Thursday, December 24, 2009

I Love the Beach

I grew up several miles from the Coral Sea in northern Australia. Some of my fondest memories as a boy are tied to the sea. I remember riding my bike from our farm to a saltwater inlet to fish or catch crabs - crab pots balanced precariously on my handlebars. I remember late nights sitting on docks with fishing and other boyhood friends as I got older, probably smoking cigarettes. I remember the awesome Mangrove Jack I caught one time camping with the Boy Scouts - and how good it tasted cooked over an open fire soon after.

I think though that one of the powerful ties I have to the beach and the sea beyond is it holds some of my fondest memories of doing things with my dad. Family day trips to Clifton Beach or Palm Cove were a regular. Often this would be with other family friends and there would be a hoard of us kids playing on the sand and in the water. We also holidayed at the beach on occasion with our trusty caravan towed endless dusty miles by our old “Kingswoods”. One of these, again with several other families at Rose Bay near Bowen included several games of hockey on the beach and led to my taking up the sport and lifelong enjoyment of it. There were late nights with my dad alone on the waters of Smith Creek catching prized mud crabs from our small dinghy using “dilly” pots some of which dad had woven the mesh himself. We also had a larger 20 ft boat we would take to the reef. Often this was with two or three of dad’s workmates so I felt very grown up to be out with them on 1-2 night trips. One of my funniest memories is hearing a loud splash followed by my dad yelling as we were stirring one morning in a mainland bay we used to come into late in the night to shelter and catch a few hours sleep. Dad was in the water holding onto the anchor rope with one hand, and the bow rail with the other. He had ventured up to take a leak, and the screws holding the rail to the deck had given out as dad leaned on it.

Now with a family of my own, we still enjoy time at the beach. Today we will pack and leave the shores of Cancun, but not before taking one last morning walk along the beach. My bride says I am to wake her for this one so we can go together. Joy loves being at the beach although has some misgivings about sand - and early mornings. This week then is the perfect compromise of ocean views from our deck, a pool that almost spills into the sea, and lots of other family here with us so some mornings were free from the noise of stirring children.

Mallory my oldest loves the beach as much as I do. One of my favorite memories of this year was a morning walk with her on the beach in Florida the day we dropped her at the Teen Missions base so she could spend most of the rest of her summer vacation with a team serving the poor in Haiti. I do not know what we talked about as we ambled along the waters edge, stopping here to pick up a shell, or there to reshape the beach with our feet and watch the water rework it. I just remember spending the time doing it.

Wandering along the water's edge is definitely one of my favorite things to do at the beach. There is something about the energy in play as the waves and the land relentlessly collide. At that point I feel like I am seeing the hand of God as he reworks the shoreline - not because it is imperfect, but because he is infinitely creative. I also feel the awesome power of God is on display. In my career in the mining industry, I have seen many millions of cubic meters of earth moved around - at some single mines, approaching a rate of a million cubic meters a day. This takes a lot of effort and yet God moves this much material around at the shoreline every day - effortlessly - that is amazing. Energy is a big deal these days, especially how we produce it. We use a lot and yet there is probably more energy at work in the tide and the waves than all our power plants and oil consumption combined. Incredible!

Here in Cancun the beach has been badly eroded by hurricanes in recent years. Mexico contains contrasts often more evident than in the USA or Australia although the same extremes in poverty exist there too. So it is somewhat difficult to watch (with an engineers curiosity – I’ll spare you the details) the reconstruction of the beach by the local authorities, no doubt at considerable expense so well off holiday makers like myself can relax in a tropical paradise. A rather sanitized tropical paradise at that – not here on the hotel strip do you see the hovels, the potholed streets, the beggars, the stray dogs, or the trash you find with little effort in other areas. Even the beach is raked off by hotel staff to ensure our vacation is perfect.

But this is not a simple question. Take away the attraction, the illusion of tropical paradise and the tourists may stop coming. What then for the thousands of hotel and tourism industry employees? This question is in no ways and attempt to justify the expense or our being able to enjoy the week we have just had. It is what it is - a question ... no easy answers, no simple solutions. I wonder how many of these complex questions do I overlook without a moments thought - safe in my comfortable life and the fortress of my own opinion?

And what of the beach? It carries on in an endless state of flux. We make our futile efforts to reshape it and bend it to our needs, but the wind and the waves in the end prevail – we hold sway for only a moment in time.

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