Has he been caught unawares, or is he posing? It wouldn’t be the first time he’d struck a posture for the camera. Perhaps I’m being harsh. After all he’s not yet familiar with these ancient Gondwanan forests. And that look – he is gazing up with a mix of deep contemplation and awe – is a fitting response to the total sensory embrace of a Tasmanian rainforest.
[In a Meander Forest, 1982: photo by KM]
All these years later he still feels it. I know because he is me. A 28 year old me, a me flying free of the gravity of now. But still me.
It’s 1982 and a different world. He has no internet and no computer (they’re for mathematical types, and he’s not one of those). His television is of the smallish, black and white kind, like his sheep dog.
He loves his wife and his wee daughter. He doesn’t yet know he’ll have two more children, and that they’ll go on to have children of their own. Being a grandfather is vastly far from his mind, even if it will be as unexpectedly full of marvels as stepping into that forest. No, right now he is freely swimming in the green timelessness of that Meander forest.
How to respond to that 28 year old me? Do I frown and judge; do I condescend; or do I just smile and leave him to his thoughts? If I’m tempted to pick on him, I might start with his naïve beliefs. A Christian AND a conservationist? Isn’t that two lost causes in one unlikely combination? I could suggest he’s a fan of Saint Jude, the patron saint of such things, but his theology doesn’t yet have that bent.
[The grandeur of growing things: inside a West Coast rainforest]
It might be easier to stick with superficialities. For instance could I resist sniggering at his “hippy” looks; his long hair and Cat Stevens beard? And what’s with the hand-knitted beanie and hand-made, checked woollen shirt? Is it solidarity with the poor? Or is he inventing the “bogan” look before its time? Sure there might be an economic imperative too. I see hints of penny pinching in his army surplus trousers and cheap japara/oilskin rain jacket. But trousers tucked inside red socks? Really?!
While this is flitting through my mind, I realise I may have it all wrong. If, as Gerard Manley Hopkins had it, “the child is father to the man”, the same surely holds for the young man and the older man. That inverts the whole situation for the present me. If anyone is going to be “fatherly” towards the other, then it is the younger me who should be having words with the older me.
If he speaks to me of forests and other wild things in Tasmania, I will speak of my ongoing love and struggle. Struggle against that which would diminish the wild; or belittle it as a minor issue. If he speaks of my faith or of my relationships, the same two words will come up again: love and struggle.
[Love's a beach: Lake Rhona, Tasmania]
Because these things are hard, and they matter. The “stuff” that so often dominates the now – houses, cars, clothes and gadgets – will fade away. But the grandeur of growing things; of abiding love; of a questing spirit, things of which any Creator could be justly proud, these will remain.
Getting away from the pull of the present must be good for you. Certainly the younger me has passed on a few pearls, and has more to teach me yet. Still, I might pass on tucking my trousers into red socks.