The Kumara Harvest
I remember how, when I was young, we would go to the sea. It took four hours in the car. I remember how I used to get excited when we reached it for the first time. I still recall that feeling, though now I see it every day. I remember dangling pieces of bacon over the edge of the pier and then, minutes later, pulling them back up, the bacon replaced by a crab. The beach sloped away steeply and my father would tell me of the deep water and strong current only a short distance from where we stood. I remember that the summers seemed better then and that one day my father said we were going to live by the sea, but we never did. My mother died and my father couldn’t face the sea alone.
It is later than I would prefer, by now it must be almost nine. I sit high up on the bank and before me lies power and mystery, light and dark and a force that I cannot hope to understand. It draws me slowly in as I sit here alone, not doing, just being. The sun already seems high even for the time of day. If this climate was as dependable as other places that I have known I would call it autumn, but here I never dare. These are the last days of summer, when light and dark are equal and when the weather can be whatever it decides to be. For the people that were here long before me this time would have heralded the start of the kumara harvest – ka hauhake te kai I konei; ka ruhi te tipu o nga mea katoa. Now, as I am sure it did then, the sun casts dazzling plays of light over the water. The white surf is tossed violently upwards and then slowly, powerfully rolls in to crash breathlessly amongst the sand. I remember a bar room conversation that I once overheard. The spinning words of the drunkard threatening one minute and then suddenly gone, as the calming hand of his sober companion steered him once again away from trouble.
Amidst this tumult are little dots. To the untrained eye they might be seals playing boisterously in the water. But I know that seals cannot carry surfboards and these creatures do, linked to their bodies with an umbilical precision, as if their lives depended on it and perhaps they do. My gaze falls on a particular flock, they are at the waters edge and run swiftly, confidently, excitedly into the shallows to meet the oncoming waves, their first of the day. I see their comrades, some fighting the waves that dwarf them in an effort to get further out to sea, others attempt (and inevitably always fail) to tame these waves as their vehicle back to shore.
The beaches of my childhood were small and sandy. Behind them stood stone cottages and shops. The sea was usually calm, but the strong current and water temperature on all but the hottest days would keep us playing in the sand or climbing the cliffs at the end of the beach. Tied up along the pier would be fishing boats and with them came seagulls and the smells of the sea. These were inshore boats that ventured out for no more than a day. We would watch as crates of mackerel bound for local restaurants were unloaded. After we left, it was a long time until I saw the sea again.
Oblivious to the rituals of the surfers, people stroll along the beach in the fresh morning air. A pleasant relaxed feeling envelopes us all at this time. Dogs run and bark, chase sticks and secretly long to chase seagulls, but the seagulls are too quick. An elderly man with an equally elderly terrier approaches. The dog, despite its years, is oblivious to the dangers of the water as it frolics in the shallows. Chasing, retrieving and returning a ragged stick that the old man insists on throwing and the dog insists on bringing back, time after time after time.
I sit quietly, there is nothing I have to do here. The power of the ocean tells me that to try would be foolish, so I sit and I watch and I listen, sometimes to the people, sometimes to myself. This is the place where I come to think, a place to where I can escape and from where, if only for a few minutes, the world is kept away. As I watch the waves I see in them my life so far, the good and the bad, the happy and the frightening, the loved and the lonely. I see in them the faces of my parents and of their parents too. I feel the wind on my face and I taste the salt that it carries in from the sea.