MOMENTS IN TIME

The memory of elemental things

By Don Pinnock 28 May 2020

Llandudno rocks (Image: Don Pinnock)

When lockdown ends, what images will bring that strange time to mind? Face masks? Empty streets? Confined people waving out of apartment windows? In Cape Town, for me, it will be deserted beaches.

Cape Town is a tourist city with citizens who love to be outdoors, especially on the golden sand that fringes the urban jumble. Suddenly, the beaches are empty.

The sand without footprints had a life of its own, even if borrowed from the wind, with small rills gathered around scraps of seaweed and, in one case, a discarded sandal.

For the first time in 20 years, from where I live high up against Table Mountain, I can hear the surf crashing and the screech of seagulls. With the privilege of a Press Pass, I bagged my camera and followed the sound.

The first impression was a beautiful white gull following the curl of a Hout Bay wave, its reflection in the glassy, arching water. On the sand were poetic tracks that began nowhere, sometimes with the faint impression of an alighting wing, and vanished suddenly into the trackless nowhere of the sky.

Footprints on Clifton 4th (Image: Don Pinnock)
Clifton 4th (Image: Don Pinnock)
Clifton 4th (Image: Don Pinnock)
Clifton 4th, beach 3 (Image: Don Pinnock)
Bakoven (Image: Don Pinnock)
Bakoven (Image: Don Pinnock)

On Clifton’s 4th Beach, there were no human footprints but for a few illicit steps onto and off of it again. Beyond the crashing waves, the beach had been smoothed by wind and water, and puzzled by colour. Was it yellow on the way to brown or the colour of raw silk? Fish Hoek beach, in the late afternoon, had the delicate overtone of faintest violet.

Camps Bay (Image: Don Pinnock)
Camps Bay (Image: Don Pinnock)
Llandudno rocks (Image: Don Pinnock)
Llandudno (Image: Don Pinnock)
Muizenberg (Image: Don Pinnock)
Fish Hoek (Image: Don Pinnock)

The sand without footprints had a life of its own, even if borrowed from the wind, with small rills gathered around scraps of seaweed and, in one case, a discarded sandal.

With time and no interruptions, I scooped up a handful of sand, letting the ground-up remains of countless shelled sea creatures and the pulverised quartz of inland mountains trickle through my fingers.

Henry Beston, in his magical book The Outermost House, says “one may stand at the breakers edge and study the whole world in one’s hand”.

There are, he reckons, three great elemental sounds in nature: the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval forest and the sound of the ocean on a beach. He complains that human noise drowns these out, making the world “sick to its own thin blood”.

Beston would have enjoyed our beaches in lockdown. For a brief spell, they belong to elemental things. DM/ML

If you would like to share your story, ideas or suggestions with us, please leave a comment below or email us at [email protected] and [email protected].

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of Maverick Life delivered to your inbox every Sunday morning.

Gallery

SMALL SCREEN

This weekend we’re watching: Existential fever dreams

By Tevya Turok Shapiro