By Cathy Eden
At 8.30 on this perfect morning, low tide offers a shining expanse of sand as a mirror to the mountain. There’s no sign of the wind that howled last week, tossing a fury of kelp on to the shore. Today there’s just freshness – sea breath rather than breeze – that allows me to walk briskly without losing my hat. The water round my ankles is warm enough to make me wish I’d brought a swimsuit, especially as the shark net is being towed into position. Lean young men in black wetsuits feed the net off the roll on the beach. The boat strains against its weight but ploughs on diagonally towards the anchor point on Jager Walk, where those same young men, having strutted past admiring eyes, will secure the net and a wedge of fear-free ocean.
If I can’t swim after my walk, I will have coffee: hot, strong and black. To my dismay, my usual bench is occupied. At this hour, he who is stretched along its blue length could have picked any other, but chose the one dedicated to my father. Ah well. I settle on the red one near by.
From my elevated position on the walkway I can see the entire beach. There’s a trickle of families now, who probably, like me, want to be gone before the Sunday crowds arrive. It strikes me how calm they are; bemused almost, to have found themselves in this idyllic spot, on this balmy morning, beside a tranquil, lace-trimmed sea. They stand and gaze, they stretch and amble. They decant buckets and spades from capacious bags and tie floppy hats under chins.
A boy – perhaps three years old – has commandeered a rock. It’s a small rock, protruding no more than 40cm from the sand and wide enough to accommodate only one set of feet. But the receding tide has left it encircled by a narrow moat, whose possibilities enthral him. For ten minutes or more he walks round and round, scooping, squeezing and plopping fistfuls of sand into the water.
His baby sister toddles over and he scowls and kicks a warning spray of sand her way. This is his domain, his castle, where intruders are not welcome. The girl, perhaps already learning to defer, stands uncertainly, mouth agape. Before she can wail, grandma sweeps her up and jogs down to the water’s edge. The boy, perhaps already fearing missing out, chases after them.
Almost immediately, identical twins in pink hats veer away from their mother and lay claim to the rock. They’re not entirely steady on their feet, but the more adventurous one plunges into the moat, stomping and kicking, while her cautious sister hovers on the perimeter, putting first one foot and then the other into the water. Dad arrives with the double pram, the bag and a large yellow ball; mom digs in the bag for her phone and snaps away, documenting her daughters’ play.
And then the train rattles by behind me, its wheels loud and discordant on the tracks. Both pink hats look up. Little hands point and wave, as countless hands have done before. Sixty years ago, I stood there and waved. Then my children waved. My grandsons are now too cool to wave, but I hope they remember that once, they did. I hope our hot and bothered planet keeps this beach for their children – this peaceful place of rock castles and moats where small dreamers can contemplate great and wondrous things.
· Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, recommends a weekly ‘artist’s date’ - a solo excursion to observe your surroundings and refresh your store of images. Fish Hoek beach was the setting for my assignment to myself.