After Heat

This story appeared in Rumble Strip. 

Sorcha told me that whenever she walks in the wind blown streets of Fremantle, she always tends to think of the place underwater. She said she doesn’t know exactly how the buildings will change, but some will have a permanent watermark and their basements and ground floor will become fish tanks. The warming air is warming the oceans and melting icesheets and sea levels are predicted to rise as much as one point one metres over the coming decades and if the seas rise a salt water triangle beginning at the northern end of Packenham street, to Bathers beach, to Little Creatures and then up to South Terrace will all be inundated, the waters rising and falling with the tide each day. The skatepark that runs south-east along the line of the train tracks within the grounds of the Esplanade park will have water rising half way up the half pipes and filling the bowls. This, she said, as if she had been pondering the image for some time, will be an unexpected reversal, as swimming pools are usually drained to make bowls for skateboarding.

Sorcha said you can feel the planet getting hotter and nowadays nobody goes out during the middle of the day and just last night, the temperature rose two point five degrees from 11pm to 1am and has continued to rise all morning until only the brave or those with air-conditioning venture out. The heat, especially standing in direct sunlight, is hot enough to burn the dash board of cars and many arguments have erupted about the apparent ownership of shaded parking bays closest to the markets or to the Woolstores shopping centre. These violent outbursts directed at complete strangers occur daily and onlookers are seen filming the incidents on their mobile phones to upload on social media. I too, began Sorcha, witnessed one of these outbursts, when a woman with black hair and black clothing had been attempting to reverse into a parking bay and a man snuck into her spot near a paperbark tree. When the passengers of the mans car opened their doors they were ambushed by the woman, speaking in Cantonese, which they understood, except for the driver who instructed the woman to get lost, before making his way through the steaming vehicles to the food court. The irate woman who missed her spot left her car stationary in the middle of the car park causing a traffic jam and all kinds of honking from other drivers. As the passengers were following the man to the food court they spotted another car leaving and stood at the entrance of the bay until the angry woman was able to slowly reverse her late model Mercedes into the spot and hastily throw her foil sun protection screen inside the windscreen and secured it with the visors. I often wonder, said Sorcha, if people suddenly find themselves at a breaking point and lose their shit one day or live their lives going from one confrontation to another without realising.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – review

Bryson is popular. His writing style allows for fast, readily digested prose. There appears to be no subject he is unable to broach. His narratives are simple and erudite. His messages are a mixture of learning and experience. In A Walk in the Woods (AWITW) Bryson attempts to walk the length of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in America. His attempt is unsuccessful, for Bryson is someone who writes books, and decides to go for a hike, rather than the other way around. Bryson is more comfortable at home surrounded by books. The majority of A Walk in the Woods is Bryson relaying information from other books, sharing his experiences of hotels/motels/bunkhouses off the trail, and at one point a monologue about how he’d given up walking to reconnaissance the Appalachian Trail by car. A Walk in the Woods is not a book for me, even though I found it easy to read.

For such a well known author, little is written about Bryson’s style and technique in academic journals. Actually, most journals ignore him completely. Mostly it’s glowing reviews in online newspapers. One serious article ‘Including Appalachian Stereotypes in Multicultural Education: An Analysis of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods’ takes Bryson to task for his depiction of hicks and hillbillies.
Stefano Calzati argues in ‘Travelling and writing and the form of travel writing: Reconsidering Bill Bryson’s (supposed) postcolonial legacy’ “that travelling and writing are two “practices of knowledge” which promote per se the marking of differences. In this regard, travel writing, as the novelistic genre that derives from such practices, cannot help but reproduce the epistemological distance between the self and the world.” And this is the overwhelming feeling that I take from Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods – his account re-enforces, through his armchair approach, rather than eliminates, the distance between the self and the world.

Bryson’s phenomenology is filtered through his project, his style and his constant attempts to shock the reader to keep reading.
Bryson is more serious about writing a book than walking the Appalachian. There are three main elements that comprise AWITW. The elements do not always hang together well, but the writer is able, through his prose, to weave them together. The first element is his commission by his publisher to write a book. The second element, is the Don Quixote set up. The third aspect that pads the book out are the lectures. When Bryson gets bored with one element he falls back on the other.

The first, why would Bryson disclose to his readers that his publisher had commissioned him another book? What purpose does this give to readers? Bryson is attempting to build himself and his reputation up reminding us ‘these books don’t exist in a vacuum’. Also, Bryson, the man, is the main character in his books. He realises that the success of his career hinges on continuity across his works.

The second, the Katz/Bryson play off reminds me of Don Quixote and Sancho, except Bryson isn’t deluded beyond not knowing why he’s walking the trail. Bryson is deluded in thinking he can walk the trail in one season. After walking for a few weeks, Bryson and Katz are killing time in an outfitters which leads to him looking at an overview map of the AT. He figures out that that the trail is long, much longer than he anticipated and instead of resolving to finish the trail, as Don Quixote would, both Katz and Bryson are put off and dejected. The most interesting struggle in the book is Katz’s attempt to quit drinking, but it comes very late in the piece.
Thirdly, unlike Don Quixote, Bryson, the character, can not be too out there, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to enter into armchair lectures on the history and value of a range of subjects consisting of: how dangerous animals are, the history and design of the Appalachian Trail, how Americans use cars too often, underground fires in Centralia, murder, climate change, geology, diseases, how stupid and fat people can be, especially ones who look like they’re from the movie Deliverance, forestry, the rise and fall of townships, hikers preoccupations with gear, botany, misdirected government spending, meteorology, hypothermia, ludditeness, war, ecological destruction, and so on. After a while, the trail becomes a backdrop for these fireside lectures Bryson, one can assume, wrote before or after being on the trail. In this sense the book is about Bryson’s ability to take cues from the trail and weave them into his research. Where he gets this knowledge from we don’t know, there are no references.
There is a morality to his lectures – but his attitude is incongruous to the way he has set himself up to interact with his characters. Bryson wants to give his readers guidance on the one hand, and then ask them to suspend their disbelief in the name of humour. So, for example, when he discusses how the AT avoids towns and is cocooned in green corridors (in contrast to the apparently more advanced designs of English/European trails), Bryson concludes: “doubtless it is all to do with its historic impulse to tame and exploit the wilderness, but America’s attitude to nature is, from all sides, very strange if you ask me.” p258 This is symptomatic of the manner in which Bryson presents his lectures. His information is to serve an agenda and his research concludes at the point where the agenda has been satisfied. The agenda appears to be primarily to provoke people to keep reading. Surely he must know that not all Americans wish to tame the wilderness and that some Americans share his views.
So when we turn to the people Bryson meets on, and (more often) off, the trail we gain more of a reflection of Bryson, than of the people themselves. Again, the agenda is provocation. Here is his telephone interaction when attempting to find a taxi in Gatlinburg:

“‘How much would it be to take two of us to Ernestville?’ I enquired.
‘Dunno’ came the reply.
This threw me slightly. ‘Well how much do you think it would be?’
‘Dunno.’
‘But it’s just down the road.’
There was considerable silence and then the voice said: ‘Yup.’
‘Haven’t you ever taken anybody there before?’
’Nope.’
‘Well, it looks to me on my map like it’s about twenty miles. Would you say that’s about right?’
Another pause. ‘Might be.’
‘And how much would it be to take us twenty miles?’
‘Dunno.’
I looked at the receiver. ‘Excuse me, but I just have to say this. You are more stupid than a paramecium.’
Then I hung up.”

Bryson’s characters are there to make him look smart and to support the preconceived worldview he wishes to push. It is because of this that the subjects of his lectures do not become integrated and he doesn’t appear to recognise the ecology and interconnectedness of the world in which he inhabits. A more enlightening approach would be to manufacture or even seek out an intelligent person who may be more helpful and illuminating. He could work all of his home reading into the voice of his characters.
Because of this provocative style, Bryson leaves himself open to hypocrisy and inconsistency. At the end of the taxi driver episode (in which he and his Sancho (Katz) buddy decide on a whim to give up the idea of walking the entire trail), they find themselves back in the dearth of commercial America, amongst shopping malls and carparks, the opposite of the woodlands they had been walking through:

“But come off the trail, properly off, and drive somewhere, as we did now, and you realize how magnificently deluded you have been. Here, the mountains and woods were just backdrop – familiar, known, nearby, but no more consequential or noticed than the clouds that scudded across their ridgelines. Here the real business was up close and on top of you: gas stations, Wal-Marts, K-marts, Dunkin’ Donuts, Blockbuster videos, a ceaseless unfolding pageant of commercial hideousness.”
While it is not the role of a writer to be morally consistent, it is their role, especially in the context of non-fiction, to research thoroughly and to show their readers an interconnectedness. Instead, when recounting the phase of American history where demand for new world seeds and botanical interest was high, Bryson speaks with celebratory glee, apparently unaware of the relationship between that unregulated process and forestry the ugliness he describes above:

“The first people to venture deep into the woods from the east (the Indians [sic], of course had got there perhaps as much as 20,000 years before them) weren’t looking for prehistoric creatures or passages to the west or new lands to settle. They were looking for plants. America’s botanical possibilities excited Europeans inordinately, and there was both glory and money to be made in the woods. The eastern woods teemed with flora unknown to the old world and there was a huge eagerness, from scientists and amateur enthusiasts alike, to get a piece of it…These and hundreds more were collected in the American woods, shipped across the ocean to England and France and Russia and received with greedy keenness and trembling fingers.”

Contrast the above attitude to the one in this passage:

“In 1987, it [the Forest Service] casually announced that it would allow private timber interests to remove hundreds of acres of wood a year from the venerable and verdant Pisgah National Forest, next door to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and that 80 per cent of that would be through what it calls ‘scientific forestry’ – clear cutting – which is not only a brutal visual affront to any landscape, but brings huge, reckless washoffs that gully the soil, robbing it of nutrients and disrupting ecologies further downstream, sometimes for miles. This isn’t science. It’s rape.”

And then this one:

“And there was a more compelling reason to go. The Appalachians are the home of one of the world’s great hardwood forests– the expansive relic of the richest, most diversified
sweep of woodland ever to grace the temperate world–and that forest is in trouble. If the global temperature rises by 4°C over the next fifty years, as is evidently possible, the whole of the Appalachian wilderness below New England could become savanna. Already trees are dying in frightening numbers. The elms and chestnuts are long gone, the stately hemlocks and flowery dogwoods are going, and the red spruces, Fraser firs, mountain ashes, and sugar maples may be about to follow. Clearly, if ever there was a time to experience this singular wilderness, it was now.”

Bryson does not draw any comparisons between the seed collectors, the forestry service ‘rape’ and climate change. The author seems intent on shocking the reader into further reading without considering an overall scheme. People starting and finishing Bryson’s work appears to be a more important criteria to him than jettisoning contradictory elements in his prose. An argument could be made that being in the same book, and written by the same author would constitute the correlations being drawn, but my opinion is that the structure, the schism between the elementsof the book, prevent such a reading.
When Don Quixote lectures, (Cervantes’ Don Quixote) he is so clearly out of touch with both the other characters in Cervantes story, and to us the readers, that we all humour him. Within Don Quixote’s absurd lectures, however, are some incredible conclusions, some of which we tend to agree with. But the Don Quixote, the character of Bryson, in A Walk Walk in the Woods never strays into the absurd. Often his observations are blatant and his treatment of others’ is cruel. One has to ask that perhaps if we didn’t treat each other the way Bryson treats people in his book, whether the planet would be in the state that it is.

