Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tasmania: Day 6 - Wild Beauty

Theme Songs of the Day:
  1. "First Dy of My Life", by Bright Eyes
  2. "Burn One Down", by Ben Harper
  3. "Are We Different?", by Priscilla Ahn


The morning dawns achingly cold on the flood plains of Taylor Flats.

Blue smoke bellows from the still-damp campfire while I stand on the bank of a river, casting into the flow and hoping for a rainbow or a brown trout to strike. The air is still, and my breath hangs around my shoudlers in a puffy veil.

Kookaburras guffaw in the distance while other birds chatter and chirp and whistle all around me. An industrious little fellow tap tap taps at the skeletal tree standing behind me, pulling out grubs and other goodies from the dead wood.

Poplar trees grow thick along the banks to the water’s edge, and I pick my way upstream searching for breaks in the undergrowth large enough for me to cast from. Back at the campfire, butter and home-made raspberry jam bubbles away on the gridle, while bread smokes itself into toast for our breakfast.

Last night we met Roslyn and Oscar, Peter’s wife and youngest son. I spoke with Roslyn on the phone when we landed in Tassie, or rather she spoke to me through the crackling connection: “Is that you Matt??” She is tough as nails, all sinew and no nonsense, with a warm smile and a heart of gold.

Oscar and his brother grew up on the “luxury campgrounds” and were homeschooled by their parents. He is a confident, well-mannered 16-year old, also tough as nails, all sinew, and no-nonsense. He does have his father’s cheeky grin, and the twinkle in in his eye that suggests he may or may not be about to play a practical joke on you…

On the day that the Board of Education came to interview the children to find out how effective [or not] their homeschooling had been, Roslyn was nervous that they might deem their progress sub-par, and take her children away. Instead, the lady that came out was so impressed that she asked if the boys would come and speak to other homeschool families as an example of possibility.

Roslyn explains to me later that their approach was simple: keep the boys engaged and having fun, and they would learn something without even realizing it. For example, to teach them about mathematics and geometry, they built a shed and had them do all the calculations on site that were necessary to complete the project. They learned the theory and application of the concepts being studied, and gained the practical construction skills while swinging their hammers. At 23 years old, Wilbur now travels the world as a freelance adventure guide; he is currently away in Europe leading whitewater kyak adventure tours in Norway over the summer season.

We get to see more of the benefits of this kind of education first hand when we get back to camp and Oscar invites us to join him and his best mate Alex [who is 3 years older] on the downhill Moutain Bike Track that he and his brother Wilbur have built on the other side of the waterfall.

The track is impressive; a narrow trail winds its way down the mountain, earthen embankments allow you to throw the bikes around the switchbacks, and a fallen log provides a massive railslide that drops back onto the track on a steep, twisting ramp. The see-saw feature they fly over freaks me out and sends me careening off into the bush, mowing down a couple of baby eucalypts along the way.

I opt to take the side route on the final stretch, which drops off a rocky outcrop before slipping through a narrow gap in the trees. It took us twenty minutes to hike up to the start, and maybe three minutes to barrell down, hooting and crashing and laughing all the way down. I am thankful that the 15-foot jump they are still building mid-way down is incomplete… and that despite falling off twice, I survived my first downhill mountain biking experience with barely a scratch!

The adrenaline is still coursing when we return to “camp”, and we are still wild-eyed when Peter shows us the yield of hazlenuts that he and Aoba have gathered that morning. The Canadian has asked that we do a bonfire that night, so Roslyn announces that ice cream, molten chocolate, and home-made raspberry sauce will compliment campfire-roasted hazlenuts perfectly for desert.

Before we head out to gather wood for the bonfire, however, Peter invites us on a bushwalk with him to Levyn Canyon. The 45-minute trek up to the lookout point takes about 25 minutes with the pace that he sets for us, and our breath is taken away when we reach the end of the trail. Wooded valleys stretch to the horizon as a river winds its way through. We are ants perched precariously on the edge of this precipice, dwarfed by the massive spectacle of nature engulfing us. The platform and we stand on and polished trail signs behind us are the only sign of human presence; the work of a single park ranger who has carved the trail out with his own two hands, and the occasional help of a laborer or two.


