One of my favourite beaches in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on the west coast of Vancouver Island is South Beach. You start at the Kwisitis Visitor Centre on broad, sandy Wickaninnish Beach (the south end of Long Beach), walk past a totem pole honouring the local Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, and glimpse the ocean through a thin veil of trees before walking up a shingle-covered ramp into the forest. A brief boardwalk takes you to the top of a hill and stairs down onto South Beach, which is completely different from Wickaninnish Beach. It’s more of a cove with black igneous outcrops of rocks on either side and more rocky islets in the water. Many-hued pebbles form the beach, worn smooth by the rolling surf.
My most recent wanders to South Beach were in early October. On the first day, the ocean is restless, heaving big waves at the rocks and onto the beach. I climb the rock outcrop on the right side of the beach to observe the waves (while bearing in mind that people have died by being washed off those very rocks by large waves when they got too close). The ocean is sucking water back from the beach, anxious to retrieve the last wave it tossed onto the pebbles. I sense the ocean is inhaling and exhaling water, gasping for sustenance as if it were climbing a mountain. Occasionally, a large wave smashes into one of the rocks and throws a geyser of saltwater into the air. It is spectacular and fun to watch. To capture some of the thrill, I set my camera to burst mode (also known as continuous shooting or drive mode) to capture the motion of the waves at small intervals.
I go back a day or two later. The ocean has settled into a relaxed breathing rate, and I find the waves less fascinating than the pebbles on the beach. For some reason, the pebbles in one section of the beach are particularly colourful and the size of beads, and I drop to my knees to “pet” the pebbles, to run my hands over them and through them. If you like earth tones, some of them are certainly beautiful enough to be used as beads in jewelry: mustard yellow, lichen green, earth brown, dusk grey, midnight black, brick red, peach pink, egg white, and every colour of speckle. Bits of smooth shell also abound, mostly bearing the indigo of oyster shells. The last few times I’ve been to South Beach, I’ve also found (and disposed of) bits of wire, and it’s easy to imagine I’m picking out treasures in nature’s bead shop. Sitting on this beach for half an hour or more and searching for beautiful pebbles with which to create a temporary rock collection grounds me in the bliss of subtle beauty. I wonder how many people visit this incredible beach and never notice the pebbles–I’m sure all those RVers who pulled into the campground and stayed one night did not have time to appreciate the wonders of beach pebbles.
It’s hard to leave when the sun drops and hovers just above the horizon, but there was enough bear scat on the trail to make me want to be out of the forest before dusk falls. Not knowing when I may be back, it is hard to say good-bye. I’m grateful to know South Beach by its waves and its pebbles.