It’s the queen’s birthday (a public holiday) and I currently have the use of a car, so I decided to go to nature. Perhaps there ought to be a verb for walking alone in the forest for the purposes of renewal; one never knows what to call it.
I looked on google maps for a place to go. I glanced for the usual places: The Dandenong ranges, Yarra valley. I felt tired of those places though which is surprising. My eyes gingerly scanned for other large green areas on the map nearby Melbourne. I noticed one huge one that seems to dwarf Melbourne and is about 90 minutes away, merely called “state forest”. How did I not notice that before. It was a bit intense for what I was in the mood for though. Then nearby I noticed the township of Kinglake and its surrounding forest. My mind was instantly made up.
Kinglake has become a very special place in my opinion. Seven years ago it was one of the places hit hardest by the black Saturday bushfires. That was Australia’s worst bushfire ever: 173 people died. That makes it an interesting place to visit in my opinion, and sure enough I was not disappointed.
Whilst driving through the winding, hilly roads to get there, I was first struck by the idyllic scenery. There’s nothing quite like the views in this part of the world; somewhere between the rolling hills of a farm and the forest of local trees insulating it.
Next, as I approached Kinglake, I had this incredible impression of youthfulness. Call me crazy, but the flora had this nubile quality. It gave you that gentle “aww” feeling you get when you’re looking at a baby animal. Virgin also seems an apt description. As I got closer into town I noticed the sparse, tidily constructed houses overlooking the rolling countryside. As if to keep a lookout. The whole place seemed brand new. Not just physically, but spiritually as well. It had the wisdom that a person has after they suffer tremendous misfortune and are then curiously freed from attachments. It seemed quite buddhist. It also had a frontier-like quality which was a wonderful, clean-slate kind of vibe I feel lucky to have witnessed.
I’m someone that meditates often. I’ve lived in a zen temple for a while and have read plenty of books about spiritually. Yet I was positively embarrassed by how heavy and complicate I seemed whilst talking to the two people at the grocery store. They have got to be the nicest, most humble people I’ve met in Australia. Also, if it were at all possible; the guy’s hands struck me as looking like the hands of someone that’s adapted to bush-fire territory.
I asked for recommendations about where I could go for a bush walk. He eagerly produced a tourist map and started making suggestions. Soon a nice, kind of old lady was helping me as well. She made a good pitch about a walking track at a waterfall so I decided upon that one. I thanked them greatly and was on my way after they ensured that I took the map with me. I noticed this enterprising sort of vibe, on some level they were aware of the need to rebuild the town’s reputation with visitors. I also recall that there was an uncommon rapport between them, almost like childhood friends.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig stresses the virtue of the roads less travelled. The ones you find yourself on when you turn off a busy highway then keep going. When nothing lies ahead except unknown towns. This day trip has shown me what he meant and it is indeed more spiritual this way. Taking the busy highway seems commercial, socially conditioned just as the city is. Yet here the nature is encroaching upon the roads ever so slightly and the personality of the location is more pronounced. It’s poetic, for lack of a better word.
I like a nature walk to be almost entirely free of other people. Unless you have a walking-partner with you, that’s different. Constantly seeing people makes it little different from walking through a city park. You never really lose your self-consciousness. Many Chinese in particular appear to have mastered the art of being competitive in the most relaxed of natural locations, acting as though it were an airport or something. Since they can’t have inner peace, apparently no one else should either.
Well I went on the walk along the creek and eventually got far enough away that people were scarce. I took a picture of the idyllic valley and waterfall views, although I was bored in about 2 minutes of it. Safe to say that’s because of the internet. I kept going and eventually found myself on a path going up to the top of a hill. I took a 90 degree turn, directly into the bushland and made my way towards the afternoon sun. This would finally give the me the palette-cleansing experience that I sought.
Wading through the dense thicket of flora can be quite daunting to a city person at first. The initial reaction is to expect there to be spiders and snakes everywhere. To worry about dirtiness and be offended by how everything around piled on top of each other. Gingerly stepping over logs and brushing away arboreal impediments. Soon enough though; you relax your standards of critters and dirtiness. That in itself is liberating.
I forged into the sun-lit bush for about 2 minutes, long enough to lose sight of the path but hopefully not long enough to get lost. The warm afternoon sun brightly mingling with the leaves ahead was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time. Well, aside from some women in the city, but that’s apples to oranges.
I reached the smallest of clearings where I could sit without sitting on a pile of sharp sticks. Still very much intoxicated by the scene ahead. I’ve always idealised about being able to abide in these beautiful moments. To be fully in the moment, sensually, for a good long time. To somehow shift one’s state of consciousness to match the grandeur of the surroundings. So I sat down in the shrubs to try. What always happens when I’m in nature is that I just start pondering more intensely than ever. I want to write. That’s where I am writing this right now, typing on my iPhone, sitting on who knows what.
I hope what I’m siting on will never be given a name. That is because it’s at the border of living and unliving. Entropy at work that would usually be cleaned out of awareness. Definite, hard and fast objects that have a recognisable form and purpose, that is what we’re used to. Ultimately though it all decays and entropies. That makes our over-familiarity with conceptual objects illusory. Soon enough though my mind does label the miscellaneousness beneath me: “ecologists probably have a term for it”. After that my experience of the ground was rendered a nice, familiar hue of certainty and I felt a faint satisfaction of having captured a rogue phenomenon into my world-view, even though I was consciously hoping not to do that.
Despite my professed love of nature, I never stay with it for as long as I might hope to. It simply makes me want to start writing, much more than I do in the city. I’ll also use the opportunity to plan my life back home, hopefully bringing back a newly inspired vision. The city is where the people are and that’s where private achievement may become substantive, real in a more concrete sense. It’s where the the heart is, where we go to die. In the city though we subtly become enmeshed in the web of social thoughts and activities. Nature liberates one’s mind. Nature frees our spirit and lets it stretch its wings. It cleanses the soul for a time.