As quickly as it began, so it ended.
A few moments observing Nature had created more drama than an entire year of facts and figures.
The small sedan bobbed and weaved through the late afternoon traffic. At the wheel, the slim strawberry-blonde nervously glanced at the dash clock. She knew she was late, that was normal. Up ahead, the Greystone loomed. She could see the garish red lettering and flashing logo, and below, the footpath thick with workers leaving the building. Amongst the throng waiting along the kerb, she spotted an old-fashioned brown waistcoat with blue paisley markings, then confirmed it was her man by sighting his devilishly red goatee. Pulling in with heavy brakes, the door burst open.
“Hi, honey. This traffic!” she exclaimed, offering him her lips.
He pecked her cheek, slammed the door, then slumped low in the seat.
“Gosh hon…. Sorry I’m late.”
“It’s not that,” he huffed, staring straight ahead as she drove off.
“They want me to work through the holidays.”
“But…. You promised!” Rage flashed through her slate-blue eyes, turning them green and blinding her till a stationary taxi forced her to swerve. “Why?” she nearly shouted.
Eric answered tersely, “Jerrod starts after the holidays. They want him up to speed with the latest figures.”
“But….” she felt helpless, unable to think. The poignant silence lingered until Eric slammed the dash.
“I’m not doing it!” he yelled. “Haven’t had a day off in over a year, and I’ll be damned if I’ll work while everyone’s on holiday.” Having vented his rage, he stared blankly ahead at people carrying briefcases and gaily wrapped packages, and he fumed until a flag hanging off a doorway caught his notice. It was a green flag displaying an enormous bird with swirling tail feathers in white. A gasp of exasperation slipped past his lips.
“God! I remember years ago when I was just a kid, going camping with mom and dad. Don’t think I’ll ever forget that.”
Clare gave a quick turn to see if he’d flipped. But he hadn’t. She saw the NSW Parks flag and understood why Eric wore a little boy’s smirk that fitted his faraway look as his voice spoke with more passion than she’d ever heard describe crazy things like birdsong and the scent of forest carried on a summer’s breeze.
“I’ve never felt that free since,” he sighed, giving Clare’s cheek a delicate brush with his open hand.
Her mind snapped. As if a mystical force took control, the next road sign declared, U-turns allowed. Impulsively, she followed its instruction. Then in what seemed seconds, they were fronting a counter, being introduced to Bob, a National Park Chief Ranger.
“Not sure why we’re here,” Clare gushed, her shyness making her fidget with a neat stack of leaflets, prompting Eric to slip his arm around her waist.
“C’mon honey,” he whispered as he applied a gentle tug towards the door.
Clare resisted. Forcing Eric to reset his feet before looking to Bob. He then said apologetically, “Sorry, mate. Clare just had this crazy inspiration as we drove past. My fault. Guess I shouldn’t have blabbed on about my first camping trip.”
The burly ranger was an earthy man with an unforgettable face. If sat in a forest, he would blend in like a rounded stone, but when he turned to Clare, she saw tranquillity in his eyes.
“Are you wanting an unforgettable experience?” His baritone reached Clare like warm timber whose rich marbled grain thinly veils wonder. Without waiting for an answer, he turned to a wall map and began a tour of the Warabah National Park. His hand, thickened by hard use, swept across the contour lines of what must have been a river valley. Encircling certain areas, he described the terrain with mellifluous phrases like picturesque granite country filled with Casuarinas and Cypress Pines, then he pointed to camping spots right alongside the river. Big men can be softies. Bob was. He looked just like a cuddly teddy bear when he faced Eric and inquired, “Do you have a four-wheel drive?”
Eric had been mesmerised. Under the ranger’s guidance, the two-dimensional map had sprung into life and Eric was still seeing a green band of tress with a twinkling blue line wiggling through them when the ranger’s query filtered through.
A quick back-and-forth swish of strawberry curls across Eric’s shoulder broke the silent moment, causing the Ranger’s teddy-bear stance to slump a little more.