Of course, Bryson and his fans might rebut my above points by claiming ‘lighten up it’s just a bit of fun’, or, present the book as a gateway to more serious studies of wilderness, ecology and nature. It’s creative non-fiction after all, so don’t take the deliberate littering seriously. There are light moments and Bryson does indeed reflect on the wonderful aspects of bushwalking or hiking. These appreciative moments are added and sprinkled throughout as if to remind us that that he’s not a negative bastard. There are some arresting moments that lift the reader up from the negativity I seem to keep returning to. Here’s a moment, on day one of their hike:

“When, after ages and ages, you finally reach the tell-tale world of truly high ground, where chilled air smells of pine gap and the vegetation is gnarled and tough and wind-bent, and push through to the mountain’s open pinnacle, you are, alas, past caring. You sprawl face down on a sloping pavement of gneiss, pressed to the rock by the weight of your pack, and lie there for some minutes, reflecting in distant, out-of-body way that you have never before looked this closely at lichen, not in fact looked this closely at anything in the natural world since you were four years old and had your first magnifying glass.” p53

At the end of the book Bryson wryly states the trail did not change his life: “but I certainly gained an appreciation and respect for the woods and wilderness and the colossal scale of America” p350. Perhaps, if he did complete the trail from one end to the other, if he allowed the experience to become more than an exercise for his publishers, he might have let go of the preconceptions that inhibit transformative processes. It is somewhat troubling that a writer takes on a major project lasting a period of years to finally say to his readers, ‘don’t bother, my book is all you need’. Perhaps he is attempting to provide counterbalance to the apparently naive rights of passage accounts that pervade nature and walking writing? Overall however, Bryson’s work is an intellectual, rather than phenomenological one.

 

References:

Bryson, Bill. 1998, A Walk In the Woods, Black Swan, London, England.

Including Appalachian Stereotypes in Multicultural Education: An Analysis of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods
Herzog, Mary Jean Ronan, Journal of Appalachian Studies, 1 April 1999, Vol.5(1), pp.123-128 [Peer Reviewed Journal]

Stefano Calzati (2015) Travelling and writing and the form of travel writing:
Reconsidering Bill Bryson’s (supposed) postcolonial legacy, Journal of Postcolonial Writing,
51:4, 422-435

Gearing up for the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT)

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 7.53.11 PM.png

If you click on this link you’ll be taken to the lighterpack website that shows a run down of the gear list I’m taking for the Australia Alps Walking Track.

I’ll be flying to Canberra on the 15th of Feb to start a end to end north to south hike. I’m going to get beat up. You’ll notice an over supply of electronics equipment in the gear list – I’m going to write my PHD on a iphone with a bluetooth keyboard.


Let me quote the great John Chapman to introduce the AAWT to those who have never heard of it before:

“Formerly called ‘The Alpine Walking Track’, the ‘Australian Alps Walking Track’ is a long route that passes through the mountains of Victoria and New South Wales. It is primarily a wilderness style walk as it passes through natural landscapes and there are no major facilities.

The track essentially follows the crest of the alpine range (the alps) from southern Victoria through to the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). On the way it crosses all the highest mountain regions from the Baw Baw Plateau, the Mt Howitt area, the Bogong High Plains, the Cobberras then the Kosciuszko National Park and finally into the Namadgi National Park near Canberra.

In many ways, it is the grandest and most difficult of all the long distance tracks in Australia. It is not the longest but with over 27,000 metres of climbing and descending it is indeed a tough walk (equivalent to more than 3 ascents and descents of Mt Everest!). This equates to between 550m and 800m of climbing and descending each day – definitely not a flat walk! It also crosses a lot of Australia’s best alpine scenery making it a very scenic varied walk.

The official length is 650 km but most follow the route described in the guide book which in the latest edition is 659.6 km. A fair bit of planning is needed, as while there are plenty of minor roads crossing the alps, there are no towns or re-supply points along the track (see itineraries below). There are several ski resorts close to the track, which can provide a rest with a bed and a hot shower, but there are few other facilities. Most end-to-enders spend about 3 days driving and pre-placing food caches before starting the walk.”

 

IMG_0444.jpg

Australian Alps Walking Trail Part 1

J. P. Quinton – 2015

The Flight:

Terminal three Perth airport. Gate 20. Flight delayed by twenty minutes due to ‘crew issues’. Checked internet for cheaper flights in moment on tight-arsedness. Could have flown six hours later for $100 less. A woman lets her baby scream on the floor. A dude in a baseball cap squeezes a plastic water bottle while biting his nails and playing on his phone. A tattooed older dude with no bags taps his old-school boarding pass booklet. A father and son exchange funny youtube videos. The coffee shop music drones.

I’m full of dessert and my ankles are strapped. A preventative measure, the straps. Some kind of security as I become less cocky with age. Sprained my ankle a few weeks ago going too fast on the Bibbulmun track. The trial run for the AAWT. There’s still slight pain. Or I think there is. Enough to be apprehensive about walking 650km over mountains. Thought I’d better bloody take it easy for a while.

Should arrive in Tullamarine about 1am, catch the shuttle to Spencer St, or whatever bogan name they’re calling it these days. From there I’ll either walk or catch a taxi to Jim’s in Tony Abbotsford. Jim Jim Jim. Got him a copy of Ted Hughes’ ‘Birthday Letters’ for Xmas. That’ll cheer him up.

A plane lands. Our plane. ‘Crew issues’. Passengers head to their cars. Famous cricketers walk by unharrassed. Made-up stewards and stewardesses prepare our plane. A thin strip of vapour, the width of a window pane shimmers outside, blurring the Darling Scarp. I resist the urge to facebook, email, text. A baby sings her version of the ‘get on the plane song’. Small things take on significance when they don’t go right.

The plane the yellow glow grows, clusters, fractures. Linearity disturbs the black. In glass the small child rocks. A small turbulent patch. I drop my pen. The kid who’s been kicking my chair all night picks it up. All action is determined by the level of work required.

Packing:

I am packed. Small bags inside other small bags inside a liner inside a backpack. In three hours drive, a couple of sessions of the Boxing Day test, I’ll be at the start of the walk. The track is a meaningless path cut through scrub. All things considered the track takes on meaning through negation. Going without showers, without sinks, televisions, news, books, restaurants, friends. We lose and gain perspective. We lose it by setting the course. By forbidding and ruling out options, by deliberately putting blinkers on. By walking into bad weather or refusing a lift. By not stopping to converse.

An arbitrary mission. A track or trail or highway without a name, not recognisable by name or association, has no psychological connection to hang our determination on. My determination is exhausted by research and preparation. I sit still. Eager to begin. The goodbyes mostly complete. Driving out of Melbourne the old houses make way for high-rise. Cars give way to bicycles.

