Accidentally West.

A butterfly flaps its wings on the down slope of the Himalayas and later, far out to sea, a storm forms where one would not have been. The storm alters lives, but nobody blames the butterfly. John is attacked by a feral wheelbarrow and comes off second best. Later, but not that far away, I board a plane for Perth. My week changes, but I don’t blame the wheelbarrow. The tic, tac, toe of chaos marks out the squares across our lives. We think we are in control, but that seems to be a myth. Chaos is not in control either, but it does lie outside the door of order, scratching like a dog on a cold night. Desperate to be let in. Keen to enter our lives.

I arrive at the airport and check myself in. In a strange and marvellous plan the airline aims to improve its customer service by removing all contact with their staff. I suppose I could just shout at myself when my booking can’t be found, or ask to see my own supervisor to sort out any problems. But thankfully all goes smoothly. I recommend myself for a pay rise and go to find a coffee. The sparrows, which used to look down on the passenger queues, have shifted their disdain from the departure lounge to the coffee bar. Over double shot skinny mocha lattes they cast a critical eye over the passing hoards. To their chuckles I order my own coffee and feel thankful that I did not order a cappuccino. A mother struggles with three small children. The first is crying the inconsolable sobs of a child who has just realised that her beloved cuddly rhino has been left at home. In an unrelated trauma the second child is about to punch the third. In a few hours these kids will be glad that their mother has only been given plastic cutlery. I pray that they are not on my flight. There are no atheists in the departure lounge.

To avoid the possibility of having to give evidence in a murder trial I wander around the shops. Surely this must be the nadir of western civilisation. A place where the only way you can pass the time is to go shopping for things that you don’t need. Things that you will have to carry for the next however many hours in slowly disintegrating hand luggage, before throwing them in a bin or, at best, at the back of a cupboard, never to be seen again. Airport shopping is a sign of a culture in terminal decline. I read four pages of my book and realise that it is unimaginably dull. My spirits sag. I consider going shopping.

The call to board the plane comes as a relief and at the door of the plane I am finally spoken to by a member of the airline staff. “Down on the left, sir” – ah, the joy of human contact. People struggle to put grand pianos, entire V6 engine blocks and other things manifestly larger than the maximum size of cabin baggage into the overhead lockers. I help an old lady safely stow a fridge / freezer. She tells me it’s for her daughter. Ah, that’s all right then.
My seat is the outside of a double, an aisle seat thankfully. The window seat is occupied by a solid looking man with dark hair and a darker expression. I say “hello” and he turns to look at me with a practised glacial slowness which seems to be intended to unsettle. It works. He looks at me in a way that suggests he only just recognises me as a human being, and that any further attempt at conversation will result in my death. I realise that I may be in for a long flight.

Whoever said it is better to travel than to arrive never sat in economy on a Sunday afternoon. I flick through the channels on the seat back TV and pass an hour until some food arrives. My sullen travel companion does not get the meal of his choice, and I can feel the seat shaking. I steal a glance at his tray table and notice that he has arranged his knife and fork in what would be best described as “attack posture”. With one sweet single motion he could pick both of them up with his left hand and sink then into the middle of my chest. I try to eat my peas with a fork, but without moving my arms at the shoulders. Why do they serve one of the world’s only spherical foods on planes where there is no room for the acrobatics needed to get the damn things into your mouth? For all the enjoyment to be had from airplane food they may as well just puree the stuff and just give you a straw. “Not one of your most enjoyable offerings” Mr. Grumpy says to the hostess. I can see discomfort in her eyes. She also seems to be putting on a Kevlar flak jacket.

In a rare moment of humour the pilot welcomes us to Perth after “what I can only describe as an excellent landing”. We are warned to check that the bags in the overhead lockers have not moved. A young man with tatts and a high visibility waistcoat ignores the advice and is almost killed by an anvil. My silent travelling companion reaches for his strangely triangular bag. I suspect it may be a bespoke bag for carrying horses’ heads.

