Last week, I was invited to write something to read at the first story-telling night at the Grumpy Swimmer bookshop in Elwood. The theme was “water” – not an element in which I’ve ever felt easy, much as I love it.

At the same time, I was grappling with my piece for Women of Letters. I hadn’t finalised it, and was torn between three wildly different versions. I think the piece for Grumpy might have affected the outcome of my letter. It’s as though I dipped my toes into the water and was able to look back to shore and see where I had come from – and that is what I wrote about.

So, as a way of honouring the process, and as an offering to you, my subscriber-village, I thought I’d post the Grumpy piece here. It’s short – it had to come in under five minutes – but I’m so grateful to it. It is a step on the way to my next major project, I think. And it gave me the first words for my Women of Letters piece, too!

I was born at the end of the world, on the edge of a great ocean. Before my eyes could focus, I was taken to a place in the desert, where, like a cactus, I grew plump, drawing life from the red dust that was my whole world.

One day, they took me back to see that ocean I had not been shown. They told me I could swim in it, walk beside it, make a castle near it. They gave me a bucket and a spade, and I held them close in the hot car for hours while we drove to that great ocean.

They forgot one thing. They didn’t tell me about the noise.

“Look,” they said. “Look at the pretty blue.”

The pretty blue roared and crashed, it thumped and smashed. It frothed and bubbled and hissed, and no amount of cajoling was going to get me to step into its soupy swirls.

I ran from it, craving my desert silence.

When I had grown I went back to the great ocean. It was still loud.

Currents of warmth rose out of frigid depths. Sand slid from under my toes. Seaweed tangled around my thighs, trying to hold me. Water was sirens, sharks and lures. Water was not my element.

Too loud. Too belligerent. Too slippery and unpredictable.

I left the great ocean and returned to the reliable earth, to find my feet and my way. I walked. I walked myself away from my home and into the wide world.

Along the ways, I was always drawn to ocean-people. I loved their roaring laughter, their flicks and head-tosses, their flamboyance. But I couldn’t stay with them. Always I returned to the silence of the earth; to its unassuming wisdom and its wry smile.

One day in the midst of all the ocean-people, I met an earthed man, who brought me to live in his home near a stretch of water that is confident enough about itself not to need to roar. I came home to a sure shore.

On the edge of Port Phillip Bay, there is a trail, where I’ve walked for over two decades now. It is my camino. That word means road, or way, in the Spanish language. It makes a known path feel more seductive to me when I call it a camino. Sometimes, you need to find ways of making the familiar exotic when you walk a road every day.

My camino runs from the end of the Elwood canal, past Point Ormond, and along the beach to Brighton. Sometimes I turn right and head for St Kilda, but it’s busy along there. Too many ocean-people.

On my camino, the rhythm of my feet kicks in, and before I know it I have drifted to other roads…to the desert, to Italy, central Australia, and Tasmania; to the Great Dividing Trail. I can be in Spain, out on the dry meseta tableland.

But then I turn my head, and there beside me on my camino is the bullet-grey of Port Phillip Bay’s water.

Come back. It says. Be here. Be where you are.

Because now, after all these years of tracing that camino bay-trail, it is water that grounds me. Calmer, stiller water. The glint of afternoon sun on that wine-dark bay tells me I’m where I belong. The first pale light of day, sparkling on the lapping edge at my toes, whispers that I’m where I’m meant to be. It is water, that body of water with its softness and its steely grey, that holds me on course and stays the distance. It is that water that calls me home.

End-of-the-world-sunset across my beloved bay

My gratitude to all of you who are subscribers, and in particular to those who have left such rich and thoughtful comments in response to the offerings here. I recently re-read my first ever post, and I remember the skepticism I felt about things digital and social media. I realise I now have new communities. I love sharing snippets and pictures and fast updates on Facebook, and enjoy the thumbs-up LIKEs when they hit a nerve, or give a smile. I have learned that Twitter can take me down tunnels about writers and news outlets I’d never imagined. Here, on the blog, I feel I have conversations with guests at an on-goinng dinner party.

So thank you all, wherever you intersect with me. I will keep trying to offer tasty morsels!

19 thoughts on “Water

  1. Ailsa – Always so poetic your writing (makes me think of David MALOUF – one of my lecturers at Sydney back in the mid-latter 1960s). My wife and I have recently flown a long distance across water – the Pacific – and across a vast north American land mass to NYC – then on further – to Noepe (the Wampanoag name for what is otherwise called Martha’s Vineyard – on the south-eastern corner of Massachusetts waters – lying off the mainland – into the Atlantic. As you will know. Via lots of local VTA buses – we have covered the island in all directions – and looked out onto the surrounding ocean waters and the enclosed lagoons and ponds – sparkling in all directions – this afternoon taking the local two or three minute – three-vehicle ferry – across a stretch of water to Chappaquiddick island. Then following the road on foot half-way across till reaching just beyond the Community Center (sic) to a recently mown pathway loop around a pretty pond/lake! Water! Geraldine BROOKS (“Caleb’s Crossing” etc.) and husband Tony HORWITZ (“Midnight Rising” Nov. 2011 – about John BROWN the anti-slavery campaigner/activist – terrorist of his time??) live on the island – and we walked by a Caleb’s Pond in fact on Chappaquiddick this afternoon.

