Rotting organic odours rise from the pile of brown matter strewn around, overwhelming my sensitive nose-hairs, tickling them into a near-sneeze. “Organic odours” seems too mild a description for that which evokes a dissonance of sensations. The brown matter stretches for hundreds of yards across the sand, deposited there by the restless, churning ocean.
The ebb and flow — from continent to continent — gathers the mass of sea plants, weeds, plastic bottles and bags, bits of coral, countless empty shells and unidentifiable remains of other life forms. Beyond the rotting stench emerges the pungent smell of fish, strangely not offensive, dragging one’s senses from the beachside into the ocean.
This abundance of ocean-deposited debris surprises the early morning beach walkers; many grumble about the invasion of their sandy territory.
The ocean, deep, vast, strong-willed and invincible, gives and takes at will; this mass of gathered debris is its latest show of strength. My bare feet step tentatively on the organic mass, wary of possible nylon fishing lines or curly hooks that could be hidden beneath its surface. I feel I am exploring a puzzling gift, one that takes a while to unpack and comprehend.
“Where did you bring me this from? Zanzibar? Mauritius? India perhaps?”
“How I would love you to tell me the tales of whom and what you encountered, why you offloaded your gathered treasures on this particular doorstep. Such protests and consternation you create. There is even talk about cleaning up the beaches with large bulldozers so all the regular beachgoers can continue their walks without the inconvenience of challenged nostrils, ankles sinking into rotting leaves and the possibility of chance encounters with unknown fragments from foreign lands.”
Maybe all this matter needs airing and drying, releasing some of its smells, cleansing it of months of underwater pummelling and churning, ridding itself of skeletons no longer wanted: a necessary spring-clean that the ocean knows needs to be undertaken at regular intervals.
Days go by before the ocean unexpectedly sends its increasing tides, inch by inch, up the beach, gathering what was left behind, back into itself. Had the complaining protesters had their way, the ocean would not have been able to retrieve that which it had deposited. They return, complaints quickly forgotten, to reclaim what they believe is theirs.
My nose twitches as the freshness of the air tickles my senses. I glance around and marvel at the uncluttered stretch of white sand. Has anybody thought of thanking the ocean for taking back its own litter?
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