Day 01: Walhalla to Oshea’s Mill

Said goodbye to Jim at approximately 11am after a cooked breakfast, and a discussion about Keating and filling out the intentions form at the General Store. We had to drive back up to the campsite above Chinese Gardens to retrieve Jim’s drying tent, his 3x3x3m palace. After boyishly jamming the tent in the bag we putted to the information bay, made final preparations, a photograph, and salutations. It was good to leave Jim on a positive note as he became quite irate about Keating the night before; bellowing profanities from his palace. I was very nervous not to forget anything so I checked and rechecked my gear and turned the car upside-down.

For the first 5km or so I was worried my left ankle would start hurting so I walked slowly as if it were already sore. You could hear cars going to and from Walhalla below the track which was on an old tram line. About 100m below where the track crosses a 4WD track, three walkers were climbing the hill. They caught up to me a few km’s later where I had stopped to remove the ankle bandage that was rubbing. They seemed like a Mum and her two kids out for a day walk. They passed me and not long after I passed them. The mother asked if I were attempting the entire 400km and I said yes the entire 650km, thinking they would walk with me to chat. But they remained stationary and the mother said good luck. Views up the river to the Poverty Point bridge. A dip in the water would be nice as the sun was hot, but the river was about 30m below and inaccessible.

Noon time, cross a stream then up a blue stone hill. I join the track and scare a black cat. No amount of meows will make us friends, although we are domesticated rogues, off to find what some solitude will bring us. The sound of the cars disappears.

I wanted to stop and sit in the shade and admire the bridge but there was no where to sit and the sun was too bitey to stay in the middle. I walked on occasionally catching glimpses of the shallow rapids, tall trees and steep valley. Cicadas phase in the forest. A ball of tall tress hang like a tablecloth. Bracken and ferns, nettles, prostrate wattles fill the floor. In the clearing dead mouse guts are exposed. I’m caught. I am the border of doubt. I stop and fill my bottle up with stream water, despite the admonition to filter everything. I fix my shoe, using the gaiter as a sitting pad. I prop the heavy backpack on a leg before strapping up. When I leave I triple check to see I’ve dropped anything. A small moment has passed. A smidgen fractured half way up a gully. The stream water is tasty.

At certain angles, burnt limbs, trunks, a grey horse avalanche line cutting green. Up close mossy black bark dangles like a child’s tooth. Repeated branch patterns hard against blue space. Up steep grade single track. Heart loud. Dirt chips, wood chips, bark, blue squares high up. As if in cartoon a mid-air spider makes for the edge of the track as it sees me approach the track-wide-web. I stand and wait for it before breaking its work. Spiderwebs, evidence that no-one has walked here today.

A long climb up a spur leads to a heavily manicured roadside and then another 30 minutes walk for the first nights’ campsite. A botanist Lucy and later two Germans arrived whiling the afternoon away. I washed in the stream but got all dirty again attempting to jump to the muddy bank out of the clean water. I quickly took temporary ownership of the trusty picnic table and assumed my usual position of feet on the seat, back to the middle. Between them, ten or so metres of mown grass. A copy of ‘No Logo’ discussed. Then the rules of the game are explained; exploration, conquer, domination. The picnic rug is full. Ten minutes later the game begins and their backs begin to hurt. He blows his nose and repeats the rule. Wracks his brain for the word in English.

1/1/14: Oshea’s MIll to Talbut Hut.

Woke about 6:30am with only a small amount of dew on the sleeping bag. Slept with just the bug net hanging from the walking poles. Missed bringing in the New Year but woke throughout the night looking up at the stars. Lucy was packing her stuff up slowly. She was half packed by the time I left anticipating the longest climb of the AAWT up out of the lowlands onto the high plains. Took it very slowly and sweated a lot. Joined a gravel road after a few km’s of soft underfoot track. A machine of some description – a small bulldozer or bobcat had been through recently making progress easy. My sweat and body fat countered any recognition that the temperature dropped as I climbed. Forest, cob-web like mouldy bread bread. The parasite drapes. A black monitor scampers 4ft up a tree, watches me. Black and alive, this unframed painting. Only yellow eyes and yellow stripes, circles, the measure of self. Mountain ash, they stand tall and house lyre birds. They burn and burn and burn.

As I started to have lunch at Erica carpark however, it got cold. Eight new 4WD type vehicles lined the car park. A half dozen day walkers were reading the sign as I entered. A lady said she knew John Chapman, his wife and John Siesman, the authors of the AAWT guidebook and other bushwalking publications. I examine the book and think of heading to Mt St. Gwinear.  Step after step I let my body adapt, and climb into position. does the space move through me as I through the space? Strangers stop to chat. Bushfires and emergency beacons, helicopters in all seasons. Large pebbles cantilever, their ‘Hanging Rock’ moment, the sequence that isn’t sure how to end. A patch of gums, clustered at the base, as if hundreds of larvae thought the earth was the air and they’re vying for gaps inside the crust.

Despite the wooden sign: MT ERICA 1509M. Despite the track carved through various landscapes, despite the prams and picnic baskets, the narcissus in me says ‘you’re the first to be here’. Not ‘this is the first time you’ve been here’. To climb into this remote place, far from the maddening crowd.

Carrawongs cry from a distance. Blow flies move in. I set my tarp up amongst the gum tree wrigglers, back to the wind. Only the concrete hearth, caste from gumtrees, is contrast to the thick wall of bending trunks. I burn the first days map, smell the chemical ink. The trees grow strong enough to split the basalt. They regrow when humans move on. They are a testament to time. Horizontal light angles in beneath the canopy, their torsos sweat, knuckled and oblique, the branches twist skyward like a willy willy.

After the storm no one rebuilt the hut. After the storm the saucepans and kettles were found 100 metres away, twenty years later, after fire. After the storm the moss sucked colour from the rock, the way a mosquito sucks blood, then the draught. Lichen is shrivelled and cracked, fast air blows the flakes. Strands, like arm hairs, in the moss. Dead twigs and leaves chew at the top soil.

Didn’t make it to Mt ST. Gwinear. Was either 19km today or a flatter 21km tomorrow. Since today involved a lot of climbing I stopped at the the old Mt Talbot hut site at about 2:30pm. Quickly set the tarp up as it was quite cloudy and appeared to be about to drizzle. A few drops fell at about 5pm.