I meet up with my work colleague at the baggage carousel. His bag looks like the kind of case that contains nuclear devices in spy movies – metallic silver, tough and probably ticking. Although the rainbow strip strap around it makes it look less than sinister. My bag looks identical to everybody else’s. I immediately grasp the value of travelling with a bag disguised as a thermonuclear weapon – nobody is keen to steal it from the carousel! After a few false starts I finally collect my bag, and with a genuine sense of relief I head for the hotel. This is my second trip to Perth. The second time I have been here for work, and the second time that I have noticed how bright the light is here. My hotel is opposite the convention centre which is hosting an international conference on corrosion. Over dinner I hear talk of oxidation and reduction and sacrificial anodes. Galvanised by this conversation I go for a walk. The city skyline here is almost uniformly modern, shiny and reflective. A few older buildings are scattered in the mix, mostly dwarfed by their neighbours, the only curves in an ocean of straight lines. The atmosphere is young, possibly adolescent, but clearly energetic. It feels a bit like visiting your teenage brother and meeting all his mates for a night out. It’s a real contrast to Melbourne which seems more sedate, less ambitious, less self consciously rich. If Perth is your adolescent brother, Melbourne is your slightly middle aged aunt. Albeit an aunt that has connections to organised crime and likes motor sport, but an aunt none the less.

I have dinner with a breezy view of the Swan River, with gulls and loud music for company. I like the gulls, but the other I can do without. I don’t think you can tell how important a river is to a city until you watch it from above. Then you can see how the river and city work with each other. Do they fight? Do they blend?

The next night I walk up to Kings Park, which overlooks the city and attracts crowds on early summer evenings. I arrive just in time to see my chosen restaurant close. Ah. An avenue of smooth trees leads toward statues remembering past wars and hoping for lasting peace. Towards monuments remembering modern violence and rejecting the ignorance of intolerance, the casual brutality of the hidden bomb. Queen Victoria, World Wars and Bali side by side in a green space full of families and their often laughing voices. From inside the Bali monument you can look down on the city as the sun sets. Bright and shiny, modern and clean. I can’t help but be struck by how far we have come. As I turn to walk away, the walls around me remind me of how far we have yet to go.

On low growing plants Red Wattlebirds probe the robust red flowers - the colour and form a clue that the plants are pollinated by birds, the lack of scent another pointer. The wattle bird seems to show its reptile heritage more than most – the pattern on the wings, or the empty look in their eyes. Rainbow Lorikeets, an introduction from the east coast, flash between the trees with rapid blurring wing beats. Glossy black Ravens hop and skip on the grass, moving from picnic to picnic in search of food. A crumb here, a crust there. Some people throw food to the birds, some throw food at the birds. Kids. Family. Food. I don’t have these with me tonight. I head back down the hill.

Cutting a zig zag path down the hill is a set of steps called Jacob’s Ladder. It seems to be popular with runners who are sweating up and down the many dozen steps from top to bottom. Some pause half way, some don’t get that far. One carries a 20 kg weight in his arms. This seems a commitment beyond the call of duty, but he seems to carry the load with pride. The top of the steps is all serenity and memory, the bottom a tangle of roads and underpasses. There are brief glimpses of water on the way down – lakes and wetlands on the other side of the road. The path back to the hotel leads through dusty under bridges and over roads still busy with traffic. A group proudly wearing their Corrosion Conference name tags walks in the other direction. They seem to be happy, they seem to be getting ready for a big night – clearly ‘rust never sleeps’.

The next day I visit the wetlands by the roads. Back through the dark underspaces of bridges and footpaths. A magpie lark harasses a raven with a vigour which belies its size. Car noises echo from the bridge piles and an old man settles down for the night. The footpath becomes a bike lane and the sharp single ring of a bell signals the approach of another rider. It’s a shared pathway, but I feel out of place. I’m glad to get off the track and start walking around the lake.
The lake seems almost unnaturally green. Not green in a toxic sludge kind of way, but green in a life bursting, sustaining kind of way. In the quieter moments you can almost hear photosynthesis underway. The tearing of water molecules, the melding of hydrogen and public enemy number one, carbon dioxide. The place fizzes with oxygen and life. Down in the pond’s deeper depths you can imagine coal forming, slow and steady. Dragonflies flash past, and pause fleetingly on mud, marsh or stem tops. The whole place seems a counterfeit of the carboniferous.

The pond edge is thick with the movement of small fish. Slivers of life preyed upon by snake birds and grebes. One long necked, one short and stumpy. The grebe dives and swims, pushed by leaf feet and silvered by the air trapped in its feathers. When it reappears it shakes with a surprising violence that dimples the surface and scatters the clinging water. A night heron waits, primed in ambush for the unwary or the unlucky. Perched low to the water it waits and waits and waits. I move closer and for once it stays still. A bike rider in flame orange seems to upset it, and it walks deeper into its bank side bush. I never see it catch a fish.

