My Mysterious Encounter
I went out to Auckland's unpopulated west coast last Sunday for a dawn ramble. Two very nice boys from our meditation classes came with me. They had not met each other before but almost instantly became friends – more, it was as though they had discovered a profound commonality of character and interests, like a meeting of two long separated brothers. How they talked – they were conversing endlessly. We were driving for much of an hour through bewitching forested hills, vistas of sea, picture postcard scenery unfolding on all sides but they were consumed with their conversation, serenely oblivious. Their talk swept across a bewildering range of topics – natural healing; kundalini yoga; car accident experiences; organic gardening; favourite novels; Fellini – screen giant or fraud?; Asian travel highlights; the moon landing – fact or fiction?; the epic journeys of Marco Polo; preferred classical composers.
At the beach they spared a perfunctory glance at the gorgeous panorama then resumed their animated tête-à-tête – I excused myself to my oblivious friends and quite superfluous, embarked on my run while they ambled distractedly along the endless wide shoreline, two now inseparable companions receding away against the blue ocean and sky, soon tiny figures swallowed up in the immensity of landscape.
How I was enjoying my solitary run. At mid point, more than one hour out, I cooled down in the sea, the only human being for miles, soaking in the great bathtub of the Tasman Sea. Far out, the green face of ocean combers rose high then broke, travellers at the end of a long sea journey – nearer the shore, waist deep in the clear tide, micaceous sand shimmered and sparkled like glitter in a jar of water.
Everywhere life and movement, the ebb and sigh of sea's heartbeat, arhythmic cadences of breaking surf and tide, the brief pulse of my own life drumming in its frail cage; and cry of gulls, wind resculpting sand, prismatic light shimmering on water, the earths elemental dance-play. Obedient to contrary winds, opposing clouds moved east and west, skeins of high cirrus one way, the ponderous march of parade ground cumulus another, their serried ranks of grey-white cotton-wool inching slowly across a tousled sky.
Jutting up into the heavens the prow of high cliff tops seemed to tilt, the illusion of slow fall against the slow-voyaging, drifting clouds. Everything was alive, sea pushing in, reaching beyond its green dominion as though hungry to explore the land then falling back in defeat, the knock of small stones tumbling in the retreating surf. Against the flat sheen of wet beach, the reflection of clouds moving, my own shadow, dotterels hustled into flight, the spidery arms of marram grass seed rolling like tumbleweed along the beach, colonising the dunes, seeking haven.
Returning, I came across something unusual and quite mysterious. It was a gigantic sand drawing of a face, the lines etched onto the grey tidal zone and forming a striking portrait all of twenty metres high, perfectly proportioned. In this remote place it had not been intended to be seen, yet hours of detail had gone into this serene work of art. It was a woman's face and a girl or woman had created it, for the tracks in the sand were small and light and conveyed a sense of great care and deftness. The face appeared to have emerged from the ocean – a sea goddess beached on the very edge of her domain and gazing up at the sky, the long flowing sand lines of her hair jewelled with shells. There was a spiritual beauty in the feeling of repose and calm detachment, in the meditative introspection of eyes. I began to feel in the presence of something sacred and a reverence overcame me at this lovely intimation of another realm.
The incoming tide had touched the bottom of the sand drawing already and in an hour would erase it entirely, like the sweep of a monk's hand which in a moment destroys an intricate rice mandala, a work of meditative beauty erased to illustrate impermanence.
The face reminded of Sri Chinmoy's soul-bird drawings, each brief and contemplative sweep of the Master's pen an intersection point of worlds, a gateway, inviting tiny souls down into the physical realm to occupy a new form. My sea goddess seemed real to me, an unknowable Presence drawn by the purity-consciousness of the unknown artist and occupying for a time the form created by her art, the formless incarnating into form before dissolving back into the incoming waters.
Later I cast around and found the departing tracks of the artist, her small light steps the only ones this far away from the village and mysteriously heading even further south into a wilderness of distance. I followed for a while until the rising tide had covered all trace of her presence. The artist, seemingly, had returned to her home in the sea.
- When Beaches Become Giant Sand Art Canvases – photo-essay about the sand-art of New Zealand artist Peter Donnelly.