Gentle Winter

Chosen for the Better Read Than Dead Anthology 2018

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

– Albert Camus

Sydney is full of contrasts and you see this when you do the unthinkable of going to the beach in winter. There is a gentleness about winter which contrasts to the rowdy intensity of summer. A gentleness that inspires you to be part of the outdoors and nature. A gentleness that leaves you feeling good.

Walking down the untidy steps towards Lady Robinson I am welcomed by an expanse of still pale blue majestic water. The sand is cool and the breeze reminds me that it is winter. Pausing to take in the scene… what a perfect day. Strolling along the water’s edge there are sounds of small ripples gently caressing the shore as the tide retreats leaving a plethora of pebbles and shells to create contrasting patterns. As I delicately walk along the shore looking for that perfect shape or interesting colour of pebble or shell I enjoy the coolness around me. The lonely and isolated footprints fall behind as I continue on my quest being the only person on the beach. My back slowly warms with the winter sun whilst the cool breeze caresses my face. Perfect!

The beach in winter is a different place. People are friendly and when our paths cross a greeting of ‘good morning’ or ‘great day’ moves between us. You see and hear things differently. The sun casts long shadows as it slowly rises to take on the day reaching out gentle rays towards the city skyline. This gentle warmth is welcome encouraging me to walk a little quicker without that overwhelming intensity of heat that summer brings. The soft rhythmic sound of the paddle of the kayaker as he slowly glides across the bay makes me think about possibilities. Effortless and inspiring.

As I sit on the cold sandstone rock to absorb my winter morning I am looking at a magic fairyland. The sunlight dances on the water like a million stars on a clear night. The sheer beauty mesmerises me. As I watch the water infiltrating between the rocks, washing away the imprints in the sand I am in awe of their brilliant colours as the sun touches the vivid green of the moss. You don’t expect to see this here on the bay, yet here it is unique with a wild beauty. Across the expanse of Botany Bay, Sydney’s history began, ships landing, strangers invading paradise, we learnt about early settlement without consequences. Now we have oil tankers landing and desalination plants being turned on. Oh, how Sydney is changing. Yet here I am in perfect peace sitting and reflecting.

I am reminded of how different this place is in summer. The spaces are crowded with people where you have to jostle for the perfect place on the sand. The heat bearing down is almost intolerable and the sand is so hot that your feet burn as you run-up to the safe coverage of the cool shade. Summer is exciting, rewarding and a reminder of almost endless holidays. Winter has an almost mystical feel as the gentle breezes brush your cheeks and the water is cool some say, but I find it cold. Oh, how I remember wishing summer would come so we could spend hours on the beach. This was acceptable and expected when you live in Sydney.

It is not only the humans that find the contrast between winter and summer in Sydney so absorbing. Seagulls are thought of as summer birds as they scavenge for scraps from the fish and chips squawking in excitement as they capture the scattered offerings. In winter they are few and perhaps these are the hardy few who find a peaceful solace in the harshness of winter. They appear floating on the water waiting for the perfect opportunity to have their next feed. Often resorting to plunge-diving to capture that elusive fish. Cold and wet they take delight in the morsels they can scavenge. A colony of gulls sitting on the sand oblivious to the wind and occasional shower of rain. They hardly move as I walk past, trusting that my soft steps are no threat.

The sounds of these winter scenes are punctuated by the roar of planes taking off to distant lands.  The quietness of winter carries the sounds across the bay. People become oblivious as they walk along the shore taking in the more spectacular visual delights. Looking like graceful big birds on the horizon floating onto the land roaring to an acceptable speed. It is almost like a waltz seeing these elegant birds manoeuvring along the tarmac as they take their places in an orderly fashion for the climb through the clouds. I think of travel and how winter is the best month to take a trip with fewer people and less stress. The big birds fly high with their human cargo.

Glancing now to the roped enclosure that stands as a stark reminder of summer I see hardened locals swimming, these are the silent achievers. Length after length they power through the still cold water a testament to the tough Aussies of Sydney. Winter is no deterrent, cold is part of the driving force as winter propels them along. Although they are only two, they are here every morning in defiance of expectations. It shames me to think I have no resolve to take up the challenge.

As I sit and reflect on winter in Sydney I think of the summer within me. Those heady days of absorbing an intense heat from the summer sun. What a relief to be able to sit quietly being softly caressed by the winter sun. The breeze becomes a little stronger and the pace quickens on the water causing a swirl of blues with streaks of pale and deepening turquoise.  This is what I consider an invigorating start to the day where your mind becomes still and the slow rising of the day takes the form of meditation. Ready for the challenges of the day I slowly walk back along the sparkling sand looking to re-tread my newly created footsteps, but alas they have been washed into the sea with the rising tide.

This is winter in Sydney.

2 thoughts on “Gentle Winter

  1. The opening is terrific—as soon as I read the word “unthinkable” you engaged my thinking! Your description of the winter beach, and surroundings, makes it so easy for the reader to be there, observing the scene with you. I love the Camus quote and the reference to this in the final paragraph. I also enjoyed the parallel between the planes and birds. Write more like this!

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