Tuesday 14 December 2021

Walking the February Plains 1: Detachment

Being in the presence of what absolutely endures detaches us from that ephemeral news for which we are usually agog.

         – Frédéric Gros (‘A Philosophy of Walking’)

Of all the reasons we hoist a pack and walk into the wild, getting detached from our usual lives is close to a universal. When the walking starts, so does the slow shedding of the skin of our bustle. Before this walk both Tim and I had been burdened in different ways. In Tim’s case some difficult issues in his work as a consultant wanted to slip into his pack. In my case the ups and downs of a writer’s life had me doubting the direction my work was going. It was time to detach! 

Where we'd rather be

So preoccupied have we been that it’s only at the last minute that we choose the February Plains as our destination. It’s not the glamour choice for walkers in search of lofty peaks. It not only lacks those, it’s also deficient in such other drawcards as lakes and forests. And over the years this sub-alpine upland, rarely higher than 1150m, has been grazed, mined, burned and otherwise given grief. Especially hard were the wildfires of 2016, which have left swathes of its slow-growing bush stark and grey, adding to its scarred and weather-worn visage. 

Ready for off!

For all that, we know the Februaries have a way of wheedling their way into your heart. So we’re smiling as we slip on our packs and set off into what is still, a sign soon reminds us, part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It’s my third trip here, while Tim has lost count of his many visits to what is almost part of his back yard. 

A lunch stop at Basil Steers #2

While the detachment has begun, I soon find it’s not possible to leave behind my relative lack of walking fitness. The amount of ascent is low, but I’m still puffing more than I should. I’m glad when we reach one of the snarer’s huts built by Basil Steers and family in 1974. We’ve been here before and, after signing the log book, we enjoy a leisurely lunch in its well cared-for vicinity. We marvel afresh at how fortunate the hut was to survive 2016’s fires. Its forest surrounds are still blackened. 

Wildflowers are one beneficiary of the fires. Shortly after leaving the hut we come across carpets of ground-hugging Hibbertia procumbens, their bright flowers extravagantly strewn across our way like precious confetti. There’s no actual track. We just wind our way around bogs and scrubbier sections, sometimes high-stepping over thicker bush. Once we’ve got our rhythm, we settle into stories of past trips here, including Tim’s encounter with a giant tiger snake that chased him off its territory. I spy one of the hills we climbed last trip, recalling who was with us and what we’d talked about. I express my relief that we’re not climbing it again today with a full pack. 

A carpet of Hibbertia in bloom

A couple of hours after lunch we reach a familiar though unnamed lake, its shore dotted with pencil pines. We’ve discussed the possibility of looking for a campsite further on. But picking up on my mood, Tim is happy to make this small lake our base. He and his family know it well enough to have given it their own name, Lake Nycteris, after a character in one of their favourite George MacDonald fairy tales. They haven’t camped here though, so we spend the next half hour circumnavigating the lake in search of the ideal campsite. 

A burned pencil pine beside the lake

The 2016 bushfire has come very close, burning part of a nearby myrtle beech forest, and taking out a couple of pencil pines in the sphagnum bog by the shore. In the end we find a site just large enough for my one-person tent and Tim’s tent/tarp set up. It’s by the lake shore, next to the outlet stream, and beside a small copse of pencil pines. It’s perfect, or nearly so. As soft as it makes us sound, it’s only when we’re sitting in our Helinox Chair Zero chairs with a hot brew in hand that we really feel settled. We’re in total agreement that these little camp chairs are worth their 500g in weight! 

Our set-up beside the lake

Settled perhaps, but not yet fully detached, we keep chatting about the work matters that have added weight to our packs. And we talk real estate, comparing local development issues that threaten to change the feel of our respective local areas. But eventually these matters slide into the background. 

The wider scene, with Clumner Bluff behind

Here, by this quiet lake, tucked under its forested hill, with views stretching down valley and across to a distant Clumner Bluff, with a hundred frogs calling from the water, a few shy wallabies eyeing us quietly, and a sky only scantily clouded, we find the other side of the equation. Now we’re beginning to attach ourselves to what truly matters. This is real real estate.

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