Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

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  • A Few Excerpts from Journal 1, July – December 2019

    A Few Excerpts from Journal 1, July – December 2019

    22/8: And you could write a book about the long and hideous terminal, always without enough seating, in which we wait for the cheap flight back home...Through the portholes on either side I caught glimpses of the island: the arc of pale sand on a Bass Strait bay, the sugar-filled green of watered paddocks, blue-brown rivers slowly travelling to their destination, familiar mountains capped with cloud or snow.

    23/8: Moss grew in the most vivid shade I may have ever seen. A big beige fungus at the base of a tree-stump looked to be liquefying. The pinkberries were almost all without fruit, but some had pleasant white flowers sprouting from them; there was common heath in flower too, the blossoming all pink and shaggy, seeming artificial. Optimistic wattles have produced their seasonal neon baubles.

    27/8: A currawong and a cow both let out their respective sounds simultaneously, evoking an unexpected harmony.

    21/9: Last week out here I watched a brown bandicoot sticking his nose into the dirt at the orchard gate. It was so intent on that business that I could watch it for a quarter of an hour, taking a pace closer whenever it buried its head. This is an arena in which such stories might cross, my being with other beings. There are the eccentric butcher birds, the prolific kookaburras; tonight it is a human family with their chorus in the living-room, and the frogs outside. And a solitary plover sniping at something in the dark.

    15/10: We took off up to Lake Mackenzie and started strolling through burnt country, some pencil pines still surviving in damp indentations in the landscape, the white skeletons of heath bushes like claws in the ground, or some sort of strangely-devised animal trap. We quickly decided to go off-track...A bush-bash commenced. Full bushes jostled us. Rocks wobbled indecisively. Sticks caught in our socks, branches went up shorts. We were covered in benign pink scratches; bright claret dripped down to my boots...Later Rob abruptly slipped and planted his boot in the river; he looked up promptly at me, hoping he’d not been seen. “That fucken sheepish look,” I said and threw my head back to laugh.

    24/10: On Monday night I happened to be online just as the verdict came out on Lake Malbena...I went quickly into a pique of work, calling several members of the guides’ association mob...An hour or two later, I was at Kenna’s place, as the bluffs outside his windows turned a charmed shade of pink. We were trying to put together a media release; a baby quoll ran around on the table and shat next to my shitty laptop...We both observed that we were ill-fit for such a task, but well-positioned.

    26/10: That evening we had whisky by the water. A fair breeze shot through the strait where we’d crossed to the island, but our position was protected and the lake was calm, still, and pale blue. Colour slowly deepened into darkness. We toasted the old hut, the old timers, the old ways. And we lamented the punters who’d probably be there soon, enjoying the same hour, the same serenity, excluding us from it – it was an odd effect, knowing that we would possibly not have the chance to come back here, that the door was closing so distinctly.

    18/11: Outside the eucalypts grow tall and thin, sprouting a nest of branches only near their summits. They sway in the afternoon breeze as if trying to reach each other, to rub against one another and produce friction. To light that spark. It is a forest that yearns for fire. There are little wet gullies nearby, a chain of ponds where the spring runs down, but it is mostly eucalyptus, coprosma, exocarpos, bush peas, cutting grass...Embers in here will be the end of all my possessions, all my work. If a bushfire came there would be nothing to do but flee and know that a long shadow would fix itself in our wake. And hope that something would grow again.

    22/11: Last night, awake and absorbing the feeling of failure, I thought, if this next project goes nowhere, I might as well up and leave. With no time in mind, like I did years ago, starting in India then continuing west. Uzbekistan, Crete, Alexandria, Ethiopia; Athens, Sarajevo, Lapland, Japan. It would achieve very little I suppose. I would not be surmounting anything. But would it count for much to retreat in this train, mouldering away for a winter, rotting in the stench of wilted dreams?

    28/11: There was a line I read a little while back, in a history of the Himalayas that I didn’t otherwise love – “Man is a track animal.” Inevitably, I am; inexorably I have become so. I’ve just done another six days on the Overland. On “the track”. Another “trip”. Not so many can say that they live through the paradigms of journeys more than bushwalking guides. It’s part of the appeal of the job. Perhaps there’s an element of addiction.

    5/12: I came home, cracked a beer, and ate ham sandwiches for lunch. I had a nap. I made another coffee. Emma dropped by. I finished The Savage Detectives. I made a tasty dinner, vegies in coconut cream with rice noodles. I poured stout into my nonagonal glass. It must not be forgotten that this is in almost every single way precisely the life I dreamed of. Down to the stout, to Bolaño.

    19/12: The other night I dreamed of Lake Malbena – it was built up, like a modern island-city, but there were dolphins in the waterways.

