Saturday 26 November 2011

Listening to the River

[The Leeaberra Track Part 3]

 Lynne and Tim at "The Growler", Douglas River

And on the third day we rested. I realise God managed to wait till the seventh day, but clearly we are not in His league. We had already planned two nights at the second campsite, so when the rain persisted through the morning, we needed little persuasion to stay in our sleeping bags.

All morning light rain fell, pooling in the tree tops, sending plopping drops, loud and large, onto our tents. The river shooshed along nearby; birds chitted and sang; we chatted, read or dozed, stirring only when bodily urges dictated. There is something profoundly satisfying about this kind of rest after exertion, especially when you are warm and dry and in good company.

Until well into the afternoon, the benignly wet weather continued to give us an excuse not to get up. We breakfasted in our tents, with only a quick excursion outside – during a dry spell – to boil the billy. But by late lunchtime our luck ran out: the showers ceased. Via negotiation hollered from tent to tent, we agreed to emerge for a late lunch and a “leg stretch”.

Rockpool detail, Douglas River 

Our exercise, carrying only day-packs and camera gear, comprised a very slow stroll up the very beautiful Douglas River. Deeply enthralled, we stopped frequently to photograph, share our finds, or just simply watch and listen to this lovely small stream. How perfectly Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows” captures the spell that the river wove around us that afternoon!

Never in his life had he seen a river before – this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver – glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble.

At our slow wandering pace, we started to notice detail: the varying sounds of water on rocks, the contrasting textures and colours of rocks, the changing smells from forest litter to waterfall ozone. One small waterfall we dubbed “the growler”, as its particular geometry gave it a deep, resonant “voice”.

A little further upstream we added to the bestiary when we saw a “crocodile”! Joint lines in sedimentary rock aligning with eroded holes to create not one but two stylised sets of croc jaws and eyes. Facing each other, they looked like some sort of primitive bas-relief of crocodiles kissing.

The "Kissing Crocodiles" sit above a coal seam, Douglas River 
Beneath our stylised reptiles, we were surprised again to find a coal seam with evidence of 19th century mining, in the form of an adit, a kind of horizontal shaft. Just how desperately difficult it must have been to mine and move coal from this rugged and enclosed valley is evidenced by the small scope of the extraction.

We noticed other less benevolent aspects of the river. Despite the bed of the stream being wide and well watered, we saw very few shrubs or trees at low levels. Instead we found freshly concussed rock, savagely pruned trees, and mounds of debris and flood wrack, some of it well up the river’s banks. Clearly the floods of the previous winter, and the winter before, had scoured much of the vegetation flat.

On a calm and gentle spring day it was hard to imagine this. But the occasional forest giant, dead, bare and lodged up the bank, gave us some idea of the ferocity of flooding.

A gentle river today, but the gouged tree tells another story
Eventually we wandered, hopped and scrambled our way back to camp. We had plenty to talk and think about. I found it interesting that a few short hours immersed in a place like this could have us noticing and naming features; pondering on significant events and changes; creating a kind of a mental map that meant more to us than the cartographic one. Given several thousand years, would these kinds of thoughts become song-lines? Or part of the dreaming? Was that how it worked for Aboriginal people who lived intimately with places like this for so long?

Whatever the answer, as I settled back into camp for a second night, it was more than the starry sky that had me feeling small – and young.

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