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Max Roytenberg

Max Roytenberg: Taking a Dip

by Max Roytenberg, August, 2014 Vancouver, Canada


It is cloudy and cooler today in our “promised land” western outpost at ocean’s edge. It has actually rained. Not only that; it rained during the day, almost the whole day. Rain drops kept falling on my head when I escaped the ministrations of my Bride, she fiercely insisting I walk under a shared umbrella. Manfully, I escaped parental control, and walked in the rain. Without a hat! It has been cloudy for at least a couple of days! Horrors! Shredded clouds obscured the precious orb which we had been worshipping with our minds and bodies. In these latter days, after momentous events in our personal history, we have begun to see the cloudy face of this place as we had not seen it before. 


The crowds are gone from the beaches. Walkers, joggers, swimmers and cyclists persist on the Sea-wall but only a few brave souls are on the tidal beaches in the mornings. We are not among them. The vista before us is misty wherever we look, the mountain ranges shielded by dark clouds. What is happening to the sunnyside dream that we had been inhabiting? A fool’s paradise?


This meteorological blasphemy was perpetrated after weeks and weeks of sunny weather that, we were told, was unprecedented. Spoiled, that’s what we were, spoiled! We had come here to the Coast understanding that the weather would be identical with that in Ireland where we had spent the last ten years. We were resigned to that. That was the deal we were making, were prepared to make. What happened? Glorious weather, weather reminiscent of Prairie brightness in the place where we grew up. Day after day, day after day, blue skies and balmy breezes, sunny, like Goldilocks’ porridge, not too hot and not too cool. We were walking everywhere and worrying about overdressing in our short-sleeved t-shirts.


The welcoming tree-shrouded streets in our neighbourhood extended a green canopy over our perambulations, but most of all, it was the beach that attracted our attention. So many around us on our Sea-wall walks were wearing bikinis and swim trunks. We could tell-we knew-this summer symphony was going to go on forever. This was Global Warming, but in a good way!


In the mornings, here, the tide goes out. On our daily walks we could see wide expanses of beach from which the ocean had retreated. The rocky places, so often covered by the aggressive assault of tide-water, were exposed, barnacles, sea-weed and all. One could smell the pungent ocean fragrance of greenery baking, rotting, in the sun. I find these hidden places a little mysterious, even exciting. The retreating sea might expose all sorts of hidden things. The tide may wash in treasure!


People-we have never actually seen them-descend to these spaces and build remarkable configurations of stone-on-stone, defying gravity. One of the features of the nearby beach area is the Inukshuk, a structure of massive rocks, Inuit in tradition, roughly in a man shape, about twenty –five feet high. Unknown artists build their own apparitions on the beach, in a variety of shapes, resting on large boulders, which challenge the tidal flows. I have tried to duplicate their work and have found the work difficult, have found it veritably impossible to build something that will resist the incoming tide’s power.


Those wide expanses of exposed beach have tempted us. Why not make these areas a part of our own space? Why not descend from the Sea-wall walk and venture into the ocean? That is why we are here, isn’t it? We might even swim! Brrr! Well, it is sunny and beautiful and warm, isn’t it? Why not take possession of these new territories, if only on a temporary basis?


Last week-still in the sunny halcyon days-we actually did it. Totally unprepared, spontaneously, during our regular morning hike, we walked down the empty beach to where the retreating waters maintained a steady rear-guard action. Wave on wave of small white-caps, like phalanxes of charging miniature horses, waving their white manes, dared us to venture closer to their watery domain. We advanced bravely, down to the waters’ edge. What do we do now? We were unprepared. We had spoken of buying some plastic footgear that would permit us to wade safely in the shallow waters without fear of danger to our tender tootsies. But there we were, unarmed, or rather, inappropriately shod. We held on to each other, standing on the wet sand, as one, then the other, stripped off walking shoes, taking care to tuck socks safely into their toe spaces. Tying the shoelaces together, we slung them over our shoulders. We were now ready to take a dip! Wow, the cool water felt good on our bare feet!  


Despite weeks of sunny weather, the water was cold except in those very shallow areas where the warmed sand made the water more inviting. We would not be swimming today! But, the ice had been broken; we were now walking in the waters of the great Pacific Ocean. Not really, of course. We were in the sheltered English Bay, serene and calm almost every day. We have yet to see it when it was not safe for even the novice sailor. But, for all that, we had dipped our feet into the western sea, where the sun disappeared daily for its nightly rest. Now we were ready for any watery adventure. We had joined that vast brotherhood that fills the beaches of this up-to-that-date sunny place. We had seen them here every day, sun-worshippers, sand-worshipers, bare-body-worshippers. Some were even to be seen bobbing about in the cool ocean waters.


I could not contain my feeling that we had opened a new chapter in our lives, an opening to vastnesses of the Pacific, and the aspiring multi-billion-people masses of Asia. Looking over the waters, I could almost see the smoke rising from the ferment in the distance.


Up and down that beach we strode, like the conquistadors attacking the unknown, following  in the steps of courageous Christopher Columbus. We examined the vestiges of sea life left by the retreating tide, mussels, tiny crabs, lichens and seaweed on the barnacle-encrusted boulders, briefly laid bare to our view. We were sobered by the knowledge that our conquest was only temporary. We would have to retreat soon enough before advancing waters, renewing their attack on our coastal refuge. But, for the moment, there we were, in full possession of the ocean’s territory. We might even make a sortie over new ground. By George, we might even take a swim, and extend our reign.


We came down to earth, then. After a short splash-about like a pair of young kids, we retreated to higher ground. We managed to get all the sand-well, most of it- from off of our feet, and from between our toes. Soon enough we had our socks and shoes back on, seated on a secure piece of higher ground. We had escaped the looming potential menace of an incoming tide. As we went back to our land-lubber life, we could be proud of our exploits, our mastery of the tempestuous sea, masquerading here as a calm lagoon, now that we were re-positioned in a safe place.


We remain full of hope that, someday, soon, the sun will break through the clouds. We may even take another dip, re-conquering the new-found-land we now count as our own.  We know these times will come again. We are looking forward to the bright futures which await us in this new place!


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