    25/12: I looked up and Danny and Flo were on the rocks, near where we jump in. “Do you reckon our ghosts will just sit here throughout summer?” Danny asked. Don glided up to us with a cheeky smile, a grinning grey fish...Danny and I swam over to Hogs Rock and took the plunge. Someone had written the word ‘eternity’ on that big dolerite column, and a recommendation for a certain biblical verse, in colourful chalk. Can I really think about eternity at the Gorge? As Danny suggested, there is an unshakeable characteristic of summer here, which seems to be all we know. Yet it’s also where we see that the years are passing. That it was not one or two summers ago that we did certain things, but seven or ten. That many lives have passed through ours here, some now irretrievable.

  • A Few Excerpts from Journal 1, January – June 2019

    A Few Excerpts from Journal 1, January – June 2019

    3/1 The year’s change happened on top of kunanyi with gusty westerlies...with a sense of the west behind us in mountainous jags and silhouettes. It was, as it turned out, a shit place to sleep, but our picnic dinner was delightful, the sunset blended generous arrays of colours, and the stars blinked and streaked.

    5/1: Everything smelt combustible, gaseous – the heat got down your throat with each breath...We clambered up to a perch of ironstone, silver trees dancing over a surfeit of flowers, white flags and guineas and milliganias. Out west there were mauve clouds – a bushfire. But where? The heat had died off; wind picked up. We looked down on the maze of trees and tarns.

    15/1: There had been thunder, idly travelling around us, for most of the day. Then it rolled right over us, rolled around the bowl of quartzite, the black rock faces now an unnerving amphitheatre. Rain fell in fat drops, making Lake Cygnus shine with colourless flashing highlights.

    16/1: The skies to the north are muddied with mauve smoke. Who knows what burns?

    17/1: Shortly after I wrote yesterday, nestled amongst the pandanis near Oberon’s shores, we were evacuated...I heard the helicopter coming over the ridge and instantly knew it was over.

    23/1: Linton, Aurike and I wandered up the Meander yesterday, then skidded back down; and ate cheese and pickles and Savoys, with pink shoulders. Why can’t it all be so easy?

    31/1: All month I have looked upon clouds I do not recognise, clouds I cannot understand, as if they re now just making it up as they go along. Often enough I have been confused – is that rain? Are they dark shags of wet cloud pouring through the light, or is it light filtering through a malignant grey haze? Is it cloud coming down, or smoke puffing upwards?

    9/2: On the yacht, I felt mildly nauseous as we made our way to Ile des Phoques...I imagined it, with eyes closed, as land lifting and tilting, rolling, earth and moss in a flux, a swell.

    12/2: There will likely be snow today or tomorrow, up on the plateau where the fires fiercely burned. It is an island of contrast and colours. Little wonder that idle dreams seize us even as the future looks futile and desperate.

    6/3: There were exquisite clouds close to the horizon – the texture of spun wool, but the colour of processed metal. And the mountains of the Western Tiers were at one point a sort of mineral green, and later a light blue like a vapour. Well, Annie did once call them ‘the Rainbow Mountains’.

    26/3: The rainforest started hissing. Hard snow rushing into the green milieu. A storm had howled and roared all night, a spear of lightning thrusting itself down near us, over by Ossa. Now snowflakes fell in helices, streamed towards invisibility, in union with the moss.

    4/4: On my way over the plateau I stopped just north of Liawenee, which burnt over the summer. I stomped out over a patch of heath, where cushion plants spread out in dead brown clumps, and the charred skeletons of mallee-like tea-tree stuck up against the blue sky, a network of black sticks. I found bones so thoroughly burnt they were grey and crumbling, cremated. Big eucalyptus trunks had been hollowed out; some had snapped clean in half. But the effect was as much of beauty as it was destructions. Emeralds grew as new ground cover; the structure of the cushion plants supported herbs and grasses, these glimmers of green in a scorched-black landscape. Wreaths grew off the eucalypts.

    20/4: Now wedge-tailed eagles made vortices in the pallid sky. Lake Galaxias was of a pale and calming blue-grey colour, and the sky too was of a smooth, soothing grey...A white goshawk launched off its perch in an elegant eucalypt on the western shore, and after crossing the lake, it came back and scooped something from the waters. (Big trout grow in Galaxias’s turbid waters.)

    27/4: The wind blows; the westerlies shape this island anew; rock columns collapse; eucalyptus crowns come down under the weight of snow.

    30/4: Driving over a bridge on the South Esk, I saw the biggest raptor yet: an aeroplane, hovering dark like a hunter above the paddocks.

    8/5: My friends, a happy crowd oddballs whose summers were as particoloured as mine...They too move on, in whatever way, to something new. None of us returns the same. We can only hope to return at all, although as one scans the names of friends from the past, we know that they may not...Linton and I both go through a nostalgic mood. We dreamed of the winter we will not have. We know we are trading in something of worth. We know that the purpose of our travels us also worthwhile. One can only live a single life. Then we are gobbled up, like rainmoths by a tawny frogmouth.

