One of my hobbies is loading an online map and exploring Tasmania. Of course I use the official Land Information Services version; it has a search function, but usually I don’t use it, since I’m often not really looking for anything in particular. I just hack at the island with double-clicks until it “zooms” into a spot that has caught my attention.
I spent a chunk of this year away from here, playing at these maps from afar. I’d hone in on a patch where blue lines went wandering down the greyish lumps that made up a mountain range; these cobalt-coloured incisions, the rivers, would cut across blood-red highways and spurt off somewhere to the south-west, beyond the bottom-left of my computer screen.
The landscape was always marked by an interesting set of radiating contours – a massive crack in the screen. And just when you thought the next road was going to lead to some town with a welcoming pub (let’s go with Queenstown), you’d find yourself following the scarlet asphalt towards an empty bowl that recently contained dinner.
Robert Macfarlane once wrote that “a map can never replicate the ground itself.” You can try and double-click your way nearer to the landmarks on an online map, but you will still be extremely far away from them.
Now I am on the ground itself. In a season of doubt, I cleave to tracks I know well. I follow a familiar route up the mountain. But even still there are surprises – not the least of these being the fact that the track has been ‘rerouted’ in my absence.
I forget the map; I try and forget my doubt. For a while I pretend the path is inevitable. Or timeless. I acquiesce to westerlies, put faith in a world ruled by wind. There is the eagle’s view, and the skink’s view. If a fantail drew a map, it would have to be made of liquid.
I find new maps to unfurl and unfold. “Every hundred feet the world changes,” Roberto Bolaño put it. I click fiercely at Nanda Devi, Sussex, Western Australia, drag the planet about with a clenched index finger. I click futilely at that enormous fantasy of soil and river and rock. With more purpose I go thirty metres up the track and find a new view, something that dislodges crusty old thoughts from my mind.
There is no need to click on the track beneath my feet. The vermilion cupolas of waratah flowers astound the forest. The melancholy little flowers of heartberry bushes droop dismally. Eight roos browse on the moorland. A currawong tells a short tale. A hundred feet away, attaining the plateau, I wrestle with gusts, with the beautiful wind, the spirit of the high country, the dominant vector in the landscape, a spontaneous unmappable force, an invisible cache of surprises.