I’m writing this on Tuesday and I’d thought I was well past the time in my life when it took me until this point in the week to recover from the weekend. No, I’m not recovering from a binge on recreational pharmaceuticals. In fact, almost the opposite. I’m recovering from a weekend of hard-core physical, spiritual and philosophical rejuvenation.
I admit, this sentence sounds jam-packed with contradiction. To add to the weirdness, the first component of my blissed out weekend involved running up and down eight kilometres of bush trails in the forest around Mt Misery. Now there’s a European explorer clearly having a bad day. It was easily both the most difficult and the most beautiful long distance run I’ve ever done. Even the hardest of the hard-core trail-runners seemed impressed with themselves on crossing the line (as well they should since many of them did 16km in the time it took me to do 8!)
The eucalypt woodland was just breathtaking and I don’t mean this facetiously, as I was indeed gasping for breath during the entire experience. The trail wound through the Mount Crawford forest (which is not far from where we live) using both the Mawson and Heysen trails and since I rock a pretty slow but steady cadence, I ended up between the fleet footed and the strugglers and so had the trail to myself for a good deal of the run.
Running can be a kind of meditation and to be running through such an awe-inspiring landscape was strangely rejuvenating. Even as I was expending every last spark of energy within me I felt myself being restored. And at the end, as I dug deep and pushed myself past the runner in front of me, kicking up the pace over the finish line, the high was unlike any I had experienced before. I almost always feel a strange combination of pride, virtue and elation at the end of a long run – and this time it was magnified by the sense of belonging and adoration I have for this wild landscape.
Then it was pretty much back home for a quick shower and off to the Yorke Peninsula and Innes National Park for an impromptu overnight camping trip. I’d seen a report that the wild weather in recent weeks had uncovered the wreck of the Ethel and when I mentioned it to Andrew, his eyes lit up at the opportunity to take his new camera on a road trip.
We arrived at Ethel Beach just before sunset and set about exploring the freshly exposed ribs and twisted metal from the century-old wreck. Innes National Park is close to my heart. As a beach wilderness lover, on the rare occasions I can get Andrew interested in getting down to the coast, it’s always my first choice – but being four hours drive away means that it’s hardly a day trip. In all the times I’ve visited this beach I’ve never seen more of the wreck laid bare. It looked like an excavated burial with the aged skeleton reaching up out of the sand. And the ocean was gigantic; huge green rollers with an offshore wind blowing their manes back out to sea. It was exhilarating.
We camped at Pondalowie and the next morning walked to the bay to watch the sunrise over the coastal heath and warm the jagged headland cliffs. Hooded plovers, western grey kangaroos and emus with gaggles of striped fluffy chicks gave us our wildlife fix and then it was back out to the Ethel for a last look in the morning light.
The 650 kilometre round trip equaled one much needed wilderness immersion. I was feeling pretty physically and spiritually blissed out already – but there was more to come.
As those readers who know me are aware, to say I love books would rate as a rank understatement. I keep my husband occupied on weekends building bookshelves to keep up with the storage demand. My book habit hit a new level of excess when I worked as a second-hand bookseller and I had to exercise immense control to stop myself from spending more each shift in the bookshop than I earned in salary. One of my prime book suppliers at the moment is the wonderful independent Matilda Bookshop in Stirling. The lovely owners, Gavin and Jo, know me and I’ve secretly harboured a desire to work there for many years. A couple of weeks ago I came one tiny step closer to fulfilling this hidden yen when Gavin asked me to help with selling books at a special event they were hosting to launch Bob Brown’s new book, Optimism, in Adelaide.
I couldn’t say yes fast enough without scaring the man. And for Bob Brown! Back in 2007-2008 I worked for the Greens SA and was part of the team that saw Sarah Hanson-Young elected to the Senate when Bob was still leader of the Australian Greens Party. So as a Greens member and employee I’d been lucky enough to meet this incredibly inspirational man on a couple of occasions. The first time was on unfortunate terms when I attended the funeral of Greens NZ leader, Rod Donald back in November of 2005. I was studying in Christchurch when I heard the news of the tragically premature death of the Greens co-leader. I met Bob Brown in the pub after the service and I can attest to him being just as gracious and supportive in person as he has been each time I’ve seen him speak in public.
Now that he has retired from politics he has written a book titled Optimism, which he launched in Stirling before a crowd of 150 in the Coventry Library. As an environmentalist who has struggled with a sense of hopelessness in the face of the large-scale crises facing our planet, I was very keen to hear what he had to say.
Bob Brown is an incredibly engaging speaker – this is without doubt. But so are the plague of motivational speakers who seem to be able to fund extravagant lifestyles cruising the world, encouraging people to be more like the ideal versions of themselves that have previously existed only in their fantasies. But Bob is motivating us to be a different kind of ideal version of ourselves. Rather than encouraging us to be more materialistic and economically rapacious, Bob wants us to value the versions of ourselves who are kind, to be people who are compassionate. Who are motivated to make this a world that is not unliveable for those who come after us. He admits to spending a significant portion of his life depressed and convinced that humanity, and the rest of the species unfortunate enough to co-exist with us, are doomed. But he found a reason to be optimistic in recognising that we don’t know what the future holds yet. People who care about the health and future of the Earth do exist and the room that night was full of them. There is hope.
So despite the anxiety of wanting to be the most impressive casual bookseller the owners of Matilda Bookshop have encountered in recent history, I drove home that night brimful of love and hope, not only for our gorgeous planet but for the human colonisers that are presently overwhelming it. Optimism. It’s different – but I didn’t break out in a rash.