    20/5: I pack my belongings for the next three months so painfully slowly that I’m sure to have forgotten something significant...inshallah, I shall return to this exact position, to the quiet hum of fire and the din of rain, the variegated nonsense of frogs and birds. I am awfully relaxed, yet I trust that I shall be somewhat shaken by the passage of months, by the lunar rotations and seasonal jolts, queries of cultures and concepts of myself, the geographical leaps I have insisted on making.

    21/5: I left a lot far below, unseen. I left all the landmarks of various intentions, unsaluted. There are still sites of unknowing scattered the country.

    16/6: I have often joked how much better Tassie is than anywhere I go – and it is said in jest, but it also so evidently true for myself. Nowhere satisfies me like home. Why has it been so long since I paused for a long while, tarried in Tassie – to watch out a whole footy season, as it were?

  • The Colours of Bushfires

    The Colours of Bushfires

    I had smelled it whenever I’d been in the bush over the past few weeks: vaporous and gaseous, like something that was begging for a match to be put upon it.

    Now I’d driven west, following rivers running up their fertile valleys, straw and stubble where the spouted spit of irrigators hadn’t reached. The rivers themselves had a hot glare about them. On the colourless road out to one of Pedder’s dams, spitting up a grey wash of dust, it seemed somehow like I was driving into a desert.

    I was aiming for a particular mountain range, an array of queer quartzite peaks. Their summits are so often like antennae for heavy cloud and rain, in the wet south-west, where the winds of the roaring forties thrash oceanic gusts against whatever they meet. But the forecast was for days hotter than thirty degrees.

    So it was that I found myself on a moraine, on a slab of quartzite and in the midst of a hot morning, sitting with an ecologist. He’d previously surveyed the golden sedgelands where we’d camped, which were now far below us. Those plains appeared clean and smooth, soothed by the fires that once rode through. Meanwhile, on odd slopes, wedged in gullies, there were myrtles and king billies. A palette of myriad greens of the south-west rainforest.

    I was on a mountain range of planets and stars, Hesperus and Aldebaran and Sirius. Even in the bright day, the constellations were found in the black tarns, those indented into shelves of rock beneath barbarous bluffs.

    At night, by Lake Cygnus, we were briefly walloped with stray weather. Tinny thunder rumbled around our quartzite bowl. Over the bony ridge, there were fast, fatal flashes of lightning.

    From the heights we hiked the next morning, we could see a series of fires burning on Pedder’s shores, plumes of smoke up the Huon and behind several other mountain profiles. The skies were muddied with mauve haze. Apparently over a thousand strikes made landfall, in various swathes across the island. So we wear the scars of lightning without rain.

    I had been on mountain heights when bushfires burnt the guts out of forests several summers ago, in 2016. I’d seen the forked lightning then too; watched a spiral of smoke coming from a landscape I loved. In the weeks that followed, my poet’s tongue contorted with furious, artless passion. It’s all fucked, I felt, and I felt it loudly. I savaged a lover because she didn’t understand.

    These trees, I tried and failed to say. Their green is drawn from too far back for this. See this one? It is, itself, over a thousand years old. Yet the whole species may be extinct before I disappear.

    But some land likes to burn too. Some of our commonest species are pyrophilic, as they say – ‘fire lovers’. Eucalyptus, buttongrass: fire has been healer. The old people cleaned up country with it, used it to turn ground. The torch can be an ecological tool. But other flora is tremendously sensitive to fire; these glean no hope from it. They simply die. Too much fire, and they will be gone altogether. We seem to be getting too much fire.

    The fact that they sometimes live side-by-side – such different ecosystems, plants that respond so differently to fire – is one of this island’s usual mysteries.

    At the end of the third day on the range, a helicopter arrived to evacuate us. We looked upon the tortured track we’d picked at, those twisted staircases of white stones between the bizarre grey boulders, the nipped ridges and narrow saddles we’d skipped upon, and those star-filled tarns, black in the broad day. It was a shame to leave it below. But everything before us was smudged in smoke, swirling upwards to the sanctuary of our summits.

    Now I’m home. Silent at this distance, the fires are deafening in forests elsewhere. I know their roar, black and violent and quivering with rage. I know the hissing heat of those growing beasts, the sudden unflinching flux of leaves converted into flames. The whirling vortices of smokes are representations of our changed conditions.

    We must learn the colours of bushfires, must learn fire’s moods. We must adapt to a fire-ravaged land. Perhaps we will. But there is much that simply cannot adjust itself so suddenly. I am proud of plenty of the plantlife that may not survive this overheated century; they are part of my identity as someone who belongs to this island. Perhaps we may hope that in secret pockets, those peculiar species will cling on. Yet in a sense that has less science – that an ecologist is not able to describe, clever though he may be – with each of these summer fires, another sacred stand of king billy pine is plainly razed, out of sight, in my heart.