Sunday 19 July 2009

Federation Peak - Part 4

[part 4 of a 15 part series describing an ascent of Tasmania's Federation Peak]

4) Up the Creek

Farmhouse Creek, Tuesday February 5th, 1991

I get busy putting on my boots, tying, testing, undoing, re-tying. I repack my pack, making sure that comfort foods are near the top. It is all distraction and delay. Jim starts ribbing Bill, whose walking attire is far from glamorous. I recall that Bill was the fall-guy on a previous walk. He slips comfortably into role, beaming idiotically, coming back at Jim in a faux-Irish accent which I instantly pick up. The banter helps settle the nerves, and next thing the heavy packs are hoisted and we’re walking into the still, damp and lusciously green forest, uphill of course.

In truth “green” is a vastly oversimplified descriptor for the forest. There are mosses and leaves of almost fluorescent green; there are sombre olives, glaucous blue-greens, lively gold-tinged greens and deep sea greens. The hue is not just on the forest floor or in the leaves of the tree-tops, it is there at every level, from roots to trunks to branches to fungi. The very air has a greenish tinge. And then there are the browns, more browns than the largest Cumberland pencil set could have names for; from the whisky dark of the creek water to the club chocolate of the muddy track, which colours Bill’s shorts after his first slip on a tree root.

Within 15 minutes we’re all very much aware of our legs, our lungs and our backs, and in another 5, when somebody calls out for a break there is no voice of dissent. With exertion the banter has trailed off, and we’ve heard only the thud of bootsteps, the grunt of pack adjustments and the ragged gasps of our own breathing, broken occasionally by the call of a crescent honey-eater egypt ee-gypt or a golden whistler we-we-we-tu-whit. In the forest only the voices distinguish the otherwise hidden birds.

Over the two previous springs, we’ve had a golden whistler challenging its own reflection in our lounge room window. He would fly at the window, turning at the last minute to dash his feet against the pane. Next he would hover as best he could, repeatedly pecking at the glass in an effort to drive off his opponent. He’d then retreat to a nearby limb to regain his strength before returning for another round against this doughty foe. Of course his opponent was his perfect match, so despite hours of effort, victory was never possible. I think I lost interest before he did, but it must have been the same poor creature who returned at the same time the following year, and repeated the whole fruitless exercise all over again. As I trudge up the Farmhouse Creek track, it doesn’t occur to me to compare myself with this bird. But who am I challenging if it isn’t myself?

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