    When I grew up it was in Tamworth. My brother and I and friends spent a lot of time in the local Gooonoo Goonoo Creek (pron. Gunee Ganoo – strong stress on the final part of the 2nd word)! Flowing waters – a favourite water-hole – sliding down steep slick clay slopes into the deep – or leaping from overhanging willows! Visits to coastal Merewether and Bar Beach in Newcastle when visiting our step-father’s parents in genteel (as we felt it) Hamilton South – became a mix of terror and fascination – forever being dumped by the roll of waves – swimmers/togs – and mouth – filled with sand – terror and discomfort both – unless swimming beyond the crash of waves – and then, once, a shark alarm sounding – me aged 11 or 12 – the swimmer furthest out to sea – not hunting a wave – merely easy buoyancy – but you can imagine the speed at which I returned to shore! No matter your topic Ailsa – you set off a range of memories/reminiscences. The mark of an important writer! Thank-you!

    1. Dear Jim across the seas…
      Oh those names! Chappaquiddick – with all the resonances. Caleb – I can see the face! Massachusetts – song after song…
      How wonderful. It sounds like an astonishing journey, and I never knew Noepe was the name for martha’s Vineyard. have always wanted to travel there, in part because of those names. They are so evocative and as with so much of America, they feel like they are deep in my psyche.
      Deeper than the marvellous sounds of Gooonoo Goonoo!
      Isn’t it strange – and a little sad – that we know so many American names and places, and relatively few of our own. Well, by comparison. I know a lot of the “up” towns from W.A. Balingup. Dwellingup. Willyabrup. I was once told that “up” meant water in the Aboriginal language of the area. If that’s true, it explains the importance.
      Regardless, you have now set off a range of reminiscences here, so obviously we are susceptible to each other’s writing and memories!
      Thanks for taking time out of the holiday to give us a little window into another world. I love vicarious travel.

    1. Thanks Joan. Funny – that first impression has never left me, and now even when I see a calm ocean, I hear the crashing! Thanks for visiting.

    1. Aaaaggghhhhh! I know it is me Darren, but every time I try to leave a comment at your site, I’m told “You don’t own that identity.”
      Do you think they know something I don’t?
      Anyway, huge gratitude to you for opening it up. I’m going to keep trying, so that I can leave my thanks on your site, but for now…
      Thank you for stitching together such lovely connections between so many of us, and for introducing me to the film. I will contact Grumpy Swimmer and let them know about it too. And about your site, so they can see that exquisite still. It’s beautiful.
      You make great connections through all this – and that BBWF is such a link in it all isn’t it? Such splendour on the grass.
      I follow Marc Fennell on Twitter – who’d have thought I would write that sentence? He is very funny and sharp.
      Thanks again for bringing new treats to my attention. And for your generosity in sharing them.

      1. “You don’t own that identity.”
        There might be a play to write with that idea?-)

        ”Beasts of the Southern Wild” looks like a great film
        That’s two films Marc has bought to my attention since the BBWF .If it wasn’t for Marc I probably would not of heard of the film “Mental” and entered (and won) the Q&A screening competition with PJ Hogan and Lily Sullivan in attendance.
        The funny thing is I had not heard of Marc Fennell before going to the BBWF,and honestly if I had not of stumbled into the “Digital Big Bang: expanding horizons for the work of writers”
        talk he was in at the BBWF and been impressed with the guy and decided to buy his book “That Movie Book”
        (which is a great read BTW),I would most probably not have gone to his afternoon talk there called “”I’m So Over Books”
        where he drew my attention to the movie “Mental” that was filmed up the road.
        Who said “coincidences” don’t guide you down some strange paths in life?
        I have only been to the last two BBWFs and the only reason I started going was because last year James Redfield was going to be there.I had bought his book “The Twelfth Insight” in Byron from Abraxis bookstore
        (which has since closed:-( and since it was about following your synchronicities I decided this was something I would do to. It was funny everything just opened up to enable me to get that weekend off to go down and see him at the BBWF ,and when I was locked in to going,he had to cancel because he had been bitten by a spider on a bush-walk and couldn’t fly to Australia.
        So,the guy who wrote “The Celestine Prophesy” was really responsible for me discovering all these great writers and the BBWF,without even turning up in my life.
        And to tell the truth as much as I like James Redfield and his theories about sync I find his books are quite corny and boring and after reading “The Celestine Prophesy” and
        “The Twelfth Insight”,I can honestly say that I don’t want to read another fiction book of his again.
        That said,he is probably the one guy who has sent me down a large synchronistic rabbit hole,which I’m still exploring.
        How ironic?

