10/100 – Walpole Bay Tidal Pool

The tide is coming in by the time I get to the tidal pool. There's no real need to enter it from the steps as the fourth side lies open to the beach, wall-free. But that end is thick with weeds that live in the sheltered shallows, so it's nicer to lower yourself into the clear water at the foot of the ladders. I walk along the wall with the water bubbling up at its side, threatening to break over and submerge the wall entirely. White nibbles at the edges of the concrete and as I get towards the steps, the fine cobwebby-green coating thickens to a carpet. It's spongy, like velvety wet moss, and as the water comes up and over it, it sways for a moment, dancing before being flattened,strands combed tight over the rock as the water pulls away.

The day is windy and the waves are coming fast against the rock. Climbing in down the rounded metal rungs, it feels as if the sea could fling me out, through the air, to land smack in the middle of the pool. But I hold on tight and it doesn't. I don't tend to get into water with a jump, a sudden immersion. I like the delicious control of stepping in, feeling the silver cold line inching up my body, the counting to three, overcoming the fear and pushing off anyway. But as I can't touch the bottom and the sea is slapping my shoulders with rain-spray already, I don't have much choice. Standing facing the sea, my back to the surface I'm about to descend to, feels too brash, like tempting fate, so I turn and sit on the rungs and do my familiar countdown.

The water is low on the gasp scale, just a sudden burst of impact followed by knowing instantly its okay. It's practically warm. The sun is glinting brightly and the wind is so strong that even the surface of the pool, often sheltered from the whims of the weather, is choppy. Small peaks and troughs rise like shark fins then dip and disappear into the green. The water is cloudy, whipped up by the current, and a flat, almost phosphorescent green. As I swim it flips grey and blue about me.

The pool is huge, so big that I barely notice the handful of other swimmers marking dotted trails across it like contours on a map. At the far edge, the people venturing out to the ladders look as if they are walking on water. One width from the middle steps is equivalent to 6 lengths of a standard 25 metre pool. When I turn the sun is so bright I can barely see. It flares from the sky in long spotlight rays and dazzles the crests of the waves with such intensity that I have to look away. It twinkles like sugar sprinkles catching the evening sun, snow crystals shifting and glittering. I turn to an angle, so I can see where I'm going, and cut a diagonal toward the ladder at the far end, parallel to the beach.

The wall here is completely submerged, waves crashing at its sides and foaming and bubbling along its artificial rim. I hold onto the slippy metal spokes and haul myself up so I'm facing out to the open ocean. The waves crash against and around me, breaking on my stomach and washing foam down to the surface in time for the next wave to hit. They rock my body, so tiny in comparison to the vast ocean, back and forward with the slightest effort. I am so much smaller than they are.

The beauty of a tidal pool is the other worldly combination of the two things – the wilderness with the man-made, the natural with the controlled, the ever changing, unpredictable ocean with the solid, unprotesting boundaries of stone. Up here on the rim, I can see both, right on the edge where they meet. As much as we humans try and bend it to our whims, from up here the sea is clearly winning.

I'm doing this for the Alzheimer's Society.

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