Sunday, 6 May 2007

The sea urchin's test

I grew up on a farm in a dry husk, set in the middle of nowhere. In those young heady days of mine, the sea was an entity of dreams; a seldom experienced sensory delight, and a memory, since the cresting waves, expansive ocean and the beach were not readily accessible. Due to this geographical glitch, the sea became something of a wonder lust to me; something that even today, makes me truly believe that I could not live without being within a short driving distance from the sea, or at least, a good sized body of water.

While the sea was too far for me to enjoy on a regular basis, my Grandparents lived on Kangaroo Island, which was many miles away. My brother and I, if we were lucky, usually visited them once a year.

My Grandparents had an expansive rural property, consisting largely of cereal crops and Suffolk sheep. Their old homestead stood atop a crest along the dusty road that hugged the island's northern coastline. In the summer, the coastal hills were carpeted in golden wheat fields that swayed in the nautical breeze, while large ships and tankers inched silently along the horizon; setting my imagination to wonder about the countries those boats were heading. What was the cargo they hauled? What did the crew do aboard the ship? Did they ever get sea sick? Were the crew leaving home with heavy hearts, or drifting toward their homelands with joyous smiles upon their faces and a special glint in their eyes?

During my time on the island, the sight of ships comforted me, as there was a slight feeling of disconnection with the rest of the world, which was in some ways a relief and in other ways disconcerting. Consequently, I could often be found sitting quietly on Gran's shady veranda wall, sending my whimsical thoughts toward the horizon and my daydreams out to sea.

My cousins lived within arms reach of my Grandparents, so whenever we visited, we would always have the opportunity to play with our cousins.

My cousins were all younger than I. The eldest of them was perhaps three years younger. I always felt that their lives were so idyllic - imagine living permanently beside the sea.

Whenever possible, I would steal away through the wheat fields to the secluded rocky bay that lay hidden at the front of my Gran's property, and wander in the company of my own self and the ocean song.

There were always mounds of seaweed strewn across the beach, but the large rocks that had collected there, made the bay dangerous and unswimmable. I enjoyed returning to that spot, regardless, as there were all kinds of sea treasures to be found in the rock pools, tangled in the seaweed, and stuck between the rocks themselves.

Collecting shells was a favourite past time of mine when visiting my Grandparents. The shells were not only beautiful and various in their uniqueness, but they also provided me with a sea connection during my absence; the salty aroma of my sea treasures bringing images of the sea; the island, and the gentle ocean lullaby, flooding right into my home in the dry husk, set in the middle of nowhere.

Finding a perfect, unscathed large shell lying within the questionable shelters of the rocky bay was always a delight, and somewhat of a miracle. The shell's survival was considered by me, to be a testament to its fate in my collecting it and looking after it, since manoeuvring its way through those unforgiving waters, without dashing itself upon the rocks seemed quite an achievement.

I remember one day, Gran took my brother and I for a walk to the rocky bay, along with our two oldest cousins, Bethany and Nicole. Bethany and Nicole didn't go down to the rocky bay all that often, as far as I was aware. They were too young to go there on their own and besides, the ocean was always there; its accessibility and permanence was taken for granted, and as far as I knew, none of my cousins collected shells.

It goes without saying, I arrived at the rocky bay with basket in hand and eyes cast down scanning the rocky coastline for shells. Bethany and Nicole, chased each other, giggling and jumping along the rocks. My brother searched in the seaweed to see what the tide had carried in for discovery. There was always plenty of old netting and floats, tin cans, old shoes and pieces of driftwood. I can't remember him ever finding anything overly exciting.

On this particular day, as my cousins ran amok, Bethany chanced upon a huge, perfectly formed and exquisitely detailed sea urchin's test. I was green with envy. In my opinion, she could have cared less about it - I was the avid shell collector, so it should have been MINE!

Gran went on about how "lucky" Bethany was to have found such a rare jewel in the rocky bay, and warned her to take care with it. Gran offered to look after it for her, but Bethany, so concerned that her sister might steal it from her, chose to hold the sea egg herself.

Bethany continued to scramble over the rocks, taunting her younger sister with the sea egg which bobbed and bounced in her hand. Nicole could not even get a close look at it before Bethany whisked it from her sight and stormed away giggling. Out of frustration Nicole threw a large piece of slippery seaweed at Bethany, and I remember watching it flip and flop through the air. Bethany turned just in time to see the slimy missile careening toward her and ducked out of the way, but the bay does not easily excuse those who are careless with its gems. While steadying herself, Bethany unfortunately trod unsteadily on a slick rock, slipping and letting go of the precious sea egg. I watched, seemingly in slow motion, as the sea egg dashed against the rocks, before being crushed by the full force of Bethany's collapsing body.

It broke my heart to think that the sea egg, which had somehow conquered the great ocean and survived the dangerous coastline before coming to rest in the rocky bay, was not ten minutes in human hands, before it was destroyed.

Bethany was not hurt by her fall, but when she saw her shattered treasure, a great wail sprang from the depths of her heart and echoed around the rocky bay, for she could see what she had done, and understood what she had lost. Bethany sobbed for the remainder of our walk in the bay, and frantically searched for a sea egg to replace the one that was no more, but her search was fruitless, and the five of us walked back through the golden wheat fields to the homestead, in silence.

