We are bound by our senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch; memory, hunger, thirst, fright, the sense of time – and while enlightenment might be scoured from a freedom from such perceptions, entangled as it is in the prosaic, in the land of the giant trees, I am willingly enslaved to mine.
Towering, reaching, pulsing with acrid sap, a blood that weeps and boils from gnarled skin, the leviathan blue gums in this prehistoric valley have stood sentinel to time for longer than I can perceive. Five-foot nine-and-a-half (that bit’s important), I am reduced to insignificance at a stroke, my heartbeat slows, my eyes gaze ever upwards, my nose is hijacked by the sharp bite of eucalyptus, muddled with dark soil, crushed bracken spores, the damp of long-awaited rain and the rich stink of spring.
In the beat of silence I hear the thrum of life, unfurling, breathing, synthesising. Spores joyride the air like bikers astride the white line, violent, determined, fighting fit. The unquestioned authority of nature, the vibration of a system locked in form and undeniable, is as far removed from white picket fences and a nicely sculpted decorative shrub as you can get.
It rips into itself, tearing old flesh from new growth and spewing it aside, the vicious denouncement of renewal. A festering carcase broils with flies, its decay too pungent to investigate further – possum, deer, wombat, bush turkey, all potential winners in the final race to the sticky loam below.
We are on Dharug land, at the very end of Weatherboard Ridge Trail, Wollemi National Park, where the scrawl of the track dips its toes into Wheeny Creek, open river land that writhes against the steep sides of a bristling ridge, rocks thrown and tumbled into precarious place a wonderland for the Tin Lid and his blonde compadres.
Lyrebirds do a roaring trade imitating bellbirds, who ignore them and continue to peal into the void, while a bush turkey named Trevor wages war on the provisions, gobbling in glee at his perceived superiority. While Trev clearly has the upper hand over the Kelpie, who, as yet, has failed in her attempts to fly, the homo sapiens have made inroads into the melee, existing on salty cheese and beer in halls made of tin:
Velvet swathes of untethered time are soft on my skin, a kaleidoscope of space and place and random thought, interspersed only by smoky tea steaming from the billy. The throng of happy noise that arises from the kids disperses into the distance, the crackle of the CB the only constant. Memory crowds in, time retracted to a distant source, another place, another country, but the same feeling, the same Lapsang taste.
I am humbled here, ploughed fallow in my humanness. The wild glory of old-growth untamed bushland exists in every dimension, a welcome assault to the senses. Straddling the skies the trees unpeel striped skin in a bark of delight. It lands, wet, at our feet, a sacrifice perhaps, revealing the pale beauty of the clean soft surface beneath. And every element is textured, organic braille to be interpreted and absorbed: moss, lichen, pine needles that pillow beneath our feet, swallowing sound;
Flames of colour lick at our gaze, the riot of life synaesthesia for the soul.
And an ochre cave cradles us in its embrace, the aeons of time etched in its skin:
The towering stands of this natural theatre are so far removed from the modern conceits of human existence as to be almost predatory. Senses twitching, nerves on edge, fight, flight or succumb – this is not a human domain but the realm of nature, swelling, splitting, oozing, leaching, as if…
As if we weren’t here.
We all deal with it in our own ways. The Cowboy spews fire into the night sky, a warrior in tune with the majesty that dwarfs him…
He insists on making chappatis to sustain us and a fire to warm us.
The Tin Lid resolves to embrace his animal instinct, mastering a low-slung holler, limbs akimbo
And me? I suck it all in, this powerful sense of human inertia and insignificance, drawn in magnetic spirals by a swarming, relentless presence. Heart of Darkness undertones slake a thirst for realism and ‘authenticity’ – the buzz-word for an urban generation – and the concrete, diesel, asphalt and attrition of the city is sluiced free, pooling in the heaving dirt at my feet.