Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

Currently showing posts tagged maps

  • 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.

  • The Ground and The Wind

    The Ground and The Wind

    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.

  • The Comforts, and Otherwise, of Being Home

    The Comforts, and Otherwise, of Being Home

    I come home on a quiet Sunday evening to find dozens of faces staring at me in the streets.

    There’s no-one walking the streets, of course. It’s Sunday night. Lengthy shadows ran down the South Esk as my aeroplane landed. The fields were golden, but cold. The mountains were grey and indistinct from the sky.

    The faces are those of council candidates, contenders for the position of alderman. A lot of them are familiar. Some are good friends, admirable people. Some, I have reason to believe, are not. (The athlete Usain Bolt is also edited onto a panorama of Launceston, for an Optus ad.)

    A town like mine writhes with competing motives, and I see these in the eyes of those on the posters (although what Bolt is doing I don’t know). While I criticise some council wanna-bes, I know my own wishes seem to be weird and wormy, outdated and obsolete. Very few people want what I want: solitude, diversity, the intermingling of simplicity and complexity.

    A few years ago, outside Town Hall, I had an alderman tell me off for calling Launnie a town. “City! It’s a city!” But it feels like a big ol’ town to me. The sun comes out and every day I see a dozen people I know. Nina’s in the park, Luke’s in the street, Barnesy’s in Civic Square, Sinead’s in Service Tas, Wombat’s in Saint John, Stacky’s at the Oak. I like to see the old cobbers, but I am also ready to be alone.

    The mall has been rejuvenated; so too has the square outside the library. I find them clean, open, uninspiring spaces. Their motifs seem meaningless: a honeycomb design, some skinny thylacines, x-rays of human skeletons. Northern Tasmania has a million pertinent symbols, but these are sourced from nowhere, from nothing. They are for everyone and so they are for no-one.

    I try and found comfort in the grounds of the Cataract Gorge, but there, the lawns are being torn up and a pile of playground equipment is being installed. The trucks’ blaring signal cuts through the excavator’s dull roar. The quiet peep of the fantail is impossible to hear.

    I have been away for some months, and I know that much of my dissatisfaction in what I see comes from inside of me. I’m restless; I’m ready to finish up travelling for a while, but still I find myself crashing in a different spare bed every night, living out of my backpack. I test-drive cars around Kings Meadows, up the Tamar, Waverley. It’s nice to get behind the wheel, to muster up a bit of speed, to have movement on my native island. But one car runs too hot, another seems to have oil in the radiator. I get on an empty bus. I walk up hills and through parks.

    What, then, do I take comfort in? The sight of raptors above Tamar Island. The slouching wattles, prudent plovers, and boofy casuarinas. The first flowers of native mint, its sticky sour smell, and the reminder it offers of a woman I met last year who described it in novel terms. The greys of dolerite, the greens of ferns, the blues and browns and blacks of river-water.

    I take comfort in the plethora of fine editions in second-hand bookstores and charities, and the hours I spend in the library.

    I take comfort in the council candidate, my friend Tim, who pointed out the racist remark of a prominent Launceston businessman online. (I try and smother the misery I feel that this git probably won’t be held to account because he’s contributing to the local economy.)

    Mostly, I take comfort in the map. My eye is drawn to the central section. In this representation of the island, it’s empty. But I know it’s the most interesting place of all. I will head up the steepest track and I will keep going on. I will hop over creeks, circumnavigate lakes, camp on peaks, suck up snow, chew on bitter berries. Who knows what will be waiting there for me. The travelling, then, will be finally over – for a time – and I will be properly home.