience of being me and out into this vast expanse.

Surfers in wet suits stretch and flex as they prepare to launch themselves into the surf. Eyes fixed on the movement of the tide they make their calculations – surfing it seems is a science. A lifeguard on a jet-ski stays behind the breakers, bouncing over the waves as he continually scans the sea for sharks. When the shark alarm is sounded, bathers and surfers reluctantly make their way to shore – the sirens are loud enough to frighten even those of us sitting having a coffee on the shore. Sharks fascinate us. Even the most seasoned beach goer stands and stares, hands shading their eyes as they gaze into the sun searching for the dreaded sign of a dark fin slicing its way through the surf. The moment the all clear is sounded, the swimmers and surfers head back into the sea, boards under their arms and faces white with sunscreen.

I walk along the beachfront most mornings, up along memorial way and back down to the Ocean baths. It’s beautiful up along the elevated walkway above the cliff – I have to hang onto my hat as the wind threatens to snatch it away. The rising sun shines through the steel silhouettes placed along the top of the cliff top bridge remembering those from the Hunter Valley who had enlisted in the Great War. The metal figures are inscribed with close to 4000 family names of those who served. I was amazed to find Embleton amongst them. Just another reminder of our inter-connectedness on so many different levels. A family of magpies patrol the area and their beautiful song is carried on the wind.

When I can, I am back on the beach in the early evening as the sun sets. A flask of coffee in one hand, cottonwool for my ears and a towel to share in the other – Anton and I head for the sea. Some days it is just us and the seagulls as the sinking sun trails an apricot swathe across the sky. Why does the seaside make us so happy I wonder?

According to an article in ‘The South African College of Applied Psychology’ certain things happen to us when we spend time at the sea:

- Staring at the ebb and flow of the ocean changes our brainwaves’ frequency putting us into a mild meditative state

- Listening to the waves activates the parasympathetic nervous system, making us more relaxed

- The negative ions in the smell of the sea breeze boosts our mood

- The colour blue is associated with peace and calm and enhances creativity

- Being in close proximity to water is strongly linked to the brain releasing dopamine and oxytocin – the feel good hormones.

How do we resist such a pull? I can’t and find myself everyday being pulled back whether its early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Yesterday afternoon as the sun was setting, we sat on the beach with steaming mugs. The surfers were still out, flying over the crests of the waves and twisting through the curling curtains of water. I sat wrapped in a warm top with fleecy hood, amazed as two bikini-clad girls appeared. They waved at the surfers and then quickly tucked their hands into their armpits as they bounced up and down in an effort to stay warm. I pulled my warm hoody further down over my face – it was cold! A few remaining children shouted with delight as the rough surf tumbled and dumped them back on shore, one little boy hung onto his pants with one hand as they kept threatening to slip off. Another youngster arrived and made his way to where the other was swimming. They did not know each other and yet within minutes they were laughing together as they both dived beneath the crashing waves. The sea has this effect on us – boundaries disappear as we become children again, laughing with wild abandon. An inquisitive seagull hung suspended in the air in front of us watching hopefully for any sign of a biscuit. Far off on the horizon the lights of the large coal tankers started to twinkle as night crept in closer.

It is at times like this that we understand our connectedness, not only to one another but also to the world around us. Out in nature, we experience a shift as our awareness expands. Boundaries disappear and we step out of our drama filled lives and into the infinitely wide and beautiful world beyond. Here we are at peace, one with the timeless rhythm of Nature.

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