It was cold. The stone seat was cold. Everywhere uninterrupted; just cool spaces without argument. There were signs describing the rules; keep your distance…be respectful. The paths ran just above the beach in both directions; walkers trudged by with a kilometre between each of them, everyone leaning into the wind, wearing good coats and sporty shoes. There are seats along the paths. Someone has tied a bunch of flowers to one. An old couple stand near one seat, hanging onto the back of it while they hold plastic cups and open a thermos. My daughter and I take the sand, and we sink into it awkwardly instead of joyfully because it is not summer. The houses are all silent. I name all the trees wrongly. I note the plants that survive here, the seaside varieties with thick ankles and bright sparky flowers, relaxed in the salt wind. There is rain. Then sunlight, metallic, so that we are suddenly hot.
We pass a tiny bay with a danger sign at the top. This makes us look down to find the danger. Over the other side, two ladies are also gazing down into it. It’s a tiny bay with nice rocks and stones, and waves coughing in and out of its narrow throat, glassy and cold.
There was an old couple near the toilets. She told him to go and move the car, perhaps bring it closer. Because it was cold. He shuffled off slowly, dressed warmly, his hands hanging down, checking now and then in his pockets for the car keys which were in his hand. While we were at the toilets, he drove back, slowly, slowly, the only car in the whole area. We watched them greet each other again, slowly and unperturbed.
Find equipment. Divide and separate. Even though there is a good wide acre, every swing will shave a cousin’s ear, which neither will notice. Place hands up, hands down, hands anywhere, and aim delicately.
Ignore parental advice. The white ball is everything. Muscles, feet, dinner and yesterday, all blur.
Noah can imitate a professional stance quite well. They both like the grass. The ball, when hit successfully, makes a rich white click and causes them to stop still and swallow.
Scraping softly across the top of the soil, they found it. The worm. They gazed down at it in astonishment.
Worm. He’s in here.
They shuffled and dug and lost the worm. Great Grandma came out.
They said, Worm.
She said, Is there? That’s good.
They dug and pushed and piled things up. They breathed in garden, worm and disappointment.
Great Grandma went past the other way.
They said, Worm gone.
She said, Oh well, there’ll be another.
They watched her go up the path and along the veranda.
Pa went past.
Max pointed downwards. Pa said, Good work!
They squatted down and inspected the soil. They put their noses down to the surface (just in case). Noah laid his head flat to the ground, ready for any possibility.
Max is outside, there is much to do. He pushes his baby wheelbarrow, leaning forward into hard work, inside it a pair of secateurs that he isn’t allowed to have, a bone, some gum leaves, an iris blade, a bottle top and a feather; a heavy load of world treasure all of which needs to be banked. He pulls at fragrant plants releasing startled beads of mint, lavender, lemon balm into his senses and Masie, the good kelpie, follows behind, a dignified butler, hoping for the ball which is also in the wheelbarrow, taking stalks and leaves in her mouth from him, as delicate as a surgeon. Max gets caught on hot bricks, cries for rescue, he becomes tangled in ants and cannot move, he knows they sting and he watches them swarm, all 2 of them, across his feet and cries for rescue again. He likes the bees which talk to him at head height, he likes the cat who watches him humourless and hidden. He likes water, grass seeds and old bones. It is early summer and the garden must be a thousand miles deep, yields a mixture of prickles, snails, pea straw, charcoal, an old chain, a tub full of strawberries that must be dug over vigorously and quite ruined, Pa’s boots large enough to fall into. Max tracks around and around and around pursuing the work of ten men, attended by one sheepdog, herding her young.
Paths are good because they always go somewhere. And if you can’t see the end of it, you can leave that out and just enjoy the moment for the moment, but always holding like treasure, in the side of your eye, the end of the path. That never comes because it is a treasure in the side of your eye. Playing here like a child is child’s play.
Max is just learning to walk, and his feet urge him on and on over any ground he can get. He still needs a helping hand to grasp as he walks, large careful steps with the knees lifted as high as possible in case the shadows rise up for tripping. He is not interested in the beginnings of paths as there aren’t any. He has no interest in the end of paths as he is already there. Everything he can imagine so far has arrived.
Instead, like babies do, he helps himself to every inch of the available minute, the breathing light, the slanting heat, the lawn mower that is not allowed, his pumping legs that cover a mere metre over an eternity and now there are ants.
He toddles across warm bricks and cool decking, through sand and over gum leaves that break and cause him to pause, over wind washed bark, through cobwebs and dropping branches. When he comes to the pot of hydrangeas, he stops and taps the pot. The hydrangeas are drunk with heat, they lean over with their heads against the pot, asleep or unconscious, they do not stir just because a baby knocks on their house. He goals the trailer, the bins, the tool shed and each time is swept back to sensible. He angles for the lawn mower, a favourite magic. But he is guided on and around it, it is not safe. He frowns, rocks to and fro, looks down to examine something he thinks is in his hand, suddens upward to look aghast at cockatoo. Then he drops abruptly to his hands and knees, and moves fluently again in the old language, across bricks, faster than walking, he is breathing fast and making for the tap, remembering that it is the greatest living treasure after all and at the end of all paths.