What do Keats, drunken pygmy possums, a famous Harry and the TV series, Mad Men, have in common? Well, for a start they’re all mentioned in this blog post. Usually I temper my imagination when writing hiking commentaries but this week I’m exposing you a little to the convoluted workings of my mildly extreme brain.
I’ve not been on an adventure since my Cania Gorge trip but in spring last year I revisited White Rock Conservation Estate ( see Lured by the Big Dog and The Art of Hiking) and discovered how increasingly difficult it is to find solitude there. Recent land developments are encroaching upon the reserve and its recreational potential is being promoted to draw prospective buyers.
I often struggle to explain my need for quiet time alone in nature and decided to engage the help of a few experts. It’s comforting to know that solitude has been sought by many throughout the ages.
William Wordsworth wrote:
“When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude”
And Mary Oliver (Why I Wake Early) had this to say:
“Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.”
However much I enjoy being alone in the outdoors there is a state that may surpass it – being in the natural world with a like-minded individual who passionately shares this desire. My daughter has been one of these people. Her favourite poet, John Keats, describes it beautifully.
O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
Nature’s observatory—whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.”
So I’ve mentioned Keats, but what of drunken pygmy possums, a famous Harry and Mad Men? Let’s move on to the walk before I lose you all to slumber.
After a busy week I ventured out early one Saturday morning to White Rock. Kangaroos were still grazing on dew covered grass.
With a 6am start I expected to find the carpark empty. It wasn’t. An enthusiastic sweat-covered Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike was engaged in stretching exercises. I’m a tiny woman with muscles the size of grapes so I was relieved he didn’t engage Terminator mode. After exchanging a few pleasantries I was off again at my usual break-neck waddling duck speed.
Large dew-covered spider webs glistened in the early light.
On this and later visits I was to see many beautiful arachnids.
I was surprised to see fungi about as conditions had been dry.
Fungi beetle larvae and other insects were busy munching away on these specimens.
Determined to find solitude I took a short detour off the path through rocky bushland near Little White Rock Lookout. A native hibiscus and its six legged inhabitants caught my attention.
After finding a quiet spot I spent the next 20 minutes compiling a video for you describing the bliss of being alone. “How wonderful it is to achieve this state at last,” I gushed. If you can tell me how this award winning documentary mysteriously disappeared into the technological black hole that is my computer I’d be grateful.
I wasn’t really alone though. My pals, the march flies, quickly honed in on my pale flesh. Always willing to suffer for the sake of blogging, I took a picture of one having a feed and the resulting wound. I hadn’t realised how hairy my fingers are until I blew them up on the screen. Now I can add hairy-fingered to short-legged and snail paced in my list of fine hermit qualities.
It was about this time that I began to notice the diuretic effects of my morning coffee. It seemed a secluded spot though – safe enough to relieve my bladder surely? It was then that a booming male voice made me nearly do the job in my underwear.
“You’re a bit off the beaten track aren’t you?”
It seems my hearing is deteriorating as well as my eyesight as I didn’t hear his approach at all. I turned to face a clone of a famous character from my childhood.
When many people think of a famous Harry, they think Harry Potter, Prince Harry, Harry the Dog, the movie “When Harry Met Sally” or depending on your musical tastes, Harry Secombe or Harry Styles. But there is another famous Harry – Harry Butler.
Most overseas readers will know of the Australian outdoor nature enthusiast, Steve Irwin, or maybe even The Bush Tucker Man? When I was a young child, In the Wild with Harry Butler was compulsory viewing. Wearing khaki shorts, boots and a bushman’s hat, Harry presented 26 episodes about the Australian bush.
Here is a short section of an episode where he finds drunken pygmy possums. Whether or not the shows were contrived I don’t know; I just enjoyed them for what they were.
Now this topic brings me to the TV series Mad Men. Set in the late 50s, early 60s it’s a drama about advertising executives and the people in their work and personal lives. How is this connected with Harry Butler though? Well, watching this series recently reminded me of the gender stereotypes of the day. Women were not seen as being capable of performing certain jobs because it was thought they simply weren’t clever enough. A young female secretary came up with a good idea for advertising and a surprised male executive made the comment that it was “like watching a dog play the piano.”
I thought about all the well-known naturalists or outdoors people on TV and in books that sprang to mind– Gerald Durrell, David Attenborough, Steve Irwin, Bush Tucker Man, Harry Butler, Bear Grylls, Jacques Cousteau. Here in Australia we also had The Leyland Brothers who travelled around Australia with their families camping.
Jane Goodall is one of the few women in this field who I was exposed to growing up. I was an adventurous, nature-loving child but being female I didn’t consider pursuing these positions, probably because there were few female role models out there. Even today, there is a noticeable lack of females in these shows. Perhaps I wasn’t exposed to the right kind of information. It is only recently that I learned about the famous children’s author and illustrator Beatrix Potter’s scientific drawings and contribution to biology. It also interests me how few Indigenous people have been given the role of hosting nature/outdoor shows about the land their ancestors have lived on for thousands of years.
Enough musing perhaps? Back to my walk. After a chat with the Harry Butler clone about geocaching activities and his wife’s camera, I found myself another hide-away. A small cave offered respite from the sun.
Once again I wasn’t completely alone. A gecko, Dubious Dtella Gehyra dubia (thanks Rob Ashdown) peered from a crack in the rock.
After dragging myself away from my cave, I was surprised to see two giant mobile phones with legs walking in the distance.
By now it was time to return home but not before checking out a Martin’s skink, Concinnia martini, lichen, moss, a couple of butterflies and a fallen bird’s nest.
I made my next trip to White Rock in spring with my daughter. A little less photographing and a little more talking occurred, but we still stopped to admire the colours of the native trees.
As well as the shapes and patterns of sandstone rock formations.
Magnificent gums always have our admiration.
We paused in an overhang at White Rock for lunch and here my old friends the march flies returned.
One of them must have been having a slow day as somehow I managed to slap it before it feasted. They’re almost beautiful when they’re dead and not draining my blood.
A wasp nest in the rock appeared active still so we didn’t linger. On this occasion when I wasn’t seeking solitude, my daughter and I didn’t encounter any other walkers.
There we have it. Have you survived the twists and turns of my mind? Unless I’m able to venture out somewhere new soon, my next post will be a feathered fantasy. That’s just a fancy way to say there with be a few birds featured.
In the meantime, here’s a handsome brush turkey from White Rock for the bird lovers.
Thank you for reading and for all your valuable feedback.