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The natural world at arms’ length

Ah yes, nature.

We met three artists in the Sherbrooke Forest. One was a man with a canvas who told us the lyrebird was likely female; there was a women who responded appropriately to a reference to Ents. The last was a girl and her parents who were working on an installation piece, a giant inflatable cube (transparent) that explored the concept of space. Her high school had subsidised the cube.

Would it be just terrible to tell you that I don’t remember a great deal of the day’s hike? My main memories are all the birds (but I love birds, goddamn) and the other group at the picnic spot who were eating McDonald’s as we waited for our ridiculous X celebrity chef for Coles sausages — which cost three entire dollars more than the regular ones, thank you — to cook on the ancient grill.

Am I being a cynical? Oh yes, of course. Nobody’s as passionate about ferns as I am; I think it came from reading fairy stories as a child. Ferns always featured so prominently and had little homes built into the base, crocks of gold (still haven’t the vaguest idea what a crock is) and little terrier dogs with silk wings. And I like native forests, all old-growth gums and bushfire scars. But something’s been corrupted in me from a lifetime in the city, by the sea; I need a little bit of civilisation to appreciate nature, like salt in hot chocolate that brings out the flavour. In truth, I feel much more in tune and relaxed beside a log fire in my aunts’  country cottage, the woods beginning in the backyard and the half-tame magpie who doesn’t come round so much since it found out the neighbours aren’t vegetarian and will give it scraps of meat. That worries me a little; does it make me shallow? Do I use this kind of casual luxury as a crutch and only experience nature-lite?

I’m not ashamed to tell you that it worries me, and I add it to the list of modern-day problems like a short attention span and literal addiction to sugar. Part of me does wonder, though. Should experiences in the natural world be all about noticing every tiny mushroom, taking every trail and making it to the waterfall only to turn and dash back up the hill to make the bus? It doesn’t feel right, to me, to make such an event of it all; it’s almost like treating the forest as the zoo, a sort of enclosed world that must be observed completely to be appreciated. Maybe it isn’t necessarily about weekly hikes and saying, “Hm, ah yes, stunning, what does the plaque say?”; perhaps taking a book or sitting on the porch or driving through the mountains is closer to being with nature. Or that could be me not wanting to get muddy. It begs the question, though: is there a right or wrong way to spend your time in the natural world?

(ps. the shy lyrebird, otherwise known as the bundle of feathers on the 10c coin. Lucky lucky to spot him!)


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