Ode to Curracloe
One aspect of living in Montreal that’s hard to get used to is being so far from the sea. We’re the middle of the St Lawrence river, surrounded by water. But it’s not the same as the seas of the rugged Irish coastline that were never more than a couple of hours drive away for my entire life up until we moved here.
For most of the years of my childhood our summer holidays were spent in Curracloe. Waking up to eat breakfast with changing views of the ocean. Sometimes sparkling and clear, but usually dull under sullen skies. All just a short walk away. Hours and hours were spent on the clean sandy shores running up and down dunes through prickly grass. Diving into deliciously cold waves in the summer heat, or jumping over waves that gently boosted us higher in surprisingly warm winter waters.
With a beach-averse husband I’ve not spent a whole lot of time by the sea as an adult, but there was still the knowledge that it was close by if ever needed. Our dog was always in favour of a walk along a wind-swept beach come sun or rain. And some of the highlights of many of our travels have been strolling along a sandy beach as the sun set spectacularly overhead – preferably with an ice-cream in hand.
Vancouver offers many opportunities to get your fix of sea and sand or rock. There’s an abundance of beaches in every size, shape and kind. Porteau Cove is barely accessible for younger children with huge logs atop boulders and rocks. It makes for a great adventure for more mobile children though. One side of Stanley Park has slivers of stoney shore perfect for exploring with all the slimy seaweed, barnacles, pebbles and migrating birds. The other feels a world a way with sandy beaches full of crowds and lifeguards on a summer day.
My Irish constitution has a low tolerance these days for crowds, sands in every crevice, and intense heat. Still, we hiked across the park to Third Beach and set up our spot by one of the thick logs. In seconds the kids were engrossed digging in soft sand and wading through waves. The youngest spent over an hour toddling down to the water to gingerly scoop a bucket and wobble his way back up with its weight. He carefully upended each load onto the same sandy spot and watched the dry grains suck up every last drop within seconds before making his next trip. His older brother mostly swatted ineffectually at waves with his spade. I’m not sure if he achieved the desired outcome, but like his sibling he was too busy being happy to care.
For the first time in years I was taken back to the summer beach of my childhood with soft white sand and foaming waves. The one where I was the carefree child instead of a watchful parent. I remember the sandcastles and swims. Fond memories of laying stretched out on my towel, the warmth of the sun melting my limbs. The smell of suncream and salt water. Feet burrowing into the fine grains of sand. These stuck stubbornly to my calves and arms wherever sea water or traces of white cream still remained. The sound of other people busy playing nearby, yet outside of the bubble that was me. The dull roar of the ocean waves made louder as an ear pressed into the ground. Sand scrunching under the towel. The touch of the breeze, often accompanied by a spray of sand as someone strolled carelessly past. Nowhere else to be, nothing else to worry about doing. Perhaps a book to the side, pages wildly flapping in the wind.
Memories of overheated red skin slathered in calomine lotion at night, followed by days peeling long stretchy skin from the resulting burn seem removed in my mind from the days in the sun, sand and sea. A generation later and my own children have never experienced that slow burn. They play garbed in protective clothing and sheltered under long hats. They don’t even feel restricted at the extra layers I never wore. Instinctively though, they love the beach in the same way that only children can. Their first impulse is to run and shout and play and splash.
The journey to and from the beach is tiresome with the endless complaints and demands. It’s tempting to skip the hassle of getting there. Still though, as I watch them cavorting in and out of the sea, I feel closer to the child that I once was. I wish I could return briefly to one of those hazy lazy afternoons of my memories for a short while. And I feel grateful to be able to pass on some of the feelings and memories to my own children. They have a life full of experiences I never had in my childhood, but I don’t want them to miss out on this particular one.
Beach days move a little higher up the bucket list of things to do. The hard slog of getting there and dealing with clinging wet sand and tired legs on the way back home won’t be what they remember as adults. I hope the feelings of freedom and warmth are what will linger in their memories too.