Stitches in the heart

You won’t easily find it on the map, but Savill Bay is there, nestled deep within the Sounds.

Your heart remembers the lessons Savill Bay taught you. Each one is embroidered on the lining of your heart, some elegantly woven, others crudely stitched.

The bay taught you to be in awe. Dolphins weaved through the waves sometimes, their fins glinting. You kayaked out to them and they skimmed up close, turning to look up at you with one eye. When a pod surrounded your boat, your dad said “Jesus Christ!” because they were longer than the boat, and so close.

One brightly moonlit night hundreds (maybe thousands) of squid pulsed towards the light on the jetty, moving like the wash and ebb of waves against the shore.

You caught a snapper with your dad, and you both laughed and laughed when he pulled it in, because it was the biggest fish you had ever seen. You also felt bad because now it was dead.

The bay taught you to be a little afraid sometimes, in the interests of self-preservation. An orca pod was spotted out in the water just beyond the bay; you madly kayaked into the deep water, hoping to skim with the orcas as you had with the dolphins. Only then did you fear that they might see you as a crunchy kayak sandwich. The orcas were gone though, and you didn’t have to find out if you were right.

Once, when you inadvertently cornered a stingray in the shallows with your kayak, it raised its stinger out of the water and moved towards you. Those stingrays moved like knives through the water. In the mornings the floor of the bay was never still in the shallows: it slid. You only once summoned the courage to jump off the rotting jetty, swim back, and (carefully) put your feet on the ground.

But the bay also taught you to be bold. You kayaked as far as your arms could take you, hoping to reach a seal colony that always seemed distant no matter how far you paddled. Then you realised you still had to kayak the whole way back. The waves chopped up and rocked your balance, and the wind spat spray in your face, but you didn’t die.

You were reminded not to take things for granted. And about reciprocity. It was an hour-long walk up a bush track to the letter box; you walked it every day, but there was never any mail. You learned to send letters if you ever hoped to receive any.

Limitations imposed by the modern world—a stranger to the bay—taught you patience. Your internet stick had a one-gig cap. Letters sent faster than your emails did.

You grew eternally hopeful, reserving a shoulder of golden sand across the bay for some special future someone to sit with in the sun. Eighteen months later you kayaked your love to that spot. The kayak sat low in the water, and threatened submersion (through no fault of hers—it was really only built to buoy one). Together you wove tiny shells into flax parcels, and said sweet words.

You trained to be calm. Sometimes you had to paddle your kayak out into the middle of the bay, pull in the oars, and let the waves whisper against the sides. The sun warmed your face.

Savill Bay has left a rich tapestry of lessons on the walls of your heart. Time will tatter them, but your heart will remember.

This piece was shortlisted for the North and South magazine "Places in the heart" essay competition.