We’ve just got back from a few days spent in South Wales. We got the weather, and so travelled to a local beach for the kids to wile away some hours and, yes, tire themselves out for the evening wind-down.
After a while, and of course with my better half’s blessing, I went off for my customary, solitary walk. I headed up a sandy path, taking me high past a meadow and along some cliffs, where some of my old jackdaw friends were nesting. Around twenty of them were flying overhead as I rose higher along the trail which was part of the famed Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail. I had immediately identified their call, they being these days like my own totemic bird.
A single linnet moved with me, too, darting from fence post to fence post alongside me on my right. To my left there was no fence, in fact there was a sheer drop onto rocks below, a sign warning me Beware Cliffs Kill – Stick To Paths. It made me more amused than anxious, thinking about this serial killer named Cliff and what his body count was. There wasn’t a cloud in sight. My eye was foundering in a vista of blue sky and sea.
Jackdaws, linnets, there were other birds too, some of which I didn’t recognise. It is man’s nature to name everything he sees, in order to claim some kind of ownership. I have heard it said that there is a certain power in a name.
I used to walk in my local woods wondering about the trees I couldn’t name, picking out unfamiliar shapes among the many oak and beech, until I came to the realisation that I didn’t need to know what they were in order to appreciate them. In fact, the mental discourse often obstructed the experience.
The same with birds. I don’t need to be able to name them in order to take delight in their sudden appearance and song. Unless I’m writing about them, for readers such as yourself, for then it serves to create a more precise mental image for you.
After a while I picked a descending route that led me down to a secluded bay, not a soul in sight. There was just I, and the cacophony of waves, and birds, and insects. The sun beat down on me, sheltered from the sea breeze.
I sat upon a rock, now viewing the the incoming tide at eye-level. The expanse of ocean swells something inside you. It’s as though your perspective suddenly heightens, but at the same time your sense of self diminishes. You realise how tiny you are in this great, wild, uninhibited context.
Below the towering cliff I found a large cave, water dripping onto gleaming pebbles within its dark maw, almost like a linear breadcrumb trail, beckoning me in. But I only ventured in for a few metres. Caves make me nervous – I was acutely aware of all that weight that was above my head.
I reckon Cave hadn’t killed as many as Cliff, but still. I wanted to stay in control.
Coming back out of the cave and skirting the edge of the beach, I spotted a small fish lying motionless on the sand. Again, I couldn’t tell you the species, but suffice to say it was small and silver, about the size of my little finger. I bent to pick it up and was startled to find it was still alive – its sudden wriggle prompted me to snatch my hand away. Then, in full rescue mode, I scooped it up with a handful of sand and lowered into a nearby shallow pool. It flitted away, burying itself away on the sandy bottom.
Immediately I found another such fish, prone upon the sand. And yes, this was alive too. Perhaps they had some kind of survival strategy that I wasn’t aware of. Maybe I had fortuitously stumbled upon their last gasps. Either way, I deposited this second fish in a similar pool, giving it another chance until the sea moved in and liberated it.
I made my way to a sharp but navigational incline and headed high again, leaving the private beach behind me. Once more I was at the highest point of the landscape again, looking out to a hazy horizon.
“Hello. Taking it in?”
I turned to discover a woman who must have been in her seventies, her attire and vigorous face giving all the impression of a professional walker.
“Yes,” I said, “but I’m thinking it is about time I got back to my wife and kids!”
She smiled, conspiratorially. “Worth it though, wasn’t it?”
“Absolutely. It’s beautiful.”
She nodded, like we were sharing a private, intimate understanding, then I bid her farewell. We left each other, she heading in one direction, agile, fleet of foot, and I in the other direction, now weary-legged and beginning to puff.
I returned to the familiar beach, finding my wife and friend sat on a spread blanket, chatting away while keeping careful eyes on the kids who were jumping incoming waves in the distance. I fell heavily upon the ground beside them, and promptly relived my journey with them both, taking them along the route I had taken and recounting all that I had seen. I spoke of birds and fish, of sea and sky, of caves and cliffs, and then, somewhat grandiosely I waved my hand in the air and informed my well-travelled friend:
“This is my Ibiza. This is my Tenerife.”