Om de Hoek

Someone call 1912, tell them I found their missing summer day.

There is a spit of land in the far west of the Netherlands. A tiny spit of land that forms the headway for the great river Maas that cuts through Rotterdam. A tiny spit of land that takes the brunt of the elements, the largest ships, the everything the ocean and sky and wind can throw at it. That tiny spit of land is called Hoek van Holland (literally, the corner of the Netherlands). And yesterday, I finally saw it.

Hop on the B metro. That’s easy; the station is literally outside my front door. Ride that baby all the way to the end: Schiedam Central. Find the bus halt. In summer, there can be as many as four bus lines running back and forth – but, of course, on the day my brother and I went, there were only two buses every hour.

As I traveled across this tiny nation (and tiny it IS; my goddess! I’d drive longer to get to my grandparents’ home than it would take to travel the length of this tiny land), I watched the landscape change. The Dutch have a way of planting up the area to hide cities and towns and industrial parks. The only way you know something is over there is due to the church spire towering above the trees, or a fast glimpsed solar panel through the canopy. Then, in a heartbeat, everything changes. The trees open up to wide, expansive fields dotted with cows, sheep, and horses. A quiet lake surrounded by tall reeds erupts in activity as a gaggle of geese takes off in flight.

There was a time I looked at the neat rows of trees here in the Netherlands and thought yuck, gimme real forests. Everything looked too manicured, too tamed to my eye. I was used to horizon-to-horizon openness: wide skies, nature, and not another human to be seen. But after spending a large portion of my life near such untamed wildness, I find now that I appreciate all the landscaping the Dutch have done. There are paths through the land here. Paths that can take a bicyclist or walker from one side of the country to the other. Paths that are well laid, and lit at night. Paths that wind you around those trees and quiet lakes, through the fields dotted with animals, past every sight worth seeing. Tired? Thirsty? Need to pee? Undoubtedly the Dutch have thought of that, too, and if you just hang on for another five minutes you’ll see the bench laid out to sit on (conveniently under a large tree that offers its shade to travelers), or the cafe with cold drinks and hot sandwiches, or the public toilets that are always kept clean and well stocked.

These little niceties are especially appreciated after 14 years in Ireland, where sitting was an irregularity…

When we finally made the beach, it was like some long forgotten scene of a by-gone era. Sun parasols dotted the sand, a look I always associate with “olden times”. Some kids flew kites. A couple of boys kicked a football around. Kids and adults alike licked ice cream cones and sucked cool drinks. Dogs played in the surf. Despite it being only 20C (70F), most people were out in their bathing suits, determined that since it was summer, they’d treat it like summer, no matter how many goose bumps they got from the chilly off-shore wind.

And it was clean. Maybe the cleanest beach I’ve ever seen.

We were told it was ‘just a beach’. What we found was a lively on-sand mini-town. There were fancy vacation homes if you wanted full time sun and sand. A row of cheap fast food, then better sit down meals, then clubs with alcohol and entertainment. Shops to buy stuff at, arcades to throw away your euro on. And a long stretch of sand dunes, guaranteed to hide walkers, bikers, and lovers from prying eyes.

Up, and down. Out to the end of the breakwater, to watch the waves crash over the gigantic rocks laid down like a giant’s building blocks scattered along the way. Half a dozen hardy fisherman cast their long poles, teasing the hidden fish swimming amongst the seaweed.  A double toot from an outgoing passenger liner, people standing along the railing waving at those of us still on land.

The most disappointing thing of the day was our fish, bought from a stand on the beach. Expensive, and not nearly as good as the guy who has a stand by our house.

Today, I am back to more normal activities. The gym, obviously. Walking in the sand for three hours is good exercise, but it isn’t the cross trainer. Need to get to the printer and have a hard copy of my play printed up. Haven’t looked at it for days; giving my brain and my eyes a good rest before the final editing process. Gotta run my lines, too. Been neglecting that.

Telling myself good things are coming. They’re om de hoek.

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