Cheeseburger Lethargy & Other Meditative Tales

takapuna-rolling-cloudsIt’s time to straighten the pictures on the wall, sweep up Winter’s dust and degrease the kitchen and bicycle. The little boy won’t need baths every day because he’s got the sea and nobody to answer to. Summer shine is coming and with it we’ll lay even further back into days of cheeseburger lethargy and ice cream siestas.

Over the Winter, Noodle and I started a tradition of Tuesday car picnics, where we would get cheeseburgers and sit in the mist and rain overlooking the Harbour Bridge at Bayswater Marina. At first, he’d eat the top of the bun and hand me the pickles if my palm was at the ready, or toss them to stick to the roof otherwise.

After a growth spurt, he started gobbling down the whole sandwich and asking for part of mine. Time for a more efficient plan, I figured, and a good old fashioned sit on the porch with tea and cola and hand-pressed cast-iron fried cheeseburgers decorated with ketchup and mustard smiley faces sounded downright idyllic. Ice cream to follow. A nap punctuates the afternoon.


The beaches around here ban liquor after ten at night and before six in the morning. I take the converse to heart and sometimes head down with lunchtime cheeseburgers and chips and lager and set out on a small blanket we keep in the boot in case of emergency leisure situations. I’ve also got spades and buckets and water cannons and frisbees and even a kite for when the wind drives us off the sand. All fits neatly in a canvas bag with a duck screen printed on the side advertising a rescue charity six thousand miles east and north of here.

Beach towns teach their own version of being prepared. Never get caught out without sunscreen and a hat whose brim covers your nose; carry fresh water because the stuff past the sand is saturated with salt and sailors and fish, and that only quenches metaphorical thirsts.

Lounging on a beach is its own art, and one must strike a balance between over-preparation and ill-planned burning-to-a-crisp. One trip from the car or bicycle or what-have-you is all you need to tote the necessary gear to shore, otherwise you’re trying to fill gaps that water and sunshine fill just fine. If you’ve got a tent and a chair and an umbrella and a cooler and scuba gear and a small boat and the full ensemble of last Spring’s linen collection, then you’ve crossed the line between going-to-the-beach and emigrating.

If you’re put out by the sensation of sand between your toes and behind your ears, then I can recommend a lovely café just up the hill, delightfully unadorned by dirt of any sort, and except for the view, utterly bereft of beachiness. You get used to sand everywhere all the time. Dig your damp toes into the cakey shore of a receding tide, warm from the same sun that rises and sets the whole world over, and feel this world work its way under your skin where it belongs. Holds us all together.


If you ask me whether I meditate, the answer is yes, but it probably doesn’t look as you’d expect.

The morning mist is lifting and the tide is out far enough that the shore smells of salt and fish. The gulf sounds quiet compared to the whooshing crashing of the west coast sea, and it’s a quiet morning in the harbour. One small fishing boat is about to descend below the horizon past the lighthouse, and one large container ship lumbers through the channel past the volcano.

Hipsters and parents and retirees walk the sands. We are not tourists, this time of year; this is our life.

Our lives roll slow and easy as the tide, but we are nothing special. One needn’t live by the sea to slow down; one needs to simply slow down. By now, I can be this man anywhere.

A black dog fetches rocks and sticks that his walker tosses casually across the sand. His cares are mine. We give ourselves things to do more than we really need to do. And that’s fine as long as we keep in mind that we can take back our troubles as easily as we hand them out. I’m taking back my life right here, this morning at the beach, even with rain clouds rolling in since I sat down to record this moment. The worst I’ll get is wet. The breeze picked up and I pulled my sleeves back down. I can see the storm forming on the peninsula south. It’s coming. I suppose it’s time I sat back at the cafe and savoured a coffee anyway, back up the green hill and into town. I’ll fold closed my notebook and slip my pen into the spiral after another line or two.

This right here — on this bench at this beach at this hour of the morning – this is why I stop to write – to meditate as it were. It’s nothing fancy. No Lycra jumpsuit or linen tie pants or two hundred dollar sneakers. No teachers no fees no start and no end. Just me and the beach in my ragged favourite hoodie and ragged jeans and ragged brown shoes, gathering salt from the air and cigarette dust from the discarded sticks of meditators past ground into the leaves and grass. I’m inhaling my world, un-separate from its parts, and that’s all I wanted to remind myself before this afternoon’s cheeseburger and siesta, equally as meditative in their peculiar ways.