Mushroom Rocks is an interesting place to explore. According to the signs whitey’s have been visiting there and Mt Erica for over 100 years. As you climb out of Mushroom Rocks the snow gums get thicker and thicker until you’re in amongst a gnarly wall of trunk on all sides. This taking the walking easy business is good, but it does leave a lot of time for sitting around being eaten by whatever bug is flying by. Trying to read or write you get bitten and have to move around a lot. Right now I’m inside the bug net escaping about 50 mozzies. They try to eat you through your clothes through the bug net.

Sunset is a good time of night/day to be walking and in some ways perhaps better to arrive in camp at this time too. You simply set up, eat, and go to sleep. But if you set up early you’re kind of committed to stay through your own unwillingness to pack up and move again. Perhaps if I get in camp early I should wait until the latest possible time to set up. Having said all this, I’m pretty happy with the modular set up I have: tarp, groundsheet, bug net and bivy. I can set any one of those up by themselves depending on the conditions.

The concrete hearth is a fascinating relic. Re-enforced concrete with local rocks as aggregate. Looks like they used planks as form work and built it up making each set higher a little smaller for the chimney. There are cracks, moss and graffito growing all over it. Once upon a time the hut would have been a place or parties and an emergency shelter. Now all that stands is the equivalent to a cricket oval and pitch, with the stumps, but no players. Apparently the huts from here along the Baw Baw Plateau to Warburton, were constructed by the government back in the 1920’s. Our relationship and fascination to ‘the bush’ is not new, it seems.

Day Three: Talbot Hut site to Stonarchs camp

Woke before the sun rose due to a mozzie inside the net. Was already kind of awake but the bug was the catalyst for initiating the move. Was meant to be a hot day so I wanted to get going early. Lifted two sides of the tarp before sleep which changed the nature of the site. Have realised I can peg the net out so will experiment with that this evening. Haven’t seen anyone today yet. Quite a bit of scrub-bashing to Mt St. Gwinear. Was in a bit of a mood when I arrived at ‘Rock Shelter’. Took the side trip up Mt St. Gwinear which had snow markers along it. I was imagining a world of snow along the grass button plains. At Maddison plane you can see the phone tower above Baw Baw ski resort and I nearly switched the phone on but decided against it. Getting both the gear and body dialled in is the order of the day. Some nice walking but limited views.

No significant thoughts, no planet saving ideas, just walking. Bashing through waist high scrub, a myrtle grove. No aches, no pains, no cramps, one foot goes in front of the other, dodges wombat poo instinctively. A white log at the entrance of an opening means wrong way turn back. Pink petalled flowers spring up on storks, like fireworks. Two days I walk in Snowgum, dichondria underfoot. An afternoon of mountain ash, dichondria underfoot. Always the hum of march flies. Trees sing creak creak when they rub. Out here if you lose a lid, you might not carry water. Out here the tanks are full, but not for walkers. Out here vices seem more enticing. Bracken grows around the rusty surveyors trigonometry frame. Out here, relief, almost, at seeing trees cut off at their base.

Lying out in the open – got the whole bug net thing happening – at Stronarch’s camp. Have the tarp ready with stakes laid out incase of rain. Some clouds are forming over in the west. Hopefully they’ll just keep the night warm. A long day today. Probably 11hrs including 3hrs break in the middle to let the heat pass. There’s no rest with the mozzies and march flies around. The mozzies are going mental now and the march flies have only just gone to bed at 9pm AEST. No normal flies, however, which is a kind of bonus. The walking is great. Varied vegetation with heaps of shade. Drank about 800ml of water for 5km during the hottest part of the day, with gatorade powder. Had a moment where I wished I had a tent as setting the tarp up took more mental energy than I could be bothered. But after looking out across the wetland with the setting sun half illuminating the line of trees about 150 metres away, no regrets. Before I took it down again, I had the tarp tied to a tree about 4 metres away and was impressed with its versatility.

Montpellier Poem

The blasters have departed, the butts are all swept

now mongrels come to piss in the gullies

near the ring barked cypresses and the kitchen hand

wincing from cigarette smoke.

 

By noon all the boards are chalked

the first stoners sit on the church steps

the first cocktail is sipped, the ladies

aviators peered over and under and through.

 

The waitresses sore heels, her toes curl

when she speaks, bored

her meteorological mind is with the Mistral

the Cevennes, or Wolf Peak.

 

Humidity, hippy’s jamming and insomnia,

another sleepless night, open the window

close the window, cat curls in leg triangle,

thoughts with the love triangle.

 

You enter, like Ulysses knowing your head

and heart won’t handle the intensity,

so you divorce and timeshare the children,

sitting on stools, playing fools.

 

The square was quiet, now full

butts and black dots about our feet

he’s planning his irrational retreat

gold, myrrh, felspar.

 

A couple carrying their mattress

give way to a vespa, give or take,

hole or snake, his loneliness loaded like a syringe.

never going to be with anyone again, this week.

 

Her flingers flick specks of glitter

off her jeans onto polished travertine,

these vagabonds brandishing a partial map

of Montpellier, silently screaming over cake and cream.

 

A skulls worth of dandruff;

the erasure of our perceived mistakes

lying like a floor bound dart

or an island on the horizon.

 

You’ve read too much into her feet pointing your way

in bed reading Finnegan’s Wake

across the train views of a blue lake

that somewhere connects to the sea.

 

Almost all the men in my life are dead to me.

I have made these streets, and the streets have made me.

Bibbulmun Track

 

The following is an account of experiences on the Bibbulmun track.

Word doc. here Bibbulman Track

 

My father drove me to Balingup on the 21st of November 2003. I left Balingup because I was due to meet some friends in Denmark on the 17th of December. In the car the Traveling Wilburries and John Farnham were on the radio. I was somewhat nervous and excited about the trek, mainly because I was entering the unknown. I’d never been hiking before. I had no idea how my body would cope walking/hiking approximately 20kms a day over 25 days. In particular, I have a dodgy hamstring with a tendency to pop at any moment. The other thing that made me slightly nervous was that I was entering unfamiliar terrain, alone. I didn’t know what to expect. What counteracted this nervousness and excitement was the nature of the primary activity; walking. We all know what walking involves.

