This weekend was warm and sunny, and I walked along the coast, feeling the sea in my lungs, the heat of the spring sunshine on my back. There’s a place here I love, known locally as The Street. It’s a long thin stretch of land, only a few metres across, that points out into the sea, like the needle of a compass.
The story goes that it is the start of a ley line, which runs through the place I was born, towards an ancient abbey in a town a few miles away. Whether or not you believe that, it is a beautiful place, and at low tide the long spit of shingle is gradually revealed under the waves, and you can walk along it to the end, and stare out at the horizon, surrounded by the North Sea.
I like walking there alone. It’s the perfect place to empty your head and be quiet. But recently I’ve noticed just how few people seem to take in the landscape they walk through. They stomp purposefully to the end, point, chatter, and take a photo. Silly poses, big grins, group hugs, selfies; they bounce and click and clatter along The Street; and are gone again. I sometimes wonder if they actually saw anything at all.
I don’t see them breathe. I don’t see them stop. I don’t see them notice how the sea foams at the edges of the shingle, or how the sun hits the top of the waves. I don’t think they hear the gulls, wheeling overhead, waiting for the fishermen. They are so busy recording the event that they have forgotten to experience it.
There is a child playing on the beach. He is picking up stones, toddling towards the sea, and throwing them in. He studies each stone as he picks it up, feeling it in his hands. The cold wet of the water. The rough sand over his fingers. The smooth pebble turning over in his palm. And then he walks, concentrating on each step, wobbling and shuffling towards the shore, each stride more confident than the last. When he reaches the water he heaves the stone towards the ocean, so hard that he unbalances, and plops down into the waves. And then he throws his head back, and laughs. Mouth open, eyes scrunched up, legs kicking at the cold water.
I watch him for a while, grateful for the reminder that sometimes only children can give us. That it’s a good feeling, the best feeling, to just live in the moment.