I wanted to write about the sixteen slim-necked cormorants perched on the crumbling remains of the old concrete dock, how they kept the heads all turned in the same direction, towards the drift of the sun, and how only the last two closed to the shore kept their wings spread to dry. I thought I might describe how my body relaxed when I stepped onto the shore path and heard the steady hum of honey bees in the red flowered gum trees or how my spirit soared seeing the blue black shimmer of old lone crow sitting in the top of the pine tree, cawing and sawing and more or less crowing to the world about the ripening pine nuts splitting from drying cones in the August sun. I even took a picture of both the gum tree and the pine, and as I walked I imagined how I might weave the descriptions of the two trees together, balancing the sound of a thousand small winged honeybees against the clumsy hoots of the wide-winged crow, using that balance as a springboard into a brief discussion of wild food that might slip smoothly into an ecstatic reverie about being airborne. I was waxing poetic, soaring high on my own empty headed whimsy, when one loud and emphatic voice blew that all away like the preternatural fluff that it was.
At first I had no idea how or if this rasping almost metallic voice was attached to a human body. I was down at the far end of the beach, past the bathhouses and near where the last of the high reeds grew clumped on a bit of sand that may have once been a dune before the coming of picnic tables and firepits. When I glanced about, the nearest visible people were hundreds of yards down the beach. Unless that crew of sunbathers had hidden microphones tucked into beach blankets, they were too far away for such volume or such clarity.
It’s too early. The voice said, twice.
I looked about again, saw nothing but the shore reeds standing tall behind the low concrete barrier, shivering in what might be described as easily as a lack of wind as anything else. Then suddenly a tall lanky figure unfolded from behind the concrete, one arm reaching skyward, the other pushing two ratty foam mats and two equally disheveled cotton sleeping bags over the barrier, expanding upward until he was standing, ready to vault over the cement barrier, which he did. Then, once again standing, this time on my side of the barrier, he dropped onto one knee and with as much speed and elasticity as he had unfolded, this stick man crouched down, gathered both the mats and the bags to his chest, and before snapping upright again, yelled between his legs, Ain’t too early. I got as much right to sit on that goddamned beach and watch the fucking sun set as those fucking bastards do and dammit, I’m going to do just that.
He marched off, clutching the mats and dragging the sleeping bags. Although I was standing very near where he vaulted up and over the barrier before curling and uncurling, back to the ground and up again, I don’t think he saw me. If he did, he said nothing, offered no wave or glance or apology when one sleeping bag snapped against my leg as he rushed away. The woman, the voice, who followed, just as tall but broader around the shoulders, did see me. Before clambering awkwardly over the cement barrier, she gave me an apologetic grin and brief wave as if to say Men, and then reached over the wall to grab a paper sack that looked too worn to stay intact for very long. She cradled the bag in her arms and walked with some dignity and no small amount of grace down to the beach where her partner was already heaving the sleeping bags and the mats into a pile on the sand next to sunbathers and two toddlers with bright red pails and blue shovels. I could hear the bottles clink and clank as she walked away.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I sat down on the cement barrier and saw three more worn paper bags nestled against the back of the barrier, two stuffed with shirts and towels, maybe underwear underneath and one filled with bits and scraps of food – half a loaf of bread, opened bags of chips, some crusts of cheese, a jar of peanut butter, and who knows what else underneath. Not the makings of a sumptuous picnic. No carefully wrapped half-eaten sandwiches prepared elsewhere before noon on some well-washed kitchen counter. No deviled eggs, no neatly folded paper napkins, no polished apples. The woman glanced several times over her shoulder at me, and after setting the paper bag on the sand, she turned to comeback to the wall and the other bags. Recognizing her anxiety, I rose and waved, as if to say, don’t worry, and then felt silly doing that. She didn’t, of course, wave back. I knew what she knew. The paperbag larder of scavenged bits couldn’t be, shouldn’t be, left unguarded too early when the park was still too crowded with people. The home behind the concrete barrier must remain unseen and shouldn’t be abandoned too early before park personnel locked the bathrooms and went home. This place, protected from shore winds, was worth guarding until nightfall. It was too early to leave it unprotected.
As I walked back along the beach, the sun lay low, sparking the water. The crow was still harrumphing in his tree, and passing beneath the gum trees, the bees sounded as loud as before, but to describe such sounds as salves capable of assuaging loneliness no longer seemed necessary or even desirable. I went home and fell into a deep sleep, unmarked by dream. When I woke, the moon was rising, just past full but as round and gold as an early harvest moon.