Dusky Moorhen chicks follow their parents and are fed scraps of green. They peck here and there but seem to prefer to have their food chosen for them. Hardheads, cormorants, pacific black ducks – all passing on the energy trapped by the alchemy of photosynthesis, all pass their days within the sound shot of passing traffic, bike bells and the click of a camera.

The pond seems old, gentle and connected. I walk back towards my hotel, through streets that seem to be none of these. For all the bright modernity about me, it’s this little piece of the past that I will remember about Perth this time.

As if the stars had fallen

Nothing changes a landscape like darkness. As the primacy of the eye gives way the more subtle arts of ear and hand, as the surety of footfall morphs into the uncertain step, the world changes. For country dwellers the change may be less marked, used as they are to the changing of the day, but for city kids and urbanised adults the darkness of night is both unusual and scarce. From pools of yellow streetlights to the blue glow of TV’s, cities are full of light. The country is a different matter.

Down on Johanna beach at the failing of the light, the night and day merge uncertainly, with little ebbs and flows. Day hangs on to the western horizon and lights up the sky for one last hour. The colours reflect in the wet sand beach and hold on for one last minute. The surf break glows for one last second . And then, with the sun below the horizon, just a strip of light remains. The foam of the breaking waves seems to pick up the last few rays of light and glow, faint and even ghostly, into the darkness. They bring the waves of last light to the shore. Against the strange night light of the sky even the silver gulls are cast as black. Magpies carol from the dunes, and somewhere down the beach a lapwing calls in stress and alarm. This would be a night for whale song and stories, for the long reflective stare out towards the nothingness of the horizon. It would be a night for company. It would be a night to talk of the past and plan for the future. But with only the gulls and the waves, the sea and the darkened sky for company I walk back towards the cottage.

The eye takes back its primacy as I see the window light on the hill. Warm on a chill night with a sharp wind. Cows cough off to my left, in a way that suggests surprise or ambush. I woke one night, long ago, to a similar cough and watched deer walk through the campsite we were in. A dozen or more children and half as many adults sleeping under the stars – and three passing deer on their night time duties. The kids were buried in their sleeping bags, as much for security as warmth, and many of the adults were less comfortable than they claimed. In the morning no one else had heard or seen a thing. But the footprints were there, clear in the mud. I wondered why they had woken me and no one else. At that time I spent most of my time outdoors and regularly slept under the summer trees. Did that familiarity let me notice something new, even as I slept? If the same thing happened today, in the less familiar woodlands of Australia, would I wake? Or would I huddle in my bag, as much for security as warmth, and miss what the darkness brings?
Overhead the low evening clouds are grey and seem full of rain. Off in the distance the sun still shines, low and soft. It’s a sky that promises rainbows, and on this evening I’m in the right place at the right time. The skylight arch of colour is bright and clear, with a second, a shy sibling, higher and behind. The twice refracted light makes sky art at its best. It’s no less stunning for not being the work of God or the bright hand of an augury. It’s not a metaphor, it’s pure physics. And it’s still stunningly beautiful. The brighter of the two seems to cleave the edge of the sky – grey one side, blue the other. The moment I step from the car rain drops fall, fat and heavy. A short sharp shower over Lavers Hill, a passing storm, a clearing storm. The rainbow hangs over the hill and the gold pot seems in reach. We eat dinner in a pub, a curious mixture of the welcoming and the distant. We are welcomed in the bar by being shown we really should be elsewhere. The food is OK – “sound, but unremarkable” – a little more the fuel, but much less than art.

As the darkness gathers we pull into the car park of Melba Gully. Disappointingly there are two cars already there. The rain now falls from the leaves rather than the sky, and around the car bays you can hear the faint pitter tap of falling water. We get briefly lost in the car park – tangled in the switch back paths intended for wheel chair users. Eventually we find our way through the well intentioned maze and walk into the gully. These rainforest gullies are damp places, and for all the fact that this one has a path through it, they retain the feel of secret places. Old trees, not touched by fire, grow by the path side and tree-ferns hang over the path’s edge. For all their mystery these gullies are not untouched. The loggers axe and saw have left their mark, and in the daylight hours you can find odd, letter box shaped slots cut into the base of old tree stumps. These are where boards were forced into the wood to give a platform for the loggers. Now the stumps, often startlingly large, slowly rot back into the forest.