Standing outside of the car in Balingup wearing new boots, new clothes and a new pack, I felt like a real amateur. The pack was overloaded with food making it about 19-20kg. I had no idea how much I’d eat on a daily basis and what I could buy at Donnelly River Village three days away. Giving myself 6 hours to walk 18km was a good steady, slow pace for my first day. It was about 35 degrees. There was a massive hill about ¾ the way and constant adjustment of the pack was annoying. But it was a relief to be actually walking the track after thinking about it for a couple of years, setting a date early in the year and finally following it through.

I didn’t really have any notions about getting in touch with nature or self discovery. I convinced myself that any preconceived ideas would probably hinder the experience. Walking into Blackwood Campsite was a small relief. I knew that if I could make it past the first two days without injury, I’d be fine for the remainder. The first hurdle had been jumped. Indulging in a little nap when I arrived at the hut was a 64 year old man named Bill Husky. He’d been walking for some 18 days. He was very healthy in both mind and body. He looked about 50; a strong, handsome man. We were heading in the same direction and therefore shared huts for the next four nights where Bill was ending his trek. When he asked me what I was reading I told him it was Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript and he claimed he tried not to think too deeply about things. With my metaphorical tweezers I discovered that Bill is quite a deep and critical thinker.

At Donnely river village he took to reading every single word of the newspaper. Bill has been married for 40 years. Claimed it was love at first sight at a dance in Kalgoorlie in 1964. The last hut we shared was Tom Road campsite 16 km south of Donnelly River Village. That night proved to be the most populated campsite of my walk. Joining us were three middle aged office workers walking the 963km from Kalamunda to Albany and a couple from Canada walking to Pemberton from Donnelly River. It was a beautiful place and it inspired me to write this poem:

 

Not A Single Presupposition, Except My Ignorance

“The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way.”– Lao Tzu

 

Here you are in your chimerical disposition

creeks shallow and simple to follow.

I hear you’ve bequeathed all arivistic tendencies

for omnipotent bliss and ubiquitous rest

I hear you can dance sage-like upon

snake-scale on a stream through a honky nut.

Yet attempts to broach your most genuine

masqueradefall in a heap of demented parlance.

In this languageI struggle to see your limbs.

Non omnes omnia pussumus:we cannot all do everything.

Supremely patient beside rapids

I observe the clouds in me change

easy metamorphosis, easyour only gauge of time is itself.

Out here one cannot create stress;

we find no conclusion, because there is no system.

 

 

 

By the sixth day I was in the groove of walking. I’d eaten the excess food and worked out with Bill the best way to set up my back pack. 20km a day was beginning to get a little light on as after an hours rest I was full of beans again. I considered doing double huts. Consulting the maps, if I accelerated I could make to Albany then hitchhike back to Denmark to meet my friends Jim, Fe and Emma. I decided however to monitor my body at least until I reached Pemberton 4 days later. Usually I’d wake up at about 6am. I’d tuck into a bowl of muesli while the water was boiling for a cup of black tea. Then I’d pack everything up and hit the road. Feeling fantastic meant I could stop and enjoy the scenery and wildlife at my leisure. Snacks were an apple and a health bar. Regardless of the distance between huts I’d always drink two litres of water. If I got dehydrated I’d drink extra when I reached camp. On a given day 20km takes about 4 to 5 hours depending on how fast you can be bothered going and how many hills you have to climb.

Between Donnelly River and Pemberton it rained in the afternoon for a few hours then stopped in the evening. Fortunately I never got rained on as I always made it to camp before it started. I’d have a cup of tea, some lunch, read and then fall asleep for an hour or so. The rain was great. The feeling of being all warm, dry and cuddly inside the sleeping bag made me feel like a little kid. I’d go to sleep while heavy drops thudded on the tin roof of the three sided hut. I woke surrounded by Karri’s; their proud torsos circled by a sliding puddle of drops. Leaving a brown stain dripping down their flanks. The Canadians and I sat around the fire chatting on those nights. They were lovely people; very calm. They gave me a strip of this blister protection adhesive called moleskin. I didn’t have any blisters yet, but in new boots it was highly probable.

The Canadians wimped out at Karri Valley Resort and took a taxi into Pemberton. I joined them for a few beers on the foreshore in the sun. By now my body had been flushed of toxins so after two beers I was a far bit under the weather. After saying goodbye I stumbled to the hut thrashing through the jungle. That was my first night alone. I was about a week into the walk and for the first time started to feel out of sorts. Often when I go for long walks in the city it’s in an attempt to purge troubling/lingering thoughts out of my head or resolve a long standing problem. Up until that point nature had the effect of quieting my mind and overwhelming any thwarting thoughts. That day however, I felt like I was walking in the city. Furthermore I started to miss some people:

 

 

A Chance Encounter

 

Crouching, feeling nimbler

Flicking boogies in the stream.

Gushes, liquid hitting rock

Sounds like voices;

Speech of friends I miss.

Then there they are

Standing across the water

Flicking boogies in the stream

Watching them float and swirl

My friends smileI cannot help but smile.

 

I reached Pemberton the following day around noon and booked into the backpackers for two nights. Planned a days rest before I started gunning it to Albany. I finished Kierkegaard and was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Bob Hawke’s memoirs in the backpacker’s office. The latter was too heavy to carry so I tried to read all of it on my day off. The second night I shared a room with a dude named Dennis. He’d ridden his push-bike from Sydney to Cairns and then across to Broome. The lazy bastard had taken the bus to Perth from there and was now riding from Perth to Esperance and possibly across the Nullabor to Adelaide. We shared dinner and a few laughs. He gave me a Hunter S. Thompson book. I gave him a new sponge.

The three day walk to Northcliffe was rather uneventful. Again I was in the huts alone. I ran into a stray farm dog out in the middle of the forest. It was terrified and appeared to have been lost for a number of days. I stood waiting for it as it approached me on the track. I had a large stick ready incase it was crazy and wanted to bite me. When it finally discovered I was there it ran away. Nothing I could do. I left Northcliffe on Friday morning and wasn’t to see or talk any humans until I reached Walpole the following Thursday. The next six nights were the most interesting, challenging and rewarding.