Once we regain our breath, we head back to the car which Peter guides deftly around the gravel roads twice as fast as I would be comfortable driving, to bring us to another trailhead. This one descends into the canyon and crosses the river, where we pass a sign reading EXPERIENCED BUSHWALKERS ONLY, and our motley crew - The Moustachioued One, The Canadian, The GreenBackpack, and the Tokyo Girl - pick our way along the steep trail until we round a bend and stop at a natural stone bench which overlooks dark tea-colored pools that eddy and swirl below.

It dawns on me how foreign an experience this must be for Aoba, who has probably only known the bright lights and ceasless racket of big city life... now we are surrounded by a natural symphony, the water rushing below, the breeze whispering through the treetops in waves, birds cackling and whistling and chirping all around.


We sit and munch on the chocolates I have brought, drinking in the view from the canyon floor. The cliff face stretches up 100+ stories above, and you can almost hear the cracking and rumbling of the massive rock stratas which lie at a 45 degree angle from the horizontal rocks which are the adjacent cliff. The river does a huge switchback here, and Peter tells us that at some time in the distant geological past, this entire canyon was formed by the collapse of the massive rockforms towering above. If we were ants standing on the top of the canyon, we are gnats as we look up from within.

We return to "camp" with a new sense of quiet satisfaction, our glimpse of the awesome power of Wild Tasmania lingering in our auras. This is Peter's backyard, and I find myself longing to keep exploring, to discover yet more wild spectacles that few privelleged humans will get to experience in their lifetimes. The wild places of the world don't want to be discovered, preferring instead to reveal their secrets only to those intrepid enough to seek and discover...

Dinner is the vegeterian green Japanese curry that I have had bubbling away all afternoon. The homegrown baby yams added at the last minute are pink and translucent and no bigger than my thumb, and lend just the perfect earthy-sweet flavour to this Asian-Australian bush tucker meal we have just invented.


We take turns simmering in the woodfired bath; house rules are that whoever is in the hot tub gets waited upon hand-and-foot, “As you wish…” Everyone outside of the bath house sits and stares into the fire, talking about past and future planned adventures [and misadventures], and even start to sketch out a vague plan to hike in to Cradle Mountain and back from Loongana when I return to Tasmania.

Aoba entertains herself by slicing cross-sections of the bonfire smoke rising into the night sky with her bright green laser beam, whistling Super Mario Brothers to herself and munching on potatoes roasted in the glowing embers. I can only imagine what her internal dialogue would be, 18-years old girl raised in the Tokyo metropolis in the middle of the Tasmanian bush and only enough grasp of English to understand fleeting glimpses in our conversations..

Roslyn and The Canadian have convinced Peter to break out a bottle of homebrew honey mead which has been “cellared” for a couple years. The amber liquid has a velvety texture, not quite as viscous as scotch, yet smooth enough to coat the sides of the glass when swirled. It smells sweet like honey, not the sickly sweet of desert wines, or the artificial sweet of soda pop, but a subtle, delicate sweetness imbued with a hint of citrus… and the taste? Divine. Almost spiritual. If one were lucky enough to sip from the nectar of the gods, than surely this would be it.

Maximus curls up in my lap and drifts off to sleep, twitching and eyelids fluttering as he starts to dream of chasing birds and sticks and severed wallaby heads. The conversation fades and becomes more intermittent, each of us losing ourselves in the hypnotic glow and crackly of the bonfire, connecting with some deep part of ourselves from eons past, when ape-like men huddled around campfires in caves.

Glowing embers float up and away into the milky way yawning above us. I realize that have discovered a formula for inner peace:

Homebrew Honey Mead
Vegetarian Japanese Curry
featuring Home-grown Baby Yams
Fire-Roasted Hazlenuts on IceCream with Molten Chocolate
and Home-made Raspberry Sauce
Woodfired Bath-house
Awesome People
Amazing Conversation

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  1. Hi Matt, This journal reflect to me the most beauty of life style is SIMPLE life. The mountain,the canyon,the river,the trees,the birds cackling sound...the fire,the woodfired bath,the organic food, the great peoples,a dog and the conversation....It is a very natural,simple and peaceful "picture".

    The other reflect to me is even we were from different country, background, culture, and speak different kind of language,but we are all the same human being. The love,emotion, feeling...are same.

    So why we create wars to fight to each other?

    Thank you so much Matt. I have so much impacted through reading your travel journal.

    Enjoy and take care!


  2. Very interesting indeed...

    I was learning more about permaculture on an ABC documentary that you might enjoy: