Part 2: Onto the Land
Words & Photography by: Joanne Coates | @joannerebeccacoates
Gazing upwards I notice the constellations are brighter than I’ve ever seen them before. This is my first night in Tasmania. The roof of my hut is transparent, I realise I can see the stars from where I lay. Orion and Taurus are clear. I feel as though I’ve migrated for winter, a cycle. This time last year I was the closest to the Arctic Circle I’ve ever been, whilst in 2017, I’m the closest to the Antarctic I’ve ever been. On those dark winter nights in Orkney I first witnessed the Aurora, the Northern Lights. Now in the Southern Hemisphere I hope to spot the Southern Lights but the dancers don’t reveal themselves for me. As Nan Shepherd writes in The Living Mountain, “It is the eye that discovers the mystery of light, not only the moon and the stars and the vast splendours of the Aurora, but the endless changes the earth undergoes under changing lights.” Despite not seeing the Aurora Australis I am able to witness so much more with the changing movements of light in Tasmania. A new face to the mountain at dawn, that was shrouded in darkness at dusk.
In my first few days in Tasmania I cycle along the coastal road, along the river banks where fresh water meets salt. Exploring by the way the rivers flow. I witness Oyster-Catchers on the shore and eat an Oyster from a river beach where the shells are abundant. I swim freely off wooden jetties along the Huon. Winding dirt tracks take me along, feeling as though I was riding through the winter of my life into the summer.
Australia offered me a vast landscape. Tassie (Tasmania to you and I) is a different place altogether. A place where wilderness still exists. A place where you can climb a mountain immersed in fog completely alone. After studying the map I happened across a mountain aptly called Mt Misery. I decided perhaps both metaphorically and physically I would climb Mt Misery. As I left my cabin, skirting the edges of the wilderness, looking around it soon occurred to me that I was shrouded in fog. Heading to the local town via my bike I wasn’t to be deterred, a waiting game for a gap in the mist. My time had come, locking up my bike starting the six-mile walk to where my first ascent would begin. Making my way deep into the bush it was time to start the ascent. My skin was wet with sweat, then damp from the rainforest, before the fog returned mist settling on my shoulders and arms. I’d completed the hardest part of the ascent and a thick blanket of fog ascended on the mountain. Too stubborn to give up the fight but aware the rest of my path was through heather, bracken and rainforest, over fallen tree stumps, under bushes. The thought did occur that I may not be as cut out for rainforests as I am bleak Northern moors as I dived under cobwebs and tried to avoid obtaining leeches in the bush.
It’s the first time I’ve seen Australian wildlife in the...well...wild. There are plenty pademelon's spotted dead on the side of the road, but this is the first time I’ve seen wallabies jump across my path and tiger snakes slither away. As rain began to fall the smell of eucalyptus was all around me. The only sounds were bird calls and rainfall. The haunting call of a bird I couldn’t identify filled the foreboding track. This part of the mountain has been known for a phenomenon, 'the dreaming', used by Aborigines to describe the balance between the spiritual, natural and moral elements of the world. To be in the state of 'dreaming' within nature, one must go beyond wakefulness. I can see how the word came into being, feeling that way on my day in the mountain mist.
Keeping one eye on the time, I realised I would have to pelt it down the mountain to make it back to the main road before dark. Time doesn’t seem to exist on the mountain planes. On the way up I’d met a man who lives in the bush half way up the track, we talked about living out here, the pleasures. He was a retired park ranger and felt only at home here rather than in any town. On the way down he was outside again with his dog, Oliver. We talked about Mt Misery and about Tasmanian mysteries before I wandered off down the track. These encounters both with people and with nature are for me the epitome of travel.
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