First day out of Northcliffe I double-hutted 31km to Lake Maringup. I left Northcliffe motel at approximately5:30am and reached the first hut (Gardner) at 8am. That’s about 7km an hour with a 20kg pack. I was practically running. The prospect of reaching Albany was fresh and alive in my mind. At Gardner I took my boots off to let my feet breathe. I noticed a callous-like blister on my left heel. I applied a small strip of the moleskin gear the Canadians gave me. Covering it up with sports tape I was certain it would do the trick and the callous wouldn’t spread.

While I was doing this I was attacked by a seemingly endless supply of march flies which served to hurry the operation. (Down there, those little bastards don’t land and then bite, they just fly straight into you with their little barbs out, drawing blood.) The small strip of moleskin created a small mound inside the tape. Mounds are not recommended inside boots. Over the next 16km the heel started to hurt more and more. Now, I’m a bit of a dummy when I comes to pain. I ignore pain the hope that it will disappear by its own accord. I reached Lake Maringup certain that by the next morning it would have healed. Stupidly, I didn’t take the bandage off to inspect the damage.

Lake Maringup is a fantastic place. Your can hear ocean waves roll in as you go to sleep.

First step the next day was painful. I should have stopped right there and re-bandaged to remove the moleskin mound. But I thought the pain would subsist after about 5km. It didn’t. I walked 25km that day over 8 hours of absolute agony. I thought that that was what all blisters were like. The only relief from the pain was a two minute adrenaline rush after nearly stepping on a fully grown tiger snake. I had and would have many, many interludes with snakes but this was the first close encounter. I was trudging along with my head down and was half way through a step when I noticed the scaly creature below me. I had to freeze my foot in mid air, jump over it and start running. When I turned around it had reared and flattened its head, before working its way gracefully into the bush. I don’t know what would have happened if bitten. In that encounter the snake and I had this to say:

Interview with a tiger snake:

 

 Good morning tiger snake, how are you?

‘Very pleashhhhed to beshhh sshere.’

What have you been doing so far today?

‘Ive mainhhhly sssssssaat in the ssssssssshunnnnnn.Ennnnnjoyed a delightful fffffrrroggg breakfast.Thisssssss affffteeerrrrnooooonnnI’m lllllookking forward to mmmuch of the ssssssssaaaammmee.’

Are frogs your favourite food?

‘oooohhhhhh yyeeeeeessssssssssssss.’

A lot of my fellow human beings are frightened of your species; do you eat humans?

‘ooohhhhhh nooooo, toooooo sssssssssaaaaallty.’

I must admit tiger snake, I’m a little scared of you myself, could you help me to overcome my fear by giving me a hug?

‘Hissssss, assssss longgg assssss noone seeeeeesssss.’

Excellent.

[Me and the tiger snake hug]

Not that tight tiger snake.

‘Sssssssssooorrryyy.’

Oh this is nice isn’t it, hugging a tiger snake feels wonderful.

‘Sssssss what If I do thisssssssssssss?’

Ouch. You bit me! What did you do that for?

‘Jusssssttt curiousssssssss, you’re not asssssss sssssssalty assssssss the otherssssssssss.’

Can you do you something? I need help here.

‘SSSSSSorrrrry, nothing can be done.’

Looks like I’m a goner. Please, if you see them, say goodbye to my family and friends. Give them a hug for me. No, wait, don’t do that.

‘I’ll do mmmmmmmmmmy bessssssst.’Hang on a second. I’m actually starting to feel better rather than worse. Now there’s a sweet taste in my mouth, like candy.

‘Ohhhhh, ssssssssss. That musssssst be from the toffeeeeeeeeeee I sssssssssstole and mmmmmmmmmmmunched while you’re on the ttttttttttttoilet.’

My you are a slippery one aren’t you?

‘Yesssssssssssssss, I guess I am. Bessssssst be offffffffff now.’

Bye tiger snake.

 

Inexperience combined with a silly stoic attitude made me believe that the worst was over and the next day would be easier. Nevertheless, the following days 19km through heath and swamp proved to be a serious obstacle. Every single step of the last 5 or so kilometres almost brought me to tears. The final kilometre took about an hour.

When I finally reached camp I peeled the tape/bandage off to reveal a throbbing water filled, purple blister the size of two 50 cent coins side by side. The mound of the moleskin caused friction on the skin above it, hence softening and pushing the exposed skin toward my ankle. Lesson: always make sure your bandages are completely flat. I knew immediately I had to take a days rest. It also became clear that Albany was out of the question. Up until this point I’d been focused on how fast I was going, how many kilometres I could do in a day etc. I almost lost sight of the fact that it wasn’t a race. It wouldn’t be entirely true to state that I was totally driven by ego. I felt that I was open to new experiences/knowledge and I didn’t always need to be control. (The serenity and enormity of nature has the power to overawe me and make me feel comfortably insignificant. Combined with the fact that nature has no opinion and harbours no judgment there’s little left for the ego.) But I hadn’t really changed since I left Perth. Where I rested for a day is a massive granite outcrop called Mt Chance. Its summit offers 360 degree views of heath land, inlets to the west and a morsel of ocean beyond the hardened dunes.

I spent 13 or 14 hours on top of that rock. I had a set of binoculars to spy on anything that moved. Black cockatoos being the most active and they’re interested in humans too. I was very much alone. I ran out of books to read. I sang every song I could remember over and over. My mind churned up lost memories. I thought about the positive aspects of my life. What I had to look forward to. I considered the mistakes I had made and how they were or could be resolved. I observed the thoughts that could not be dealt with on my own and constructed a plan of action on my return to civilization. This may seem a little obvious and possible in your house in the city, but when you’re in a foreign environment and lonely, it appears far more immediate and real.

My mind started to get tired of itself and I went a little crazy. I played a little game and distanced my mind from my thoughts a little. I had the theory that there must be some mental apparatus which enables me to view my thoughts and memories in such a way. I considered that since I had recalled and exhausted almost all of my memories that there must be some way of altering that apparatus in order to view my thoughts differently or even recall more memories. It became clear that over the years I had developed merely a few modes of habitual self-awareness. Obviously that mode had altered and changed as I grew older but I’d never really examined the examiner in this clarity before.

