We are walking down the bush track to the bay and the tide is pushing out. Below us, poking up from the mud are the black twisted fingers of mangrove roots, like the skeletal undead reaching up through the sludge. Birds twitch and flick the leaves changing the light from shadow to bright and over the popping of crabs we hear voices calling beyond the trees. My dog looks up and sniffs the air.
“There’s bream and whiting all over there,” calls one voice. “it’s my first time out here and I don’t know where to go but that’s like, a good place.” I can’t see beyond the mangrove who is calling.
“I’m just checking ma’ crab pots mate,” says the other. I can see now through a space in the trees there is a man in a fishing kayak, his bare feet on the pedals and nursing a rod. The glare of silver behind him must be the other guy in a tinny.
It is amazing how clearly the sound travels over water. Although everything is quiet now. This morning over my husband’s light snoring I heard the melodic ascending three pings followed by the announcement for the city train on platform 1, although we are a good walk from the station. I have only started hearing this in the last few weeks, now there is no white noise of the early morning traffic serving as a buffer.
Now there is a smaller, quieter kind of traffic. When I head out sporadically every few days to the supermarket or chemist, I need to make space for the numerous cyclists. Not only are they the usual lycra clad men hunched over racing bikes but mums and dads trailing kids like a kite waving its long colourful tail behind, teenagers on those retro bikes with baskets and couples striding akimbo with takeaway coffees. I really need to be on my guard for the footpath runners coming on to the road dodging the dog walkers and the caffeine marchers and everyone trying to manage their own space within the broader space.
The last few timber and beaten red earth steps take me down to where the walkway opens out to the bay and the broader reserve area. The dog runs around in crazy wavering lines following scent trails, excitedly sniffing the grass, stopping, licking and tasting certain parts of the ground, pissing on all fours like the girl dog he isn’t and getting all excited at the prospect of other dogs. Yesterday we saw a black Afghan named Amex he was like a walking carpet, long straight hair, all fluffy with his narrow snout peeking out beneath his fringe. No eyes or toes just hair. He completely weirded my dog out and he leapt back terrified.
Most of the walkers are regular and we recognise each other’s dogs and say hello, from the hairy to hairless, plump and narrow, tall and teeny. Jasper pulls the lead running in for a sniff of the nether regions and the rear end before greeting them face on. It can get quite awkward if the leads cross and we need to untangle the dogs while keeping the required human distance apart. So mostly it’s a quick sniff or the owner pulls their dog away with a quick “Morning!” It’s easier that way. Animals don’t understand social distancing.
I leave the park and come closer to the water side and see an older man sitting on a bench seat swinging his legs. He is turning to another couple as they approach. “Did you see that?” he calls. “I’m exercising!” They laugh together. I wait while my dog sniffs the daisies and lowers his belly onto the soft furry leaves. He’s been doing that since he was a pup. He loves it. The couple continue walking turning to the seated man to say, “You need to move benches now, like when you are avoiding the parking inspectors,” They all have a good laugh at this and I join in the joke with a smile. The police have been making regular loops of the point. It’s a crime now to linger.
The seagulls are lined up near the trailer bays like a roll call of lab technicians signing up volunteers for a trial vaccine. I imagine them with micro clip boards under their wings. They chirp questions like “Have you been overseas in the last month? Do you know anyone who has been infected? Have you been on a cruise? Are you experiencing any flu-like symptoms? Do you mind if I take your temperature?” My dog pulls on the lead in their direction, they reshuffle as I tighten my grip. He knows he is not allowed to chase birds.
We used to walk out on the jetty, but he’s recently become a little skittish when he sees the water between the spaces in the timber slabs. I can see only three men today with buckets and rods and there are no kids at the end chucking summies. There is only one pelican on patrol this morning seated at the top of one of the tall lamps, a splatter paint of white poo below.
I edge along the rock wall looking for shovel noses but only see a toadie drifting sideways with the swell. The water is so clear, I can see everything. The rocks, weed, the tiny transparent fish which flicker blue then flash silver as they dart in different directions.
Two men are sitting in the shallow water. No-one but toddlers and puppies swim here. They are up to their mid backs; they both have tatts on their shoulders and necks. They are either travellers, back-packers or not from around here. They don’t realise the hazards which may lurk under the water. A few months ago, my yoga teacher trod on a stingray and wound up in hospital. There are also stone fish and other submerged objects which make swimming unsafe. It’s called a beach, but it’s not really; it’s a bay with gritty grainy sand instead of white powdery sand. It’s surrounded by mangrove swamps, the mud snapping with crabs and roots curled with snarled fishing line.
I turn up past the empty playground and head for the hill up to the village. I start the slow jog up the slope dragging a reluctant Cavoodle behind me, a resistance training of sorts. We wander and weave up the street, stepping off the path for prams and onto the road for runners and groups of two.
I stand outside the hairdressers while a woman comes out with her small child in hand and shrugging her handbag back on to her shoulder, she has her foils still in and will go home now and wash those out. With only 30 minutes allowed at the hairdresser, I’m grateful for my own low maintenance short hair. As the door swings shut, I catch a sweet whiff of the mix of conditioners, colours and bleach following her out the door.
We dash across the road as the latte ladies are coming up in staggered groups of two from the coffee shop. When we hit the other side, our feet kick up moths in the grass and they swarm out of the lilly-pilly shrub. They flap up around our bodies and heads. It feels like thousands of them. I duck and curse flapping my arms at them, like we are under attack. I hate their powdery wings and the deep burring sound they make near my ears. I run to where I parked the car and this time his pace matches mine.
I snip him in the dog seatbelt and close the door. He is panting and so am I. We sit for a moment, getting our breaths back. I’m soaking it all in, the peacefulness of it, how nature is recovering, how people are more connected, and I reflect on how distracted and overscheduled we used to be.
Just yesterday, my daughter reminded me of the time the three of us were in the car driving from the orthodontist to touch training, then on to netball trials. We had gone via Maccas drive though because there was no time to eat. She was hand feeding me nuggets dipped in sauce at the traffic lights and we were counting the minutes on the dashboard clock and panicking we would be late because we had so much on. Now she complains about long stretches of boredom, not being able to see her friends and not going to school.
I wonder if we will ever find the perfect in-between of just enough, now we have experienced the extreme of forced social isolation and staying in, will we be so silly to cram our lives full to the brim again, or can we hold back just a smidge, to save some breathing room, for some quiet times, more time together and morning walks by the bay.
Rachel Wilkinson is a counsellor, writer, kids’ yoga teacher, massage therapist and reiki master based in Brisbane. She works together with youth, couples, individuals and families to manage the tricky parts of life and how to face it with compassion as well as bravery.
She can be contacted by email on email@example.com or mobile 0402 329 259. Or you can visit her website here.
Copyright @ Rachel Wilkinson