beach glass

15.10.94 > BANDON OREGON > 3AM

The road spilled into a sandy carpark, just beyond a silent row of timber beach shacks, dark and boarded up for the winter. No cars in driveways, no dogs, no lights – just the baiting thunder of surf, almost there.

From the top of a dune the beach opened up – a vast arc of cold sand raking down to the pounding edge of North America. The Pacific rolled in endlessly from the west in great swollen bands – foaming breakers dumping heavy on the sand, running up the beach in fast silvers of fingering repossession, lashing the land, dragging it back underwater grain by battered grain.

The still night air lifted the wave-drone over the beach – over moonlit driftwood from elsewhere trees and storm-broken boats; over great torn kelp roots awash and gasping, twisted like bodies; over crumbling tiers of beachwall, gaping and falling at the hungry hand of the sea; over soft-edged translucent lumps of green beach glass – once-were-bottles tumbled from the shaking hands of American drunks, smashed onto rocks, sanded smooth by tides and remembered by me standing there on the shore, alone.

At the far end of the bay the rocky tors I’d seen in the photographs stood tall on plates of foaming ocean, marching out from the land like pilgrims, marching back in like beaten returning warriors. As I walked towards them my shoes left deep wet holes in the sand, coarse grains sticking to my ankles, tiny former shells, humbled, forming new intricacies around the cuffs of my jeans. A row of bleached bone-wood trunks rose up – gnarly truants washed ashore from Oregon lumberjacks’ rafts, pushed up the beach by huge swells to whiten under the sun and salt like the threadbare ribcage of some mighty ancient whale.


I clambered up onto a log and sat cross-legged, taking shots of Old Crow and chewing some scones I’d lifted from the hostel back in San Francisco – a magnificent feast with honey and over-ripe bananas. I filled my belly and sucked in the warm bottle, closing my eyes to the sea sounds, pacing my breath to the oceans rills. The inner fuzz of the bourbon and fine food, the peculiar stillness of the air, the loud power of the ocean, the vast paint of stars, the waning white moon all clear and cloudless colour… The breath. The wave. Free. Magic. Immense.

I leapt off the logs and ran down to the thundering water to tease the cold tendrils with my bare feet. Lure and bait, I yelled and sang at the sea, and it heard me and yelled back in a thousand crashes and breaks in a rhythm of sevens, the roar of its own inevitable domination and power. The ocean rose and fell on the sand like a lover, and the land tensed and steeled itself against it, with me on the grainy front line, barefoot diplomat, interloper, a puny distraction from the battle. Life. Death. Afterlife. There would be something there. I was sure of it. The cold northern Pacific wet my knees at 4am, and at last everything was OK.

Stumbling into the dunes, I slotted into the black mass of my sleeping bag under the falling fingers of a spinifex mound, hidden from no-one within miles. Sleep was happy, pacific, final in the belly-burn bourbon God-Jack night.

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