Down Time

For the past two weeks, I have been writing an article to submit to a children’s magazine. Yesterday, I met my personal deadline, crossed my fingers, and hit the submit button. I celebrated by taking my second walk of the day on the beach.

Ahipara is at the beginning of 90-Mile beach and at low tide, the sand is easily a city block’s length from shore to water. Initially, I thought I might get tired of walking the same stretch of sand each day, thinking the landscape would not change much. I find I have to vary my daily walk at home because things look pretty much the same until the seasons start to change. But the beach is different.

I now have an array of shells on my picnic table, collected and rinsed, and it seems to get a little larger each day. I find it hard not to pick up just one more. Some of them are pipi shells- pipi is the Maori name for the edible clam that is found in abundance on the beach. Usually, locals find the clams digging at low tide locating air bubbles in the sand. We haven’t gone digging yet, but plan to do it when Carrie is visiting. Jordan, a high schooler I met on the beach, insisted the pipi could be eaten raw, just rinse off the sand. I think I will soak mine for a night, and cook them.

Yesterday, I found a small shark, less than 18 inches long, dead on the beach. The day before, a stingray lay embedded in the sand, probably dead for a while, but was gone the next day. The stingray lay not far from the “river of souls”, a large stream that winds through part of the beach and out to sea. Maori legend claims when a person dies their soul travels the river, out to the ocean, up 90 Mile beach to Cape Reinga. The Cape is the northernmost tip of the North Island and is the jumping off point for passage to the other side. Maybe the stingray was headed to the river.

Despite the occasional dead sea creature, the ocean is constantly in motion and alive. Earlier this week I saw a small blackish lump up ahead on the sand. Parts of the shore are fairly rocky, but this “rock” was isolated and in an odd place. As I got closer, the rock moved its head and the juvenile seal stared intently at me. I followed the locals’ advice to never get between a seal and the water, as any seal, even young ones, can move very fast and they do bite. I shared my seal sighting with John’s colleague, Sarah, and she asked if I had seen the white-bearded man who walks the beach. I had not, but apparently, he was now out of jail, having served time because one of his unleashed dogs killed a seal on the beach. The seal I saw was rather small and all alone, which surprised me.

Near the river is a large ground-bird nesting area, protected with numerous information signs. Spring is starting in New Zealand, so the dotterels are establishing nests. The dotterel is a plover, and at one time, nearly extinct. Only two places in New Zealand currently have populations, and this stretch of sand on 90 Mile near Ahipara is one of them. The other is Stewart Island off the South Island. I am hoping I get to see chicks before I leave in November.

Sometimes, horses are on the beach if the farm down the road has them out for exercise. The gulls are ever present, standing around, looking for pipi to snatch and squawking at the occasional beach walker. Their sound is usually the only noise on the beach other than the crashing surf. Yesterday evening, I took a walk further up the coast, just as the low tide was peaking and the sun was going down. Lost in thought, I was surprised to hear a cow mooing. Standing up on a dune above the beach were five cows, enjoying their grass dinner with the sunset.

Like I said, the beach is always changing.

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