Furthermore, contrary to my hitherto speedy ego disposition I was literally forced to relax. A conscious effort to slow my body down was needed. In the sun I fell asleep on top of that mountain. I woke to a ladybug crawling in front of me. Perched on top of the mountain, I watched the sun move down to meet the horizon. I watched the birth of shadows out of hills, trees and shrubs. Slowly the shadows grew longer, larger and taller. I imagined them in five minutes, in ten minutes, trying to predict the shapes they would make; trying to imagine the colors they will make, what animals will be revealed. I tried to remember the shadows from five minutes ago, ten minutes ago, when I first started observing. It was as difficult to remember what had happened as to imagine what will happen. Alone, there was no trans-subjective agreement to support my observations, no language to communicate with nature in order to define a sense of place.

The following day, the 7th of December, was a 21km walk. The ground was too rugged and hot to walk bare foot. Again, every step hurt. The blister preoccupied my thoughts. I could feel it spreading as it pulsated in the boot. The track was littered with spider webs. I was in pain, but I had a new secret weapon; patience. I hobbled along at about two km an hour. I learnt to embrace the blister. I wanted more blisters. I beseeched my whole foot to be covered in blisters so I had to walk slower than an ant. I figured that at least then I’d know something about what it was like to be an ant.

Behind the next campsite (Woolbales) was another granite outcrop which provided excellent views. Barefoot I ran up there missing a tiger snake by about 20cm. I’ve never felt nimbler or freer than I did that afternoon. As planet earth revolved the cliffs moved in front of the sun and it seemed like the ocean was set on fire. Out of joy I cried for all the beautiful and warm friendships I’d shared in my time. I re-learnt how to love myself and found a new sense of happiness. Ironically it was the blister which facilitated all of this.

The next day I encroached on the ocean and smelt the salt and thought about what people had been writing in the hut registers. Someone had mentioned self-discovery. Did I find myself? Well, not really. I concluded that I am simply the amalgamation of observations, thoughts and experiences as this body, connected to this consciousness traverses the land. If I see a kangaroo I become that Kangaroo. If I sip a cup of tea I become that cup of tea. If I swat a fly I become that fly. Wherever there is an absence of trees/forest, there is the presence of flies. At times my pack was covered in them; standing room only. Every time I brushed a bush they’d go mad and buzz around for a while before settling down again. After a few hours you get really annoyed with them landing on your face. You start swearing at them. One time, I reversed into a blackboy/balga tree to try and get rid of the little bastards. After about five minutes of shooing them off of my front they all landed on the green straw-like strands of the blackboy. Looking at them they all looked like they were smiling, like it was some kind of game. Attempting to catch them off guard I ran as fast as I could until I got really puffed. They caught up.

I’d have my revenge though. Not only did the cliffs along the coast offer spectacular views they also brought a welcome and refreshing breeze. When a good gust built up, I’d whip the back of my pack with my hand sending flies everywhere. The wind would wisp them away and it was too strong for the little bastards to fly back to me. They were too small to tell if they were smiling or not. To an outside observer it would have been a pretty funny sight watching this dude on a cliff pulling a finger sign at these tiny little black dots floating in front of an immense blue background.

Walking 20kms a day meant that I was pretty tired by the time I reached camp. The voice inside of me that says that I cannot enjoy life until I’ve worked was satisfied and satiated. All that was left to do was to enjoy the rest of my days. I walked about 200km without shoes on. Only the second half of the last day did I wear boots. But I didn’t care by that stage. The waltz from Walpole to Denmark was sheer pleasure. I shared most of the walk with a lovely lady named Jean, with a totally unobtrusive disposition. She pointed out to me that kookaburra’s only ever laugh in twos. I kept pinching myself because I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be walking the Bibbulman.

James Quinton

Snow Mounds

Layer upon layer takes ages to leave
the house and depending how far ages to return.
Lights on, lights in the bathroom and kitchen
have blown, using a lamp to chop garlic
all these rows and rows of rooms
are not prisons but are almost prisons,
imagine if we were little animals
how obidient we are, clothes and feed,
wash and clean; lock ourselves up at night.

Out riding you see a carpark filled with mounds of snow
all dust and dirt covered, tattooed with footprints
you think nothing of them until you’re home
and you’ve transported the image back a long way
that very image out of all the others,
some you’ve already forgotten out riding
you think about mounds of snow proprioceptive feedback
over a cup of coffee in front of a radiator.

And then you think about snow mounds
in context of the solar system and the milky way
and you want snow mounds to be more than they are:
a fried icecream graveyard, mountains for squirrels
a hideout for bankrobbers and their children
and the people who wish this bitter winter
and all the coughing would last forever
because may be we are snow mounds piled up in carparks
and when our friends die they defrost and melt
in the shape of tears, or when we play or work real hard
we get hot and the ones who dont pull through
come out as sweat – our bodies like blow torches.

Mooro Katta

5am we watch the sun rise at Mooro Katta.
Nowhere to sit but cold marble steps
Where we have placed hundreds of fake candles
Which hundreds of people carry hundreds
Of metres across the dewy grass
Where ducks are asleep and the plants
Are from thousands of kilometres away
With common and Latin labels.

And because there has been rain they look healthy.
Happy even. Orchids amongst banksias
Kangaroo paw amongst marri. The light
Changes so rapidly, we walk amongst strangers
And those of us who have not cried feel the change too.

At the hilltop we come to a boab;
That travelling circus elephant, rotten and cracking
A beached whale whose blubber leached
Back to the ocean, staining the sand.
Up north they use these trees as prisons.
Down below we see the estuary
That once was a river and further and further
Past the smoke stacks, purple hills.

Others are already at the memorial
Stretching their legs, straightening their backs.
A wattle bird’s silhouette on the metal railing.

Someone blows their nose and uses the same tissue
To wipe their eyes. For all the stories
We choose life and die, or choose death
And die. And after the poem is read
And we disperse, we meet a pregnant woman
Due any day, a cook from the country
Whose only wish is to see her toes again.