But in the darkness such things are only known, not seen. The kids, obsessed with light, need to be persuaded not to turn on their torches. Often the persuasion does not work. Slowly, as we walk deeper into the gully, it becomes darker and darker and eventually we find the stars. Not in the cloudy sky, but in the darkness of the path’s edge, where the tree ferns curtain the bank side. First one, then two, then many points of light come into view. An inquisitive torch light shows nothing, and when it is darkened, and your eyes have adjusted, the lights come back. It’s as if the stars had fallen and left their light in tiny sparkles. The truth is no less strange. The lights are glow worms – tiny specks of biological light that form constellations and galaxies in the darkness by the pathways.

The far end of the gully is marked by a waterfall and here the glow worms shine in greater numbers. They swirl along the edges of the stream and progress along fallen logs. The more you look the more you find, like looking out into space or back into time. The kids are surprisingly quiet. The torches remain off. With 20 minutes of darkness behind you it’s possible to see the little lights deep within the forest.

If I saw such things and did not know what they were, what stories would I invent to explain what I had seen? What fables would grow from these darkened gullies, where on this evening the stars did really seem to be in reach.

Change while the nation stops

It’s the perfect traffic storm, and once more, at the start of a long weekend, I’m stuck right in the middle of it. Red taillights. Rainbow car colours. Jaguars. Silver top taxis. The speedo needle becomes a weather vein of discontent. I Play some new music but it leaves me Cold. Some song about Pandas, Pandas, Pppaaaaanandas. It rains heavily. When we do move the spray is thick. What lies beyond my own bonnet is speculative. I change discs for the Archangel. And the Red Rain is coming down, coming down all over me. Later a car cuts through the traffic left and right, fish tails, straightens and drives on. I slow even more and think about braking distances, lack of traction and the occasional failure of natural selection. I try not to embrace the collective drop in IQ that heavy rain brings on in drivers. A journey of 90 minutes takes three hours. I arrive tired. But I do arrive. It keeps raining.

Was it a bad journey or a normal journey on a bad night? Is this a rainy night or am I so used to dry ones that I have forgotten the reality of a wet road? How can we see what is change and what is normal? I’ve seen more rain in the last two years than in the other 13 I’ve lived in Australia. For me normal is dry and raining is different. Walking home in drenching rain a novelty, walking home drenched in sweat much more normal. I think about these things as I go
to sleep.

I wake to the normal / abnormal sound of rain on the roof and the sight of heavy grey skies. I start thinking again. How do we keep track of change in the natural world? Not the day to day changes of weather or the slow change of seasons, but the longer change of climate and growth. Can you really watch a place turn from grass to trees? Or does it happen suddenly in your mind when you realise a meadow is now a forest? Is this part of the problem when people talk of climate change, that our brains are not wired to see change over this time scale?

For most of the history of humanity I’d already be dead. The three score years and ten is a modern invention and to live beyond that age is an issue only of the current day. But our brains seem not to know this. In another time I would have in all probability died in childhood – vast numbers of people did. An early death and a youthful old age must have been common. And if you don’t live for more than 30 years how could the brain evolve to cope with changes that take place over dozens of decades or hundreds of years. Maybe we should ask the trees what they think – and if we look at their rings they can tell us what they know in the language of growth. Maybe we should ask the trees that felt the touch of animals now long gone and stood as watchers as the world turned and turned and turned.

When the rain stops we go for a walk around the point to the lighthouse. A walk only possible because of the turn of the tide. That’s a change you can understand. On the cliffs a huge slab of rock hugs the stones below it. Last week it started its journey down to the beach. But how long will it have to be there before people forget that it was not ever thus? Will it get a name – the table – and be visited for year after year by the same people? How long before the cliffs again take on the myth of permanence as they creep day by day inland? The rocks are old in a way we cannot really know and even if we can name the age does it really mean anything? Does five million years old really mean something different to just “old”? The rocks have been carved by the long slow hands of the sea and wind. Shapes form where none were before, and if chance shapes them in a way we like, they will be named. And somehow we think that naming will fix them. It becomes news worthy if they fall or change, but we forget that they were made because of change and that they will fall in the same way.

The beach below the cliffs seems to have less sand than normal and the city shapes of rocks poke through. Limpets clamp on to small depressions and lines in the rock. Tiny blue grey snails gather in lines where ancient changes made the rock weak and present a shadow of protection. Each wave brings in a small fleck of change. Change upon change upon change. Chance upon chance upon chance until we reach today and then we can look back on the winding path that brought us here.

Beyond the lighthouse the ruins of a war bunker look out to sea. Built to defend against a threat that never came to this coast. Build by a generation who must have thought it normal to go to war as their fathers and grandfathers had done. My kids corrupt its purpose and invite us in for tea and cakes. As I feed on their imagination I wonder what would have happened if a steel grey armada had sailed over the horizon and come here to wage war. In places like this the shadow of history seems much longer than normal. A sail boat passes where the battleships never came and I turn back to my kids as they offer me more tea and more cakes.

