This morning I think I’m visiting a beach, but the sign tells me it’s a “facility”, the use of which may be hazardous. It’s likely to dish up rough surf, rips and currents, deep holes and gutters and submerged rocks. However, the tide is low, the ocean serene and I’m not planning to enter the water: I’m in more danger walking down the rotted wooden stairs to reach … the facility.
Enough quibbling over bureaucratic word choice! I survey the coastline from the lookout: south (where I beachwalked last) and north (where I’m beachwalking today). I take a brief memory detour via Menindee Lakes, transported back to weekend camping trips by pink and green hop plants very like the ones that grew in the landscape of my desert walks. Finally I access the beach and begin my gasping-with-delight tour of the southern end.
The rocks here are knobbly, honeycombed, patterned in pink and blue, seamed with thick bands of gold, and host to rockpools. But my delight is equally the pastel sky and the rocky outcrops stretching darkly into the sea. This morning, mutterings of delight are accompanied by questions centring on the geological history of the rocks. The facility provides no answers.
In fact it generates more questions when I reach the other end of the beach and find smooth rocks lying like beached whales, spotted with dark grey patches and the tracery of barnacles and the lively black of tiny mussels. I climb the flanks somewhat gingerly and peer down into rounded crevices.
I’m tempted into a kind of mythic storymaking by geological ignorance: a return to the ancient response in the face of something mysterious. So …
Long long ago not far from the beginning of time, a primeval competition between two sculptors in rock to see who can create the best beach end. The competitors represent two aesthetics that match their appearance: one suave and debonair, smoothed to featurelessness, spare and minimal: the other gnarled and pitted by life, with mysterious dramatic episodes. They set to work, these two mythical beings, proto-Henry Moore and proto-Alberto Giacometti, beginning with the same landscape and invoking wind and water, and possibly tectonic plates, to help them shape it to their individual delight. They take a long time, eons in fact, and they haven’t finished yet. The Great Judge eyes off their handiwork so far, and with a fanfare of trumpets and a roar of sea horns announces his judgement: “They are … different.”
I decide I’m not much of a myth maker, so I venture into the field of allegory, at least I think that’s what it is. Maybe I can construct an allegory of the self: myself. Behold the rough hewn self: filled with secrets, inconsistencies, discontinuities; lunging from intention to intention. And yet in all this a richness of variety. Then there’s the smooth bland self, that offers always what’s expected, covered in barnacles and clams, non-intrinsic beauties, gifts from outside that are the personality. This self is still capable of the odd blush.