Sunday 17 November 2013

Close to the Edge

                                              Close to the edge, down by the river. 
                                              Down at the end, round by the corner.*

[Looking towards Cape Raoul] 
I was watching them, waiting for their moment. Mine had come thirty years earlier, and the lead-up details were now hazy. But not the moment itself.

Three interstate visitors had joined us to do a quick reccie of the Cape Raoul track on the Tasman Peninsula. Each was relishing the cool, semi lush forest through which we climbed. That much was already pleasing.

An hour or so into the walk my memory jagged. Ahead I sensed a thinning of the trees, a slight rise in the breeze, a change in the sound and feel of the air. Yes, this was it. I pulled back to watch their faces. The now scrubby forest abruptly stopped, the muddy track became rock, and then … thin air. Astonishingly we had walked straight up to the edge of 400m high cliffs. Far beneath us surged the Tasman Sea.

[Far below the cliffs a cruise boat heads towards Tasman Island]
If there were audible gasps they were carried off in the breeze. But their faces said it all. Though a writer shouldn’t admit it, words do fail us sometimes. Being close to the edge can leave you speechless. In my youth I was won over by Yes’s remarkable album “Close to the Edge”. But it certainly wasn’t the florid lyrics of its title song! No, Yes was always more about expansive, mind-filling music and a general edgy, progressive vibe.

Oddly all of those descriptions worked for these remarkable cliffs. After a couple of days walking parts of the proposed Three Capes Track – a track that will eventually lead walkers around Capes Raoul, Pillar and Hauy – we still struggled to find adequate words. But there was certainly a mind expanding vibe!

[Some of the wildflowers between Fortescue Bay and Cape Hauy] 
How do you encapsulate a place that not only staggers you with its cliffs – the highest sea cliffs in Australia – but also entrances you with its plethora of wild flowers? Or that enthralls you with its views of wildlife – from breaching whales, to soaring eagles; and from furtive wallabies to downright friendly echidnas? (One walked over the boot of one of our party as she stood to watch.)

[A friendly echidna pauses beside the track] 
From the grand scale right down to the minute, there always seemed to be something capturing our attention. Even the irony of having our imaginations held captive wasn’t lost on us. This peninsula was once chosen as the perfect physical site for convict-keeping. Its wild cliffs, tempestuous seas and relative inaccessibility helped ensure that Port Arthur’s captives rarely escaped.

[Crossing a stone bridge on the Cape Hauy Track] 
In the end, I think irony, perhaps paradox, reigns here. Vastness doesn’t overwhelm closeness; echidnas and wildflowers showed us that. Grandeur doesn’t overpower your sense of belonging. It seems that this is a place where you can get close to the edge and move beyond fear to something more akin to joy.

* from “Close to the Edge” by Jon Anderson and Steve Howe

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