“Pity,” the ranger said with genuine sadness. “There’s a wonderful spot about five kilometres along a dirt track.” Saying that, the big man perked up as if a fond memory had been tickled, maybe one from his youth when he’d taken his sweetheart into that river valley. For fleeting moments there was a twinkle in his gaze, then he gave the couple a wink, “got the best fishing, swimming, and plenty of places to lay back in cool shade.” And this set their imaginations running.
Christmas had just passed. Another year was ending. And like every other Clare could remember, financial matters had been the couple’s primary focus. Other events had brought joy, but nothing they fondly remembered, which left Clare feeling as if life was seeping away. Suddenly it seemed so important that a memorable event usher in the New Year, something lasting, like an experience with Earth and its creatures.
And so it was Ranger Bob and his mischievous smile that had formed the visions of waterfalls and rock pools trimmed with sand beaches, which drove them both crazy till they packed and motored away from the city. Eric, at the wheel, chanting King’s immortal words: Free at last! Free at last! God almighty, free at last, not caring that Dr. King hadn’t this escape in mind. Just knowing it personified the mood that saw his problems vanishing around every bend and taking his protective veneer with them. It was a long drive, so by the time the last kilometres were bumping past, Clare and Eric were soft putty ready to be moulded by the forces of Nature.
Ha! The forces of Nature! Let’s get real. Upon entering the forest, the noise was deafening. Unseen insects were creating such a cacophony of noise, it was impossible to hear anything but them. Shrill, monotonous, they screeched to each other without thoughts for any other living thing. And now, under a green canopy of vines and leaves, the thick and oppressive heat made it damn near impossible to breathe. Once parked, a swim seemed the only solution. Abandoning all, they rushed for the river, knocking tender bare feet on little sharp stones just waiting to ambush silly victims. If this was nature’s world, then no wonder everyone lives in houses and walks on pavement. Nature! Who needs it!
Plunging into the river, it was amazing how quickly they cooled, and this brought life back into perspective. Sure, they were hundreds of kilometres from all that was normal and considered safe, and more or less on their own without the immediate protection of police or medical services. But hadn’t it been their intention to get back to basics?
After the swim, their torsos shone like freshly laundered white shirts while they lugged a mountain of camping gear from the car to a clearing. When half finished, to reward themselves they sat on a large rock huffing and puffing to regain their breath. From under the rock, a shiny black skink darted out, then cocked one mobile eye up to look them over. Still as statues, their eyes met as it scrutinised them with only the tiniest breathing showing life. Then, from the other side, another skink shot out. Stopping suddenly, it began bobbing its head up and down as if doing push-ups, which caused the first to swish its tail. A merry chase prevailed, round and round, and then back under, leaving the couple completely perplexed.
From the bewildering mess of poles, pegs, ropes and tarps, they made a camp. The effort again boiling their steam, so another swim seemed in order. On their way to the pools this time, Clare noticed a heavenly aroma of evergreen, while Eric saw through the branches upstream, how sunlight twinkled off the tumbling water. From up the valley, a Kookaburra’s laugh carried on the breeze rustling the treetops. Following these sounds up into the hills, giant boulders like up-ended railway cars formed straw-yellow cliffs glowing in the afternoon sun. Below on the slopes spread a green skirt of eucalyptus with a few clear spots dashed open by outcrops of dark angular rock. From these, slides of stones trailed downhill, becoming smaller till forming pockets of sand filling quiet corners of the river.
“Hardly more than a large stream,” Eric noted, walking on after surveying the scene. But Clare’s reply made them both pause when she said, “Just imagine the time taken to form this.”
They were somewhere between heaven and earth when they plunged into the pool and felt the cool water revive their senses once again. Surrounded by so much natural wonder created a mood for frolic and play. A push brought a shove, a splash returned another, and then an embrace ignited their fever. Timelessly, the stream rippled over rocks into their pool, moving, caressing, and wrapping Eric and Clare in a cocoon that brought the warmth of their two bodies together.
“Ouch!” shouted Eric when a tiny pinprick attacked his toes. “Ouch!” Another. More a tickle than pain, it caused him to look into the clear stream where a blur of small things moved about at their feet. Focusing through the ruffled water to the sand bottom, they saw shapes like shrimp. Their loving movements must have stirred things up, and these little creatures were enjoying a feast served up by their feet.
