I remember battling 120km/hr winds on top of an exposed peak, struggling to keep my sanity while searching for a foot of ground we could safely sleep on. Then there was the night we slept under the stars, tucked amongst sandstone pagodas as if living in a private wing of some grand, many-roomed castle. Months earlier, our adventures had brought us the unexpected beauty of an ephemeral waterfall tucked up a narrow valley in a landscape caught between the semi-arid and the granite belt. Which reminds me of the breakfast we had the next morning, watching a spotted quoll rummage through cracks on the cliff-lined creek.
It has been a good year. Twenty-two National Parks in 12 months, with multiple visits to some of them. This blog, then, is a collection of observations and snippets from a year of adventures. It is also our passionate call to everyone - get out into this amazing wild landscape we live in.
“…a certain kind of wanderlust can only be assuaged by the acts of the body in motion, not the motion of the car, boat or plane. It is the movement, as well as the sights going by, that seems to make things happen in the mind and this is what makes walking ambiguous and endlessly fertile: it is both means and end, travel and destination.” Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Penguin Books, 2000.
Not all our adventures from 2016 have made it on to the blog yet, so stay tuned for some of these stories next year. Here are a few hints of what's in store....
A stand of ancient grass trees sit atop this unassuming peak. The trees are festooned with lichen, moss and hanging orchids, with trunks more than 1m in diametre and branched crowns of up to 10 different grass heads. I wander through this strange forest, spellbound. These are old trees. Flowering spears draw in honeyeaters and silvereyes. Nothing else grows beneath the dense canopy. Mist drifts through, adding an eerie beauty to the cool, high ground.
Logbook, Mt Cole: "Wed 9 March 2016 - Marc, Russ, Tom. Perfect weather. Change of season in the air today...total solar eclipse in a few hours in northern hemisphere. Powerful to be up here. Energy is very heightened. Finely resonant, elating, consciousness expanding. Feeling deeply tuned-in, purified, grateful for the privilege of being in this sacred place. May we all act as custodians and leave only carefully placed footprints and positive vibratory echoes of our presence here."
"Sunday, 12th June, 11:54 - Undies are full of leaves and socks are wet but the view is wonderful."
Some of the places we visited were easy to get to, simple little adventures anyone can do. Others took more effort, planning, experience - we came back from one long day trip scratched, bleeding, exhausted, nothing left in the tank, not wanting to cook dinner just sleep. It was a walk where we sat on a high point watching eagles circle and glossy black cockatoos squabble in the forest oaks, knowing only a bushwalker could get that experience.
Henry David Thoreau: “When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shop-keepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them — as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon — I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.”
It has been a good year for flame trees in the rainforest, silky oaks on riverbanks and small pink dendrobium orchids flowering profusely on the rock walls of craggy peaks.
It's been a good year for wildlife encounters - platypus swimming in a clear pool just two metres below us. They are so alert to the world around them, above and below. And yet, on another trip, as our canoe drifts across a still pool, a platypus paddles straight towards us on a collision course, it's beady eyes suddenly spot us and, in a flash, it duck dives and disappears just a metre off the bow.
The copperhead waits and listens to our conversation with the English tourist we have met. She is riding her mountain bike down this forest trail and we are walking in from 4 days off-track in the wilderness. The snake is beside her front wheel, in striking distance of her ankle. It takes 5 minutes before I see it and quietly suggest the woman move slowly towards us. Her heart is racing. It is her first snake encounter. What are the chances of us all meeting and stopping, sharing that 1 square metre of forest on the edge of 765 square kilometres of wilderness.
"Morrison promoted conservation through patriotism. He believed that affection for Australian flora and fauna, and therefore the desire to protect them, could spring only from knowledge and understanding. Australians, he thought, should be proud to look upon their wildlife as a trust for which they were responsible. 'We want Australians', he explained in a Wild Life editorial, 'as part of their national character, to protect all the things of the wild as though anything other than protection for such remarkably interesting creatures were unthinkable.'" Patriots: Defending Australia's Natural Heritage, by William J Lines UQP 2006 p.3.
From an overnight walk in June my notes say: "Nothing amazing to see but fun to be off track." Until we return to the carpark and an unassuming, tall man asks if we have seen any lyrebirds on our walk. It turns out he and his partner are lyre bird specialists, they are supervising students doing their PhD's on these unique songsters and the lyrebirds in this national park are particularly unique - they may be a sub-species, he tells us. The birds here have their own special calls and are separated from the rest of the main east coast population. We point him to the gully where we heard them singing. I wish now I'd listened more closely to the song.
This is why it pays to stand up, walk off, look, go, see, open your eyes. The lesson for me at the end of 2016 is that I can immerse myself in wilderness and never fear drowning, not feel the urge to come up for air for a long, long time.
To see what I mean you could try this poem of mine, called The Watershed, published this year on the online eco-poetry journal Plumwood Mountain. Here's the opening canto:
1. Heading out
Autumn clouds are scouting the mountains
heading for high points on the range
at Weeping Rock and Eagle’s Nest they settle
the divide between sky and forest
the way lovers thread themselves through each other
weaving possumwood and rain
times like this people stay inside, head for shelter
when it fogs in, he goes out
laces up his solitude and walks off track:
camera, cooker, curiosity,
a pack of reasons strapped to his back
walking through snow grass
he picks up observations, has cliff edges in mind,
crosses three rivers before they are named.
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