– by Albert Berkshire
When I was a kid, we had three cabins. Or cottages if you’ve ever visited or lived in Ontario, Canada. But none of the three were a cottage, at least not to us. We were Newfoundlanders living on the Island of Newfoundland. We had “cabins”. Cottage usually had “cheese” attached to it in our house. That was the only cottage we knew. And frankly, when you get a visual of cottage cheese, as I’m sure you now have, the question must surely enter your mind as why on earth a person would call a cabin a cottage.
One of our cabins was about 30 minutes from where we lived. It was close to a lake and every day we’d walk along the train tracks to the park. It was a summer paradise for my parents, but we always thought, “What the heck? We could walk home from here!” Another cabin was about two hours drive and then a forty minute walk through the woods to get down to ocean. We were nestled in a little inlet with five other cabins. It was rustic. Wood stove and no running water rustic. And it was fun. The third, where we spent a lot of time from the time I was about nine until I was fifteen, was about a six hour drive. Sometimes it felt like a house, but it too was near the ocean and there was lots for us kids – family and neighbourhood – to do. A LOT to do.
The cabin that was close to our home was never really of much interest to me. No ocean meant no adventures. A lake is a lake is a lake. Boring. It’s like The Umbrella Shop. It was convenient Monday morning when I was in flip flops, knickers, and a T-shirt in a rainstorm in downtown Vancouver, but I quickly found myself asking, “So, what else do you have here?”
But the other two cabins were gold. They had the ocean, and with an ocean comes low tide, and with low tide comes treasure!
We would troll the beaches for mussels, and rocks, and shells, and drift wood. We’d search for net buoys that had drifted ashore, broken from their moorings by a strong wind or powerful undercurrent. We would seek out the Holy Grail of every beachcomber. A bottle. And not just any bottle would do, first it had to be old, and glass, and then it had to have a note in it. It had to have a plea for someone to find it and be the soon-to-be-famous-savior of the person stranded on a deserted island, a la Gilligan’s Island. We identified with Gilligan and the Skipper, too.
In our search we would slip and slide on kelp. We’d jump from one barnacle-covered boulder to another. The crunch-crunch of sea life meeting its untimely demise at the feet of unknowing kids. “Tread Lightly” didn’t exist back then. Neither did TV and video games at the cabin…so we made our own entertainment. THIS was entertainment.
Everywhere we went was interesting. We’d create games, skip stones, sling slimy seaweed at each other, write our names in the black, wet sand with a stick, make up songs about the things we’d find on the beach, and deep in the background of the “we” activities, I was busy writing about it. It was in my head, but I was creating a narrative about all the wonders of the newly exposed ocean floor. THIS was a playground worthy of a storyline.
I would speculate as to whether or not the barnacles knew they were on bad rocks. Did they really want to be exposed to the fresh air where birds could peck at them and kids could make firecracker sounds at their expense? The expense, of course, being their mere existence. I would create entire stories about the bottles we’d find and what must have happened to the note that was, at one time, in the bottle. Surely there had been a note from someone who was stranded. Why else would a bottle have been thrown into the ocean and subsequently washed up on our beach.
Sidebar: Incidentally, “subsequently” didn’t exist in my vocabulary back then. And come to think of it, neither did “incidentally”. The bottle was just there of it’s own free will. We did have “free will” in our vocabulary back then, mostly because we had nuns and brothers as teachers. They reminded us of that regularly. Most often with the strap. Not that we thought about them, or that strap, when we were on the beach. We were, after all, on vacation.
And then there were our competitors. Seagulls! And not the kind of seagulls that live on the Prairies. Not the ones that followed the scent of McDonald’s french fries inland and have spawned generations of egg-crackers who have no idea what the ocean looks or smells like. Not the kind that think a lake is the be-all and end-all of bodies of water. Those kinds of seagulls are bored to death and they don’t even know it. I’m talking about pre-fast-food seagulls. The kind that lived off of the ocean. Seagulls with real character. And simply I loved them. To me, they had everything. They were doing everything we were doing, only they could cover more ground (or air) in a minute than we could in an hour. It was their flight that trumped us. But only in the physical sense. In the spiritual and adventurous sense, I would fly with them. I would pretend that I was up there looking around for flipped over sea urchins and star fish. Star fish being as rare as notes in bottles for us. Must have been a North Atlantic Ocean thing. But we were ten, so we didn’t know what we were missing…they just weren’t there.
It was fascinating. We had endless summers of fun. We had everything we wanted. We had everything we didn’t know we needed. We had our imaginations catapulted into the stratosphere. We were airborne with creativity. And in the innocent tradition of curious kids, we milked it for all it was worth. Had the beach been a cow, she would have covered her nipples and ran for her life when we showed up, because we were going to get every last drop out of that exposed canvas of imagination.
It was good back then. There was no pressure on us. It was real.
Low tide was full of inspiration. It felt good. And right now, in my creative world, the water has just rushed in and the tide is high. Really high.
But you know what comes six hours after high tide.
Yeah…I’ll be back. One way or another.
Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. And while he appreciates the beauty and serenity of the the Pacific Ocean, he prefers the violent and unforgiving nature of the Atlantic Ocean. Like his muse, the Atlantic fuels his creativity. It’s a part of what helps make his company, GreatCreative.Com successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.