Laughing lustily, Clare beat a hasty retreat to a large flat rock in the middle of the stream, Eric in pursuit. Catching her in a wet embrace, lips touched and interlocked. Passions ignited, Eric eased her down, where the rock’s warmth entered her body. Chest heaving, Clare’s view rose through a loose weave of Casuarina needles to a blue cloudless sky, and she floated off in a never before felt freedom. Looking to Eric, love flowed to her fingers tracing his lips, forcing a moan when his green marble eyes locked onto her’s. Alone in their Eden, under a canopy of swaying trees and surrounded by tripping water, they pledged their love in pleasures shared.
Long breaths took Eric’s drifting eyes deep into the stream, ever moving and soothing. Wandering through paradise, he prayed he could stay in that spot forever. Clare rolled till she nuzzled his locks, her fiery breath passing his ear as she focused on a rounded rock within reach underwater. Her attention drawn to a mini forest of green algae whose fronds waved in the current. Back and forth, they swayed in unison to the river and this reawakened Clare’s thoughts on Earth’s timelessness and the minuteness of her life upon it.
While lost in wonder watching this rhythmic back-and-forth motion, Clare spied an intruder, a larger cousin of those fellows that had given their toes a nip. Known locally as yabbies, this mud brown crustacean was climbing the rock, waving a single claw and heading straight for the forest of fronds. Clare nudged Eric, then she pointed, “Look there.”
The few words spoken quietly between them quickly became animated as it stirred their curiosity. They were wondering how this fellow became handicapped. But their concern was short-lived. For upon reaching the forest, the yabbie set to work skilfully pushing aside algae stalks with his large claw till he found one to his liking. Whereupon he struck in a blink, snipping off the titbit, then manoeuvred it to what must have been his mouth.
From further along on the bottom, another yabbie approached. This one was smaller, with a quick gait and much lighter in colour, and accordingly they judged it to be a young one. This little critter had both claws proudly extended as it climbed up the rock towards the algae forest. Once there, one of his claws quickly swept aside stalks, while its other snipped off tender sprouts in a flash. Like a computer-controlled robot, it was swift and precise. Swish, snip, eat, in pronounced movements that so amazed Clare and Eric, they began wondering what it must be like to be a crustacean, and they started creating stories about the young one’s travels in life, thinking maybe like them, this was its first adventure. Then they noticed how occasionally it would halt foraging to hold its pincers straight above its head then prance round and round in a high stepping Scottish fling as if looking for a mate to impress.
Shifting their attention to where One Claw was last seen, they spotted the old fellow in the grass where he had spun round to face the direction of the younger one. Raising his big nipper just a little way above the grass, One Claw waited. But Two Claw seemed oblivious. Was it too overwhelmed by the wonders of life? This caused their curiosity to boil.
Swish, snip, eat, Two Claw moved up, edging closer to the patch hiding One Claw, until all at once, there was a rush. For some moments, the water was blurred. When it cleared, they witnessed an almighty struggle. One Claw had seized both nippers of Two Claw and was using his legs in an attempt to rip the young creature apart. Round and round they danced. The young one’s distress obvious by the frantic pushing and slipping of its tiny legs against One Claw’s brute force.
Clare gasped, her heart went out to the dear little thing. Body language says a lot. To her, the big fellow looked a bully poisoned by his misfortunes in life. His only pleasure lay in destroying others. While the little critter’s quick prancing movements clearly showed it was out to enjoy life. Filled with anguish, Clare stretched down to interfere, but Eric took hold of her wrist. “Hang on, Sweetie. Humanity’s tinkering has caused big trouble for Earth. Let’s observe and learn, without tampering with Nature.”
As quickly as it began, so it ended. One moment a dance of death around a rock face. The next, miraculously the little fellow was off to one side with both nippers intact and raised high, as if ready to ward off the old one’s massive pincer. Whatever really took place, they’ll never know. It could have been nothing more than a father playing a game with his son. Or maybe a courtship dance with a male showing off to a new girlfriend. Or, as originally thought, a fight to the death between a scarred malcontent and a newcomer on his turf. Whatever it had been, it was over in a few moments of time. But ain’t life grand? Just a few moments observing Nature had created more drama than an entire year of facts and figures.