Monday, 30 July 2012

In the forest, by the beach

I spent a week at Boranup after leaving my Freo home. Half an hour south of Margaret River on the WA south coast, it’s got forest and it’s got waves. A good combination.

I had left my job and filled my car with everything I wanted to take with me. A no-deadline drive to the other side of the country.

No longer any need to worry about what time the shops close, what time the bus goes, how long until work finishes. Now my cares were for the direction of the wind, the size of the swell, how many pages I could read before dozing off in the afternoon warmth. I focussed on the simple things like identifying which bird call comes from which bird, and studying the trail a snake leaves in the dirt as it glides across the road.
I spent time observing the moods of the Karri forest... The crisp mornings when the bright sunbeams first broke through the trees, all expectant and ready for what the day would bring. I gulped down some weetbix and gathered my things for a morning at the beach...The lazy afternoons when the birds called languidly, the soft breeze swaying the treetops and the shade called me invitingly to sleep...the frantic afternoons of wild wind when the trees shook violently with a creaking and a crashing. Leaves fell and danced on the forest floor, full of action and motion...the evenings when the moon rose glistening off the silver treetops...the morning I woke to the sound of fat raindrops slowly dripping onto the tent. A mist hovered in the trees and crows called to one another from within like sad fog signals of steaming ships. I lay in my sleeping bag and wriggled my toes in contentment.
There’s a four wheel drive track to the beach, but the massive ruts at the start would have devoured my car, so with board under arm I got used to the forty minute walk up over the hill and out of the karris, through coastal heath where wagtails, honey eaters and tiny wrens flitted around in the trees beside me, down the rocky slope towards the sea and then finally I tumbled down the dune with sand cascading around me.  
Some days the beach was deserted. The sand was rippled by wind and untrodden by human foot, the surface marked only by the three-toed imprints of oyster catchers and seagulls. The shifting dunes continued for miles in either direction. Wind whipped up ribbons of sand that whirled and twisted around my ankles before continuing down the beach like the ghosts of swift flowing streams long dead.
On weekends when the waves were good and the sun shone, the beach was transformed. Two dozen four wheel drives parked on the sand facing the waves, and maybe a hundred surfers were dotted along the several peaks, there was someone filming from the shore, a line of five multicoloured surfboards were stuck nose-first in the sand beside him and a shaggy brown dog was pacing the water’s edge gazing into the surf waiting for its owner to come in and scratch behind his ears with a wet hand.
On days like this I’d usually get a lift back to the campsite in the back of someone’s four wheel drive. I made salad wraps for lunch then I’d drag the tarp into the shade, put my sleeping mat on top and doze the afternoon away as cars sped by on the way to the beach, dust kicking up behind them.
This dreamy hobo life was working out well.
Late in the afternoon I walked back to the beach, the best time to be in the water. The sun dropped towards the horizon over the ocean. Moments before it set the world became suffused in pinkish violet light, the wind died off, the waves broke in a hushed whisper, there was a salty mist in the air and everything moved in slow motion.
I started the walk back up the track with a warm orange glow on the horizon and the last four wheel drive bouncing along the beach, its headlights like a beacon before it. The sound of the surf faded and I listened instead to grasshoppers’ syncopated chirrups from the bushes beside me, my heavy breathing as I made it up the hill, and my legrope jangling against the board under my arm.
But the simple life wasn’t without its problems.  I became locked in battle with a bandit local. I was frying up some sausages one night, when there was a whooshing sound and a great bundle of feathers swooped down, grabbed half a sausage and flew over to sit on a log and beat the sausage senseless. The kookaburra looked at me then flew up to a branch above to eat the now dead sausage.
Well I’ll be, I thought. I kept one eye on my food and the other over my shoulder watching the bandit while I finished cooking. As I sat down to eat, the burra flew down right towards my plate. I stood up and waved my arms menacingly and yelled AAAARBEGRANAMANA and that was enough to divert him off course. But a few minutes later he swooped again and the same actions from me had no effect. I could see by the glint in his eyes he wasn’t scared of me or my gibberish. His beak was sharp, his claws were pointy, so I stepped out of the way and watched him take another half sausage.
That was the end of him for that night. But the next day I was making lunch, putting some salad on a sandwich and was just scooping some tuna on top when a familiar whooshing sound heralded the arrival of my nemesis. He sat himself on the other side of the table, my plate of food between us. This time I would not be so easily bullied, so with the fork I was holding I gave him a small jab to the chest and said ‘be gone, scoundrel.’ He didn’t budge, but just leaned in to steal some tuna, so with my fork I deflected his beak, but undeterred he went in again and I parried again. It became a duel, a battle for honour and canned fish. He thrust, I blocked. He feinted left, I jabbed swiftly. The campground rang to the sound of metal against whatever it is beaks are made of. Around we went, jumping logs, standing on the table, advancing, retreating. Neither would relent, but would fight to the bitter end.
In the end my foe was the greater warrior and he made off with a gobful of tuna to eat in the tree above.
 I could hardly begrudge him that, my life in the forest was a pretty good one.


  1. Beaks are made of keratin :) (duh)

  2. Sounds like "Leaving Las Freo" on hallucinogens - enjoy the trip. Wanting to read more.