My mathematician husband tells me that coastlines are infinite. I believe it is something to do with fractals – shapes with endlessly intricate edges. I robustly insist that my coastal walks are measurable. But it is undeniably true that the Essex shoreline is long, especially when paced out by my footsteps.
As Coronavirus restrictions have kept us closer to home, many of us have been exploring our local areas. Instead of travelling to more exotic locations, I have been satisfying my craving for wild and watery spaces by tramping the sea walls and beaches of good old Essex. According to the Ordnance Survey, Essex has a remarkable 905km of coast, coming only second behind Cornwall in the contest for the English county with the longest coastline. Creeks and estuaries, sea walls and saltmarsh twist and entice for mile upon mile. I will not be running out of new places to walk any time soon!
A liminal space
There is something special about walking beside the sea. The coastline is a liminal space. I love that word, liminal. It sounds like the lapping of tiny waves on sand. It means a place in between, neither here nor there. It is the magical silence between night and daybreak, the peace between breathing out and breathing in. The shore is a world of shifting edges, forever changing as the tide flows, revealing and concealing secrets. When I walk here, there are no fixed expectations. Gulls and waders get on with their watery business and the sea reflects the sky. I round the next bay and inhale the tang of the marshes.
Pandemic and pitching emotions
The recent pandemic has thrown us all into uncertainty. My business, my children’s education, my elderly relatives’ health all lack solidity right now. My emotions continue to pitch unpredictably from optimism to sorrow and back again. Times are difficult.
We are living in liminal times. After the initial shock of lockdown, many of us hunkered down into the relative security of simply staying at home. Now the messages are more complicated. We are encouraged to work, but with tense limitations. Perhaps our children can return to school, but the new rules are challenging. It’s ok to meet others, but only at a distance. And no one seems to know what the future holds. Rumours are everywhere. Worry and anxiety abound. It is difficult to maintain a sense of balance.
The sea comforts me because it has moods too. One day the waves crash and slap angrily. The next time I walk they are Buddha-quiet. The sea never makes excuses or blames anyone. It simply is. It is huge and always there and eternally changing. Its constant presence makes space for me and my little problems.
I have trudged from Maldon to Goldhanger, Frinton to Clacton, around Tollesbury Wick and along the white shell beach to Bradwell Waterside. As the lockdown weeks tick by, I am clocking up my coastal mileage. The shoreline is my meditation, subtly dull and unexpectedly beautiful. It reflects my moods and challenges my frustration. Is it infinite? Certainly it is spacious enough for me.
Karen Lawrence is an author, blogger and yoga teacher living in Billericay, Essex. You can read more of Karen’s writing at www.karenlawrenceauthor.com. You can learn about Karen’s Yoga and Reflexology at www.thecalmspace.co.uk.