Our family holiday in France: the first few days the sun was so hot, it took your breath away to stand on the sand and look out at the sea. Later in the week, the weather turned. Greyer. Cooler. Moodier. Instead of spending afternoons baking in the heat, we started going to the beach first thing in the morning when the entire, freshly raked, sandy expanse was empty. It was us — occasionally, a lonely man with a metal detector — and a handful of shellfish scavengers hacking at clusters of sharp, black, ruffle-shelled mollusks. With the tide out, muddy, seaweed-covered silt greeted us. Once, we found a beached jellyfish — a milky, opaque, alien presence — seemingly abandoned overnight, evidence of another world just beyond the waters edge, brimming with wonders we could only guess about.
These morning walks became our favourite activity. Though the beach looked empty, on closer inspection, it was teaming with life — crabs, clams, and gulls (to name the most recognisable) — and this is where our story neatly intersects with Nikki McClure’s. Her main character, too, finds himself on a muddy beach with the tide out. “It seems like I spend every day all hot summer long waiting for the water to creep back over the mud. I’m not alone. Crabs under rocks, clams and worms burrowed deep, barnacles closed tight — they wait for high tide too.”
The boy is restless, “I WANT TO SWIM NOW. INSTEAD, I SIT AND WAIT.” On this day, though, he has a distraction from the agony of waiting for the water. His family is going to build a swimming raft. As the human agents go about their business — wading, foraging, feasting — nature’s creatures do their thing, too, with perfect symmetry.
McClure weaves a tale that appeals to the same part of me that loved The Oregon Trail (that 1980’s, US elementary school, pixelated, video game classic). There is chopping and chipping, wildlife and discovery. McClure’s description of a picnic lunch unpacked from “Mama’s handy picnic basket” consisting of “peanut butter sandwiches, cold mint tea and sweet watermelon” brought nostalgia for a childhood experience imagined, but never experienced, pieced together from remembered fragments of books like Theodore Taylor’s The Cay and E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.