Life Is A Beach: Driftwood


The beach is a place of refuge, a place to contemplate, or just look at half nude strangers. I especially like the beaches in the city; the sand is so fine your feet sink. Huge, strewn logs make for great hide-a-ways and a place to recline, if you want to read. The driftwood looks like works of art protruding from the sand. There are two beaches in my area, but I wanted to go out of my postal code, see new faces, be a tourist in my own city, and so that is what I did.

I parked my car at Locarno Beach in the inner city—an oasis of quiet after dodging in and out of traffic on the freeway, through the tunnel, and over the bridges. At last, the sea! I lifted my bike out of the car, buckled on a helmet, and tossed on a black backpack with a beach mat sticking out. I was ready to go. I navigated a route seaside, through downtown traffic and headed towards Burrard Street Bridge, which has a new bike lane for cyclists. From there, I headed to Stanley Park where I cycled the famous seawall.

“On your left!” warned a cyclist.

“Thank you!” shouted more as they edged to the right.

I passed the tourist wagon pulled by stocky horses, clumping their way over the pavement, tossing their manes. Serious looking tourists poked out their heads, pointing cameras. I could hear the driver in front speaking with a microphone talking about Vancouver’s resilience during tough economic times. Signs indicate when cyclists should dismount and walk their bikes. I comply, and most do.

There are water parks with little children squealing, narrow passages around breathtaking, rock ledges. Most serious riders try to pass the tourists on their bright, blue rentals with cute baskets in the front. I was patient trying to pass. At one point, I was behind a family of three and waited for the path to widen so I could safely make my move. I could hear another cyclist behind me, anxious to speed by. The man in front turned his head slightly and I could tell he felt a bit nervous and so I shouted out, “I’ll wait until it’s safe to pass. I don’t want to hurt anyone trying to be first!” and the cyclist behind me chuckled and said, “Doesn’t the first person get a prize?” The beach is a place where virtual strangers banter back and forth and smiles come easy.

I stopped at Third Beach and this is where I plunked down on the sand, pulled out my book, and read, absorbing all the sensations that beaches radiate.

Why is it, I wondered, that I felt so safe here? Is it the sun that warms our skin and makes us feel so relaxed, so calm? Is it the sight of that sparkling blue water and the sound of the surf? That constant motion of the water rocking us into submission? It’s intoxicating—feeling the sand under my feet and although I know I shouldn’t, due to sand fleas, I slipped off my shoes and walked barefoot.

Suddenly I was breathing in one of B.C.’s famous illegal exports. After four inhales I sat up and looked around to investigate the source. I spied the culprit. It was a woman directly in front of me, sitting against a log. I stood and walked up to her. She looked up, joint between her fingers.

“I’m just gonna wait until you’re done with that. I don’t want to breathe in anymore of that downwind.”

She took one more between her lips and smiled lazily at me.

“I’m done,” and she squeezed it out into the sand. I returned, smiling. It wasn’t that long ago that it might have been me. I walked slowly, like in a dream, towards the edge of the water. My toes pressed in and out of the cold and made me shiver.

After a couple of hours I mounted my bike once again, and headed over to Granville Island. I haven’t been there in years. It is a marketplace for food, produce, flowers, and artists under a bridge. Roads crisscross and on a bike, I have no boundaries. I zoom around cars and people and pedal to the marketplace. I locked up my bike and lost myself in the throng of the crowd. I touched native art, feathered earrings, smelled the sea air, cigarette smoke, and fish and chips. I bought fish for dinner and sat outside where the sound of Spanish guitar lured me. A man with a long black braid performed music that held me transfixed for an hour.

Back on the bike (after I searched desperately for an hour!) I headed back towards Lacarno Beach where my car awaited and where I wanted to sit on the sand to watch the sunset. It was the end of a perfect summer day.

But I didn’t get enough; the next day, I repeated my journey almost exactly. I parked in the same spot, and followed the same route. But of course, crossed paths with different people.

“Are you okay?”

Kind words from a woman in an affluent neighborhood, through which I was trespassing. The sun was so hot and I was sitting on the curb under a tree cooling myself. I smiled back at her and assured her that I was. This was the magic of summer, I thought, where we connect with our fellow city dwellers after a long spell of rainy, cloudy days that keep us inside. The sun brings us out like ants.

I lost my mirror en-route to the Seawall. I picked it up and pocketed it, knowing I would have to be extra cautious on the bridge and the Seawall. My entire being craved the sun, the sand, the camaraderie of the beach people. My legs wanted that ache back and my eyes wanted to feast on the sight of the ships in the distance. My feet wanted to dig deep into the sand. I could see the odd yellow leaf sticking out of the greenery like a warning sign: Fall is approaching! There’s such a feeling of joy and rejuvenation at the beach.

All good things come to an end, and sooner than I wanted—I had to return to work. I was at the food fair during a coffee break and the local newspaper caught my eye. The lead story showed a man with a banged up face. His eye was swollen shut and dried blood etched down his face. In horror, I read the article and felt such dismay. He was attacked by four teenagers at the local beach. The man lived in one of the houses on the promenade. The youths greeted him at first, while he and his wife were on the patio. He noticed them carrying liquor bottles. But they greeted each other. A short time later when the couple returned into their home they heard banging on their door. He went out to investigate and saw the young men were stealing driftwood from their yard. He yelled out at them to stop and that’s when he was viciously attacked with driftwood gathered from his own backyard.  Like a wild pack of dogs. He was rescued by a couple of security guards from a movie set just down the street. They scared the attackers away and the victim was brought to hospital. It is not certain yet if his vision will be restored.

It’s a beach that I often visit—it’s in my neighborhood. On holidays, I went uptown, into the inner city, because I felt I wanted an adventure and our beaches are a little dull.

I have been thinking a lot about this man over the last couple days. I am sure his life is altered forever. Even if he gets his sight back, he is forever changed. Will he ever casually say ‘hello’ to strangers?

After I finished work yesterday, I went down to my own beach where this assault happened. I laid on the sand. It was a steaming, hot day. I wandered into the water, but I didn’t feel like staying. Driftwood here and there lost their artistic appeal to me; they now looked more like what they are—dead and abandoned. I couldn’t figure out what my problem was, and I had been looking forward to the beach all day. I gathered my things and headed home. Normally I would have hopped on my bike and cycled 80 blocks, working off my sinking mood. It was a gorgeous, late afternoon.

Instead, I buried myself in my cave. I closed the bedroom door, put the fan on, laid on my bed with my remote in my hand, and channel surfed.

I didn’t want to think about that man with the bloodied face on the front page. My feet felt itchy and I pulled them out of the covers to examine the cause. Damn! Sand fleas got me just like they always did. Little, itchy bumps all over the front of my foot.

I tell myself over and over: Don’t scratch or they’ll swell up and fester.


Driftwood © 2011 Adrienne S Moody. Read the latest Adrienne exploit on Now.readthisplease.


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