Just before reaching Aberdeen’s beach, I feel the temperature drop about ten degrees as a cold front rushes in. There is an even ceiling of dark cloud, and even though I know it will rain soon I keep walking. I know I’m close to the sea because there are no more buildings obscuring the horizon. The only thing that blocks my direct view is a low grassy embankment in front of me. I hurry up and over, and in an instant I see the entire oceanscape in descending order.
The clouds cease abruptly at the distant horizon, which is punctuated by a dozen massive industrial ships. They rest in the vast blue expanse that stretches towards me for miles until its form and color are interrupted by waves. The border between water and earth is less defined than that between air and water: the waves advance, mix with the sand, and recede. The last thing I see as I reach the top of the embankment is the empty boardwalk right below me.
It was a simple but exhilarating moment. I pull out my notebook, set it on the railing, and try to register the scene in greater detail. There is a steady, gust-less wind. Strangely, I feel it but don’t hear it. I do hear a couple of seagulls in the distance. The waves are loud enough to drown out the sounds of the city, but they’re still gentle. Regular and rhythmic, the noise gradually crescendos as each wave reaches different parts of the shoreline at different times. I see few people.
The MacHalpin family is the only group at the beach today. I know their name because Mr. MacHalpin has written it in giant letters in the sand. Dad and the two boys flirt with the incoming waves, while Mrs. MacHalpin and her baby girl work on a sand castle from a safe distance. Mr. MacHalpin adds a “2015.” This confuses me, as if he believes his sandy autograph will last until at least 2016 when in all likelihood it will be erased by the coming rain and tide in an hour.
As a little sprinkle starts to fall they begin to pack up their belongings. They notice me writing and Mr. MacHalpin yells affably in that wonderful accent:
“Are you journaling about us?”
I have been exposed. It’s only now that I realize how absolutely conspicuous I look: the only other person at the beach, standing on the pier fifteen feet above them, looking down and writing. There is of course nothing else I could possibly be doing.
“Yeah, kind of,” I return, conscious of how American that sounded.
“Are you a journalist or are you just taking notes? Are we going to end up on the front page tomorrow?” Mrs. MacHalpin jokes.
It is good that they think I’m a journalist and not a voyeur.
“No no, just taking notes,” I laugh.
There is a hint of hopefulness in her questions, a hint of flattery at the thought of having done something newsworthy.
The rain falls down harder on my notebook, the MacHalpins move for cover, and I start to leave. After a few steps I turn back. I take a photo to document the moment, before walking away towards the train station.