“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” John Burroughs
On another getaway weekend, Harry and I head north out of Melbourne. We wind down our car windows and breathe in the crisp scent of gums and tea tree as we travel a little slower on the gravel road that leads to our cabin in the bush. For the past two hours, we have hummed down the bitumen highway between Melbourne and Sydney, leaving behind the static energy and growing expanse of metropolitan Melbourne.
On reaching a rustic country school and making a right turn, Harry and I smile at one another, his eyes bright with anticipation. Our Labrador, Nev, begins to stir on the floor by my feet – he recognises the approaching scent of paradise too! The road narrows and twists, ruts become larger, the ride bumpier. Harry looks for signs of change, for fallen trees, for dead wombats or spiny echidnas on the dirt road.
Dusk is the most dangerous time to be driving along these quiet bush tracks as shy black wallabies come out to graze on tender wild shoots by the roadside. We did accidentally hit a young Western Grey kangaroo once. To our astonishment, after a few stunned moments, the creature lifted himself off the road with his weapon of a tail and bounced gracefully over a wire fence to join the mob of wallabies grazing in the paddock.
A Thirsty Landscape
This land has suffered many years of drought, horrific bush fires, with rivers and creeks drying up, water tables retreating further into the earth, native trees brittle and brown from the absence of moisture. Forest floors so dry that every human step pulverises the fallen branches into piles of crunchy bark, creating a haven for termites and other industrious insects.
But two years ago, with the turning tide of La Niña, the drought broke in most parts of Australia, and for a time, nature’s regrowth produced shoots and branches, flowing rivers and creeks, and the hibernating insects and wildflowers awoke in a thirsty landscape now drenched by the welcomed rains.
The Scent of Paradise
A cattle gate bars the road leading to our cabin. Nev sits upright as I get out of the car to unclip the chain, my boots crunching on loose gravel. It takes only this moment of arrival to shift time backwards in our minds to the last time we were here. I launch a shrill whinny to let the wild horses know we have arrived. The chestnut mare echoes back a distant whinny as three broad shapes clop towards the car.
The draft horse known as ‘Little’ is a friendly hunk of a beast, who pokes his whiskered nostrils inside the window to check our hands for treats, the odour of warm horse flesh is strong on the afternoon breeze.
Harry continues his search for any signs of human intrusion or damage from fallen trees as we bump slowly along the dusty track. Past the two dams, wild overhanging branches of the wattles scrape along the side of our car, frightening King parrots and Gang-Gang cockatoos from the branches of towering blue gums. The flowering blackwoods fill the air with a vague scent of bush honey. Nestled firmly on emerald green branches, grow prolific clusters of creamy-yellow pom- pom flowers.
Harry makes a mental note of the overgrown wattles encroaching on the track, plotting to remove them with his chain saw if he gets time on this trip. I throw my partner a smile – we come with so many grand ideas to do this and do that, but often end up sitting on the wooden veranda doing absolutely nothing, or listen to audio books while sipping champagne or play guitar and sing by a bonfire of burning logs.
As we bump to a halt by the woodshed, the slow whirring down sound of the engine opens our city-ears to a torrent of silence. Bright saffron rays splinter the light through the forest of peppermint gums behind our cabin, and we call a happy ‘coo-ee’ to the native brush-tail possums and grunting koalas in residence.
Listening to Life at Sunrise
I am not by nature, an early riser – but there is a mystical air that ascends with the shifting movement as night breaks into day. I steal a few precious moments while Harry sleeps to witness the sunrise alone. Creeping out of the warm cabin with a mug of hot tea, I make myself comfortable on the rough wooden veranda beside a curled up Nev. Snug in woollen socks and fluffy dressing gown, I pat my canine companion as the bush comes alive all around us. It amazes me how nature carries my thoughts away into a space of dreamy nothingness – the chatter of a monkey-mind muted by every other sense perking up to catch the sounds of creatures stirring, the scent of flowers opening.
As a soft light lifts from the frosty ground, an unmistakeable hierarchy of bird calls ushers in the new day. Kookaburras chortle with a riot of hysterical laughter, smug way up high in the tops of towering blue gums deep in the forest. Black and white magpies warble like larks with their prettier song in the emerald blackwood trees closer to the cabin.
A variety of native birdlife, the Gang-gangs and rufous warblers, trill intricate melodies at one another, like gossipy women exchanging news in a busy market-place. I tilt my head slowly to pinpoint their nests until a flock of screeching white cockatoos hurtle across the sky, flapping with piercing cries in a raucous display for territorial rights with parrot-cousins, the pink and grey galah. For a few minutes, every other sound of the waking landscape is dominated by this aggression way up high as they move from gumtree to gumtree, chasing each other along the dense forest of old eucalypts.
Nev stirs and a soft breeze tickles my skin. The perfume from wisteria flowers soon arouses masses of native bees, who buzz with euphoric anticipation, courting kisses with the fair lilac-maiden a few feet away. Sitting quietly, my mind asks a question: how can the simplest of things bring the deepest sense of happiness?
Like sensing the patience of Nature in her ever-changing moods as we blend with her cycles, by day and by night. On some occasions, I have been known to weed under a full moon, my hands straying over the different textures of foliage feeling for the weeds among the vulnerable vegetable seedlings we try to grow in an enclosed garden: being with ‘country’ is pure joy!
Sky as Roof, Earth as Bed
The original custodians of this arid land honoured her many moods and respected her natural cycles. The Australian Aborigines were a nomadic people of hunter gatherers living in harmony with the changing seasons: with the sky as a roof, the earth as a bed. Their history dates back at least forty thousand years before white settlement in 1788. and there existed three hundred different languages spoken upon this vast continent.
Aboriginal tradition is built upon the mystical stories known as the Dreamtime. These myths from ancient times are still regarded as a record of Aboriginal truths. Elders of the tribe not only upheld their traditions but passed on their wisdom and their knowledge of prolific bush tucker in the form of herbs, fruits, insects, reptiles, fish and native animals.
The love within our hearts for this haven never dwindles, discovering with childlike abandon nature’s little wonders. The calendar of time is viewed through our senses and what I lack in seeing, Harry, often affectionately referred to as ‘professor google’, can usually recall fascinating data about life, the universe and everything (except on the topics of child birth and aromatherapy!).
He has watched and observed this small patch of ground intimately for over twenty years. Friends who come for short visits cannot escape Harry’s infectious enthusiasm that invariably initiates them into another world less visited. Everything from how to catch elusive yabbies in the dam, where to find rare orchids and Alpine grass flowers, how to distinguish a kangaroo path from a track leading to nowhere, how to read animal tracks and recognise their burrows, learning the symbiotic relationship between lichens and the environment, understanding the stars in the night sky and knowing the interstellar dust by name. And, if ever one should be so unfortunate, to know what one must do to survive a venomous snake bite!
© 2013 Maribel Steel
top image: Jenny Morse