Over the years that followed that incident, I often found unscathed sea eggs in the rocky bay, and I cherished each one as a reflection of the one once beheld and lost, but my finds were small and never as brilliant as the perfect giant that was Bethany's for those brief few moments. I have also wondered whether perhaps fate had intervened in that moment, not to punish Bethany for her carelessness, for she was but a child, but to demonstrate to our young minds that such things are precious, or perhaps it was something more...perhaps such things should never be taken from their natural habitat, for they are a part of the circle of life. So if turning into the pulp of the earth and grit of the ocean floor is part of that cycle, then Bethany merely hastened that process along.

For pictures of the area, check this out.

Submitted to Scribbit's May Write Away Contest.


Tammy said...

What wonderful memories for a young girl who appreciated the ocean.

Briony said...

Wow - I remember that incident. :)
Rest assured though, that just like dad and grandpa (whose collection I used to sit on the floor and stare at through the glass panels of it's own display cabinet), my sisters and I did all collect shells.
My collection was enough to fill a small cupboard and within it was a little bucket full of sea eggs - always the most highly prized, as we knew just how easily they were broken and how lucky it was to find them in one piece.
We had many small ones and one or two quite big ones that were jealously guarded. We'd find these big ones every now and then, though the number we had never rose too high as the older ones would inevitably break in some way. I do remember though that the one found that day was one of the best - and an unexpected treasure from the bay where we more often found crabs and collected cuttlefish for Gran's budgies - the best shell collecting was usually at the next bay around (hence the absolute disaster when it was smashed!)
I told stories about how big and beautiful it was for some time afterwards.
Of course, as fragile as they are all the sea eggs broke eventually, and the part of my collection that I still keep today is mostly made up of cowries and the tiniest brightly coloured fan shells and mother of pearl filled abalones scavenged from the shallow pools and freshly washed up sand - all nicely protected in plenty of cotton wool!
And I still miss the ocean if I spend too long away from it - such as where I am right now... thanks for the memory!

Remiman said...

What a wonderful story of a childhood memory!
The sea isolates and connects us at the same time, to the outside world. I think we all feel it's pull, and find solace in it in some way.

strauss said...

LOL Briony, thanks for the story inspiration ;)You've outed yourself.
I know you loved shell collecting and the prized treasures in the "glass cabinent". I remember you explaining its contents to "brother" and I when you were very very little. Perhaps that began the fascination for us...
I never since saw a full sea egg like that again, only once and it was in a shop in Glenelg, for sale. I was so excited to see it, I was like "that's like THE ONE".
I had forgotten about the cuttlefish collecting.
I too had so many boxes of shells, that I had to off-load some when we last moved. I only kept the very best ones. I have a few sea eggs still - wrapped in cotton wool, as you described, but they are all very small. I have a fragment of a smashed one that might have been close to the one you found, but it is somewhat faded now.
And yes, I really did think your life beside the sea was idyllic compared to our dust bowl exisitence:)

Crafty Green Poet said...

There's definitely an important lesson in there. Nicely told story.

Briony said...

Outed indeed, but very happy to provide the inspriation - especially for your writing - your stories are always lovely to read.
By chance it was just last week that I was talking to one of my housemates about how sad it is that there's no ocean to be seen or heard or smelt in London at all.
I used to think everyone went to sleep with the sound of the sea...

shishyboo said...

awesome story, I grew up by the sea and took it for granted. you remind me of all the beauty I had around me but never bothered to really look at.

I'm desperate to see snow, maybe not live where it snows but I want to experience it. the grass is always greener...

scribbit said...

It's beautiful.

And Kangaroo Island? My kids would die to go to a place with a name like that.

You ought to think about entering this month's contest--topic is travel.

strauss said...

I have such wonderful memories of the farm on KI. Second to the sea, my favourite place on the farm would have to be that glorious vegetable garden. The smell of sun ripened tomatoes takes me back there everytime, and the giant Morten Bay Fig Tree... I can smell one a mile away...and Gran's pantry with all those preserves lined up on teh shelves. I just loved it there. I was looking at the pictures on the felt the overwhelming desire to visit there once again. I don't think I have been there in 16 years.
To be lulled to sleep by the sea each night mmmmm, if only.
The only sound memory I have of my childhood home is the sound of dry sticks cracking under foot as we traipsed through the scrub.
What a fine conversation this is, thank YOU :)

Sandy said...

This is a comment for your haiku this week. You don't have a place for "other" on that blog.

You wrote THE mother tanka!
And, the bear haiku was great.

Tracey said...

What amazing childhood experiences you had - and all the more amazing that you did not take it for granted. I grew up in the city. We went to the beach for holidays, but I don't recall being so wondrous about my surroundings.

Now that I live near the beach, my kids still don't appreciate what they have. In the early years we collected shells, but we've not done so for years now. I've never been privileged to have seen a sea urchin eggs.

gautami tripathy said...

What a beautiful nostalgic post! Those moments are to be cherished forever.

The sea pulls us and sometimes keeps us apart too.