Back at the beach the gulls gather at the tide wash and search for dinner, the small waves turning over sand, revealing food. Squabbles break out over choice morsels found by the lucky or overlooked by the angry. On a fence a pair keeps watch for any change of chance. Looking one way, then another, then at each other. The necessary vigil of the chancer. Off shore a sunken boat, the Ozone, breaks down through the familiar alchemy of sun and salt and sea. It was sunk to provide protection from the forces of change, but now it’s all but overwhelmed. I plan to return in the summer for a closer look.

The kids play on the beach, larger than last year with more words. They can both read, they can both swim. The kids that are here now did not exist last year. This change is wonderful and strange to watch. Would I hold back change if I could – to spend more time here and now? To regain some of the moments lost to fear and to a barking black dog? I really don’t know.
This weekend was born from the Race that Stops the Nation. But does anything really ever stop? We may come back to the same places but we and it have changed. The only constant is change. Change keeps the world as it is; without it all things would tumble down to nothing. Change is the engine of the world.

We drive away, leaving behind a fleece jumper, a toy car, a book of stories and a single pink sock. Or maybe we left some of those behind last time. Or the time before.

Hello Johanna

I’ve been to the Otways before, but never to Johanna. It all seemed sort of familiar, but it really wasn’t. It’s only when you get ready for bed that you really begin to notice the differences. Before that it’s been a rush to get the car unpacked, find the light switches and work out how to turn on the oven. Eventually the kids are asleep and you can wind down from the day and go to bed. You get into the same side as at home, with the same book and bookmark, maybe even with the same clock. A glass of water on the bedside table. The same back and forth of conversation and plans for the next day. The same hissing flick of turning pages. But as you settle in the differences come to the fore. The sounds of the house settling down for the night are different. Logs crack and fall in the fire box, the bedside lamp may buzz. The dishwasher rattles and sings quietly until you turn off the light and then, in the darkness, it sounds like an express train – this is a strange phenomenon, but it seems to happen in every house I visit.

But mainly the difference comes from outside, and here the difference is the voice of the sea. As it grows dark – or as I become sleepy – the sea’s voice seems to come closer and closer until it whispers in my ear. A sound that is both gentle and violent. The in and the out of the ocean. A sea breathe. I always sleep well near the sea. Some people say it’s the sea air, I say it’s the sea sound. Like a lullaby from years and years ago, the sea’s voice reaches in and puts me to sleep. (Many years ago I lived on an island, almost on the western edge of Europe, surrounded by the sea – and its call was never silent. When I left and the voice was no longer there, I missed it, I felt lonely without it. Strangely I found an echo of it in the distant noise of traffic that was always there in the next place I stayed. In a place that had seen better days and felt ignored by the rest of the country I may have been making the best of a bad job, but that’s what happened).

As ever the kids arrive early and fill the space in the bed. Outside the sea calls. But there is something else as well, a gentle tapping and the buzz, rattle of wings from the window. When the blinds are open a tiny blue streak dashes away into the nearby bushes – it’s a Superb Blue Wren. Within minutes it has returned, pecking at the angle between glass and frame, a fragment here, a portion there. Every so often the bird would notice its own reflection, and driven by the hormonal imperative to defend place and space it would attack itself. With its beak pushed against the glass it would fly up in a whirl of tiny wings. Enragingly its reflection would do the same. For reasons as inexplicable as those that started the whole process it would end and the bird would drop back to the window sill and start feeding again. Later in the week I would watch the same bird (but how would I really know!) doing the same thing around the edge of the car’s windscreen. Food, frenzy and fighting all at the same time.

The beach was only a short walk away, ten minutes at the most and almost all downhill. Short steep uphills marked the slopes of old sand dunes, covered now in thick spongy grass. In places cows had poached the soil – around gates and feed troughs, along favourite pathways – and the sand broke through to the surface. For kids used only to cows on TV the real things are surprisingly large. And noisy. And smelly. I’m sure that the cows were thinking similar things about the kids.

