Sunday, 17 March 2013

Solitary


It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. - Rainer Maria Rilke
 


[Sphagnum and pencil pines fringe a typical highland lake] 

The water feels cool, but what water doesn’t, unless it’s bathwater? Thunder clouds are building, and we won’t have long to linger at the lake. As I stand in the shallows, the “boys” offer rough encouragement from their warm, dry bank.

It’ll be fine once you’re up to your nethers! … Get it over with you big girl’s blouse! … C’mon - just dive. You’ll be right.

I dive, and am pleasantly surprised. We’re three days into a four day walk. It’s been hot and surprisingly humid. For the last couple of hours we’ve been off-track, sweating as we tackled a little more scoparia than we’d planned. So we’re ready for a swim. But this is the Walls of Jerusalem in the Tasmanian highlands. Swimming and highland lakes do not normally go together. Shivering, perfunctory ablutions are the more usual form.

How different this is. After my dive I retrieve a Croc that’s floated free, and turn to tell the unbelievers just how good it is. They’re slow to, but they eventually join me, including Libby – our campsite neighbour and a first-time Walls walker  who has tagged along to gain some off-track experience from "seasoned" walkers.

The sphagnum edged, pine fringed lake is narrow and long, perhaps a kilometre long. And it’s deep. A couple of metres off the shore I can’t reach the bottom, despite an exploratory plunge. It’s cold down there too, but on the surface there are delightful wedges of warm.

Lightning flashes somewhere, and a few seconds later thunder rumbles, reverberating around the dolerite walls and lake-filled valleys. The sky to the north-west, the weather quarter, is darkening. Bruised looking clouds are rolling this way. Someone suggests it might not be good to be caught in the water if lightning strikes come any closer. We nod, and keep swimming.

It feels right to linger at this particular lake, given our reasons for being here. We’ve come in search of the Solitary Hut, a legendary structure each of us had known something about, but none of us had ever seen. Given that I started coming here before the hut was built, and that I’d been to The Walls maybe eight times, it’s overdue.


[Solitary Hut, Walls of Jerusalem National Park] 

For Jeff, there’s a personal connection with the hut’s builder (we’ll call him “Doug”). Jeff used to weight train with Doug during the late 1970s, and had known about the hut for years. He and his brothers had even come looking once, but had failed to find it.

That may sound unlikely, but we soon confirm just how cryptic the hut is. Jim is leading as we sidle up the eastern edge of the lake. We have the hut’s location marked on a map, and entered into a GPS. There is a faint track – more a pad really – and Jim turns to tell me he thinks he’s lost the track. Before he can finish his sentence, he is laughing. As he’s turned around, there is the hut, just three metres away.


[The well-disguised Solitary Hut] 

It is a simple A-frame affair, clad in grey-green roofing metal, with a rock foundation. Jeff goes inside, at first unsure whether this is the hut Doug built. But he finds a hand-built chin-up bar just inside the door, and smiles broadly. Doug used to pride himself on his chin-up prowess.

Jeff tells us a bit about the man who built the hut. In the early 1980s Doug’s life had taken some difficult turns, including a marriage breakdown. A keen bushwalker, he had sought out a remote location to retreat to. He wanted his mind to become as strong as his body. Over a period of just six weeks in 1983, he had built this simple, isolated bush hut, carrying in everything that he needed. Between January 1984 and July 1985 he spent the bulk of his time living in what he called “Solitary Hut”.

Because it was, and is, an illegal structure, he has chosen to remain anonymous, refering to himself as “Solitary Man”. Although he was usually solitary, he did bring visitors up to the hut, and also shared it with possums that were so friendly they would sit on his lap. We read in the hut’s logbook that Doug continues to come here regularly, and that he has remarried and had a daughter.


[The "Boys" at Solitary Hut: photo by Libby] 

After spending time looking around the hut, most of us leave to find a good swimming spot. But Jeff stays to get more of a feel for how his old weight-training buddy must have felt living here. While we’re swimming further down the lake, Jeff plunges in just below the hut site, and communes with the memory of his friend for a while longer.

* * *

Crocs may not be sartorially elegant, but during our swim Jim and I find a new use for them. They are wonderfully buoyant, and keep our feet up as we float on our backs. I lie there for some time, my head half-submerged, looking towards the still bright sky. When I close my eyes, the world turns silent and tangerine, the bright light penetrating my eye lids as the water fills my ears.

It is a blissful, solitary moment.


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