You just can’t get this feeling from pictures.

  1. But remember never to turn your back to the sea. When my daughter Anna was 4, I took her to a glorious but remote beach on California’s Lost Coast. Anna wanted me to fill her bucket yet again with water, as the surf was rising. I waded out, filled the bucket, and turned toward Anna, with my back to the sea. A rogue wave rose and hurled a rock at my Achilles tendon, severing it. Fortunately there was another couple on the beach who heeded my cries and saved the day for us. Nature is so beautiful but sometimes dangerous as well.

    • Oh David, I remember this incident. Eek. Odd as it is though, I tend to only get as close to the water as the benches take me. (Following “Salvation,” I’m still quite terrified of water.)

    • 13 years ago, I jumped in the air for a rebound in a basketball game when I got kicked from behind and ruptured my Achilles tendon. I was working in the Athletic department of a college at the time, so our physical trainer was the first to see me about an hour after the incident. While sitting in the Trainer’s Room, she came in and asked me if I was kicked in the back of the leg. “Yes I was! How did you know?!” She said because I wasn’t kicked in the back of the leg at all. It’s just what it feels like when you rupture your tendon and [WARNING, GRAPHIC PART AHEAD] it snaps up and hits your calf muscle. Which makes sense because there wasn’t anyone behind me at the time.

      Far be it for me to suggest that you didn’t get hit by a rock, but I will submit my case to you as a possibility. Either way, it doesn’t change the surgery, rehab and ugly scar that prevents me from applying to be on Survivor and I’m sure the similar things you had to go through, not being able to pick up your daughter. But at least now maybe you can only hold a grudge toward the sea, rather than all rocks too.

      Bottom line, stretch before you go into the sea. Or play basketball. Or get out of bed in the morning if you want to be perfectly safe. 🙂

  2. I think my time being this slow guy in Chicago is coming to an end. Looks like Tampa Bay’s glistening sunsets are calling along with the voices and hearts of friends from “before.” I look forward to the adventure of moving, even if to an old stomping ground. I’m sure the paths I’ve never explored are plenty and even those I’ve been down will feel different with my little ones in tow. I’ve let go, for now, of the NZ dream but I’m pleased as pie to have a friend on the opposite side of the rock to help me weather this last Chicago winter with imagery of a young summer. Enjoy! Great piece!

    • I think you should stop off in NZ on your way to Tampa Bay. It’ll take you on a slightly indirect route, but a route worth taking nonetheless. I’ll shout us the first pints (Kiwi idiom for buying a round.) In the meantime, I’ll keep writing about Summer in these descriptive exercises; there’s much to come….

  3. I can see “this man” now. Great story, as you went into detail of slowing down, all memories I had of you recurred and I realized just how “slow”or”zen”you were then, and I imagined just how “in moments” you are now. Mind wide open 😉

  4. I have such a different experience on the beaches in Orange County. Too many people, too much traffic, no parking. But when we’ve deliberately gone north to colder country, towards San Francisco or even further, the beaches really do become downright ethereal. Metaphysical, even. Utpoic. Is “utopic” a word? I don’t care, I’m using it.

    The parallel for me right now, though, is the mountains. When I bring my daughter to the playground here (there’s only one), I just stand and turn in slow circles, quietly observing the scenery while she chases other kids like a ravenous dinosaur. I consider the earthly protrusions erupting with an epic slowness all around us, like a massive hand gently cradling our little valley in its palm. The hawks circling high overhead. The textures on the mountainside reminiscent of crumpled fabric.

    I wonder how and where we’d incorporate these kinds of meditations in a fully concrete, urban environment. Obviously it can be done. But there’s still something different about it.

    As an aside: have you seen Baraka or koyaanisqatsi? I love the way they make me think more deliberately about both the natural world and the constructed world.

    • I was never a beach person until I moved here. They are so different from SoCal; so comparatively empty, and particularly where we are, so calm. It’s the volcano that slows everything down.

      The mountain parallel is beautiful. Next time we’re in town, I should like to see this place.

      in the meantime, I’ll check out your recommendations, which I have not seen. (What you say about them in your last sentence makes me think of “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control,” an exploration of natural v. constructed existence, in my view.)

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