The beach was that picture perfect combination of rock, sand and surf that lures people to their death somewhere around our coast every year. A deep tongue of greenish water cut past a rock bar and back out to sea. To fishermen this is a gutter – to most everybody else it’s a rip. Name it as you will, but it’s an undertow counter current that takes water – and you if you’re in it – away from the sand and back out to sea. It’s a naturally produced device to collect fish and drown the unwary. The water that gathers on the shore with each breaking wave takes the easiest route back to the deeper ocean, and the rock bar on the beach provides both a barrier and an opportunity. Being caught in a rip is like being trapped on a liquid conveyer belt, with a destination far off shore. Even in their smallest form you can feel the pull, and understand how water, soft and inviting one minute, can be deadly the next. You can feel how water can carve away the land and mock the defences that we put up to protect the coast. I fished near the edge of this rip later in the week (unsuccessfully again!), but knew not to wade too deep. And I retreated further up the beach than normal to await the bites that never came. For all the benefits brought by experiential learning, being trapped in a rip is something I can do without. RIP, rip. It’s probably a coincidence, but that does not mean it’s not significant.

On the other side rock bar that helps funnel the rip, the Johanna River comes down to the sea. It winds about as the beach levels out and dawdles a little before it meets the waves. Silver Gulls peck at the river’s edge and where the water comes through the dunes a White Faced Heron stands and watches. All the birds seem more timid than normal – maybe this beach is not as popular as others. The birds seem less used to humans, less acclimated to beach runners and splashing children. On the other side of the river a pair of Hooded Plovers run and peck. I don’t feel like wading today so the birds stay just a little too far away. The Plovers don’t do well on popular beaches – too much disturbance when nesting, too many misplaced feet, too many prying eyes. Just too much humanity. In the end they spook when a bird of prey flashes out of the sand dunes. They land a few hundred meters down the beach and start feeding again. Their lives a knife edge balance between the wasted energy of unneeded fear and the need to feed. Too much bravery and they get eaten, too much fear and they never have time to feed.

The kids are playing in the distance as we walk back to the cottage. This time the interest comes not from the size of the cows, but the sheer volume of snot running from their noses – that’s the cows’ noses just to be clear. That unique combination of revulsion and fascination keeps them interested - and in this case this could apply to both the cows and the kids!

Although the air is still, patches of grass shake and wave. What’sgoing on? Random patches of greenery move in ways that they should not. Silvereyes, small grey green birds, move through the plants with mouse-like movements. Darting from place to place, constantly on the move, constantly feeding – just like the plovers on the beach. When we get back to the cottage another flock is feeding in the flowerbeds that ring the front door. Many shots later I manage to capture a few of these fleeting birds. Overhead an Australasian Hobby flashes past, small and swift with glowing red brown underside. Tracking it was difficult with binoculars, but was next to impossible with a camera. It flies in straight lines and sweeping arcs, interrupted by sudden unpredictable jinks to the left or right. Each of these violent shifts marks an attack on a dragonfly. Eventually I watch the bird snatch a dragonfly in flight and eat it on the wing. It barely slows during the process. Fast food. The sun sets and we settle down for the evening, the sea grumbling in the background and the wind pushing the clouds into piles and pillars.

The next morning we set off on the short walk to feed the chickens and a longer walk to look for platypus. The chickens proved far more accommodating than the platypus. Standing looking across the fields the kids don’t know which way to go. Dozens of small paths flow out from the mud around the gate – cow paths that fan out to each corner of the green. “We need to go this way” I say. “Are you sure?” the kids ask. I realise that this is normal for me and very strange for them. As a kid I would wander around the fields and woods that surrounded my village. While there were marked paths, many were just smoothed lines in an otherwise rough field. You often wandered off the path when you wanted to go where the path did not. A walk would be a series of decisions that you made yourself. Over this farm gate, through that patch of woodland, along this stream until we can get over it. These were walks where you needed to “read” where you were going. It’s not that you were going to get lost; in fact you often found more than you lost. But unless you read the land you may not end up where you planned to be.

Most of the walks my kids have been on have followed paths that were built and maintained with the express purpose of getting to the place you were going. Tourist paths in National Parks are still controlled by the lie of the land, but they have been built with a more logical plan than those in the English countryside. They do not encourage wandering. They encourage movement. We follow no path at all but drop down a narrow spur, past a bridge and over a hill. It’s clear we are going in the right direction because we get to where we want to be. You could have probably got to that point dozens of other ways. This, and the small folded nature of the land, reminds me of England. The trees and the birds tell me I am elsewhere.

As we return to the cottage P finds an echidna. For all the memories and familiar wandering paths I can only be in one place in the world. All illusions to the contrary are false, all memories are simply that. I see the place for where it is, and say, once more, “Hello, Johanna”.