        1. Oh…I should give credit where credit is due.
          I had bought Antony Funnell’s book
          “The Future and #Related Nonsense” on the Saturday morning I arrived at the BBWF

          so I would have something lite to read in between talks and when drinking coffee.
          I didn’t know he was doing any talks there,so he was the speaker that got my attention on Sunday and why I sat down to listen to the
          “Digital Big Bang: expanding horizons for the work of writers” talk.
          Unfortunately I had left his book at home Sunday so I could make room for all the books I had planned to buy….yours being one of them.
          So when I was getting Marc and Stephen to sign their books and Antony was looking on,I felt guilty that Antony was probably thinking “My book not good enough to buy and get signed by me,hey?”,so I tried explaining to him that I had bought his book yesterday,but had left it at home.
          I don’t think he believed me somehow.
          I gave his bok a write up on Amazon,so I hope that makes him feel a bit better.-)
          It is worth a read,by the way.

        2. So much here!
          And like you, I love a bit of synchronicity. Sounds like it follows you around at Byron.
          Now I can’t stop thinking about “You don’t own that identity.” Kind of Orwellian isn’t it? A short story maybe? I think Margaret Atwood would make a book out of it.
          Thanks for more good food.

  2. Ah, you took me places! Some that I had not visited for a while.
    And the image that keeps returning is one that has the roar and constant movement of the sea juxtaposed with the silence and calm of the adjacent river mouth and lagoon, such as at Marlo, Mallacoota or the Coorong – like the extraverted and the introverted parts of ourselves, at once one and yet separate.
    Thank you

    1. Hi Andrew!
      I love that ocean/lagoon comparison with extrovert/introvert. Exactly what I think I was meaning when I wrote of ocean-people. And the bay, of course, is introversion, and that’s what calls me home.
      Ah, wisdom. Sometimes we find it, with a little help from friends.
      Thanks so much. I love that insight.

  3. Thank you darling friend.
    Beautiful writing indeed…and just as with ‘Sinning’ your writing ‘works’ on me. It up-ends me and I’m always amazed at what gets tipped out. The way you use language connects with the parts of me this digital world can’t, the deeply and profoundly emotional…and you know me…I love all that.
    On the pratcical…I’m also learning a lot about Twitter from the way you use it. Have only just come to it really, so thanks for that.
    I so love witnessing your successes…it appears you have really ‘found your feet’. I bet that’s already been said…tehehe

    1. Gracias, amiga.
      Amiga…I love the way the romance languages have so many vowels in their words of affection. Is it just me, or do they sound more friendly for it?
      Thanks so much dear Ab. There are some things the digital world can’t do, but it can deliver, can’t it? When they make a computer that writes, sings and paints, we will all be in strife. Or maybe not!
      Thanks for your comments about Twitter. Not sure I know what I’m doing, but I have actually enjoyed where it takes me. I have to be careful not to get sucked into it, and I’m aware that this community here on the blog is my “home base”, Facebook is the communications tower emitting signals and info, and Twitter is mostly, for me, where I glean stuff. I collect lots of great reading of long articles there, and pass them on – which, as you know, I love to do. I’ve made such discoveries there.
      But my digital home is here. With my village.
      With you.

  4. Dear Ailsa, As a kid, Like you I was scared of the ocean. I was and am a non swimmer and felt that even a knee deep paddle at the beach could turn into my ultimate and untimely demise. I was happy enough in the shallows but always kept on eye on your dry land. But like you I’m learning to lift my head up and look around. Water and the inability to do freestyle don’t scare me as much. Life and it’s changing tide doesn’t scare me as much. I love the way you put words together. They have a steady beat. And I like steady. Thanks for sharing. Warm regards, Baz.

    1. HI Barry,
      Thanks so much for visiting. I’m actually reading my way through Haloes in the WindscreenI at present. Not rushing. Taking a poem a day and mulling. It is a beautiful journey. Thanks.
      And I actually think that a small taste of fear is respectful of the ocean. It is a big wild untameable creature, after all, and every so often we are reminded that it is not subject to human whim. So a glance over the shoulder at the shore seems to me a very practical solution – like you I’ve learned to love immersion, but I keep the toes at touching distance!
      I reckon if my words have a steady beat it must be walking rhythm!

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