Pebbles are transient things. Always caught in the half mess of becoming, between mountain and dust. Always in the process of being carried somewhere by tides or inquisitive hands or brimming pockets or sandy buckets. Things of all four elements, caught by fleeting sunbeams as they play on the horizon line of ocean, heaven beams like searchlights seeking one armed swimmers not waving but drowning, and here on the shore I have found six pebbles. Small and round and delightfully palm sized; my pebbles, come into being to be held by me, and made smaller by the holding. Made smoother. I take them up to the top of the head and toss them over in an act of prayer. Tipping each one back into the ocean it was borne upon in the act of droplets of holy water dropping from my fingers into the well at the door.
Were I still of the faith I would make a sign of the cross, but instead I drop a pebble for everyone I’ve loved and lost, and send a thought of them out to sea.
I hear footsteps on the shingle below the cliff edge but I am too far back to see who walks the line of surf below. Marking the territory. Beating the bounds. Perhaps one of the lost wanders there, but this shoreline is too peopled and joyous to be ghostly. Or, perhaps it is the snatches of laughter and song and friendly, family talk that makes it ghostliest. Here are the voices of family caught up and encapsulated in wind and sunshine and bluster.
The weather is transient and transitory today. Sunshine fleeting and filtered through clouds which bank mackereled and then rise to cumulous, and then dissipate, and roll back to us. The sky a great theatre, reflected and refracted by the water below. Two great mirrors performing together.
This island, my home, is transitory too. Always changing shorelines, always changing identity. National identity itself means nothing, it’s a made up thing, handed out to us as three lions on a shirt, and henry the eighth as a ladies-man, and queen victoria, and the second world war. All of those things are over now: transient. All of those things are pebbles worn to sand, a tricky foundation upon which to build an identity, in my opinion.
Walking the cliff edge there are little markers every few steps. Flowers laid, photographs buffeted by wind, benches inscribed with names. We are all transitory things, though less like flowers, and more like pebbles. Always on the way to becoming something else. From vertiginous mountains to friendly pebbles, to hold your hand, or keep you company in your pocket, or to be carried from a beach to a mantlepiece, to guard the dormered anonymity of estate windows, or to wind up forgotten in a box that, when opened, spills out old photographs and the smell of brine and seaweed.
There was a bench on the head that had a bible verse about remembering our fathers. I took a picture of it, but I can’t find it now, I can’t even remember the verse.
I threw a pebble into the sea in memory of my father, and hoped the thought reached him, if thoughts reach the dead at all.
I threw a pebble into the sea for me, too, so that I might remember that I am always being shaped by the hands that hold me, and will in the end become the sand that bare feet run across on the sprint to the sea. To be bathed clean in salt water, and reborn anew.
I thought about the turn of the decade. I put my face into the sea and thought of my own rebirth, a new beginning again, always beginning again. Then I thought that I’m not beginning again but continuing on at last, up the path, over the head, past to beachfront to the cafe for coffee and home. To rejoin the tide that sweeps us out and continue the journey outward, horizon bound.
I took a pebble home so that I might remember that sometimes it is not always the tide that weathers you.
I put it on the mantle so that a little piece of me in the pebble might keep my mum company.
I had hoped that this would have some semblance of narrative, but really I just want you to feel the way the head felt that day; salt on the wind and sun breaking through and my family laughing. The day open wide like a window, or a door, or a great crack in the world through which I might move. The sea like a mirror, and the sky like a wall, split between cloud and blue. The sun a hint of summer, a balm.
The coffee hot.
The car cold.
The home journey full of my sister’s music and me trying to read worzel gummidge in the waning light and snaffling chocolate from the picnic basket.
Happy new year.