It was not long into the return trip home today I felt like stopping to admire the view. I was travelling along the crest of a hill on a dirt track. To my left the ground fell away. The sky was blue and the sun shone down upon a network of ravines between the hills, mysteriously shrouded by the mist that seems such a feature of this place. It feels a remote place even though it is not that distant from the city. It is rugged and beautiful and looking out upon it I thought, not for the first time, what a wonderful place we live in.
There are many people around the world who could doubtless say something similar about their home, the difference being that this is mine. There’s a sense of pride with this. I’m a strong Australian, I find much to grateful for and glad of in general. Still, there is a different sense to this. I’ve travelled through many different terrains in Oz, from desert to rainforest, through red dirt country where the bones of dead beasts litter the sides of dry waterholes, to alpine areas where the air has a bite to it, and the trees grow close and tall.
Perhaps it’s the same everywhere, but I always feel in the midst of all this place great mystery. There seems in some ways a knowing indifference, as if there is a consciousness that nature will outlast us. How many times have I felt a sense of wondrous awe? Many times, and it’s great to remember. It may be indifferent, but this is ours, distinct I think, and certainly unique from most of the world. It may be indifferent, but if anyone belongs it is us, and us particularly who have have come to love and respect the might of the land. The tall gums, the curling ferns, the harsh sun, the wildlife like no other place, this is ours.
We had gone for a walk late the previous afternoon down the road I had just driven, and come to an area that seemed like many others I had seen around Victoria. Here the ground had been cut away by a creek we could distantly hear, but barely see. The vegetation was thick and moist: here there was a different ecosystem from up the hill, here it was degrees cooler and in the air a sense of damp. Gun-barrel straight stringy barks grew up from the ravine reaching for the sky, the trunks of some metres and metres in diameter, majestic and quintessentially Australian. On many the bark had curled into mad and untidy scrolls that somehow clung still to the tree. Others were stripped bare, the bark providing food for the vegetation below and in the pale light looked ghostly. At the foot of the trees giant tree ferns grew amid a profusion of smaller ferns and bushes.In the still and silence a bird might be heard occasionally. By the side of the road a wombat stiff with rigor mortis lay in the channel cut by rain. We stood without saying a word, taking it in, this ‘nature’, this place, this other world that goes on regardless of what we do or strive for in the city, timeless, eternal, forever.
That was in my mind as I made my journey home. I had decided to take a different route back, but already I had been forced to make a detour because of a road closure. I had the GPS and so ploughed on in the expectation that it would lead me out of trouble. The roads were quiet though. Mostly they were hard-packed mud with a bit of gravel on them. They wound between the hills, between light and shade and had I not the GPS I would have become easily lost.
As it was I wondered at times if I was not. The GPS led me down tracks that I soon turned from, unsure if my car could continue on the slippery mud earth and seemingly headed towards more remote places yet and shrouded in mist. I found myself selectively ignoring the GPS , choosing to remain on the nearest thing to a main road – a single lane road of gravel and mud. Once committed there was no point turning back.
Still it was pretty. The hills seem to go on forever. At times we would dip before climbing, the road straight for no more than a hundred metres at a time. For the most part forest grew on either side, native mostly, amid the odd pine plantation. Between a narrow track might occasionally be seen divert into the bush, either a ‘road’ the GPs wanted me to turn in to or the driveway to a home invisible to the road, a letter box at the junction.
I drove for over 30 minutes without seeing another vehicle or person. Finally I saw a man, a farmer I presume, by the side of the road who waved at me as I passed. In time I found vehicles coming the other way, and a pensioner on a cyclist climbing the winding hill in my direction. Civilisation, I thought, must be near at hand.
And so it was, if paved roads and traffic can be termed civilisation. I joined in the throng, making good time on the homeward journey until 20 kilometres from home when an accident on the Monash caused a traffic jam kilometres long.
Home now, tired, well and truly overfed, somewhat bleary in total and wondering how I’m going to adjust back into real life tomorrow. Life could be harder.