I am in a new place….
It’s a place of exposed cliffs and sheltered bays; of screeching cockatoos and comedian kookaburras; of purple sunsets and moonrises over shimmering ocean; of shy honeyeaters and wheeling lorikeets.
There are two lighthouses in my new neighbourhood.
There is a General Store where they know everybody’s name.
There are views to infinity and covered lanes, drooping with vines.
There are Port Jackson figs and bad banksia men. There are frangipanis, though the trees are little more than bare stumps just now. But the flowers will come.
I know all this because I am tramping for miles and miles, trying to walk myself into “local” status. It will take a lifetime, of course. Maybe two. I don’t kid myself about that. But let’s face it, it’s the journey, not the destination, and because I don’t presume to know how much time I will have, I am exploring as far and wide and deep as I can, as fast as I can, leaving nothing for some mythical “later”.
Sailboats make bold in the harbour, but alone on the open sea they are tiny handkerchiefs fluttering in wilful breezes. Ferries pootle about and tugs scurry to work. Busy busy busy. Liners glide and the navy frigates take no prisoners.
There was a shipwreck here. I stroke the enormous metal links of an anchor chain as gulls wheel overhead, crying the same desolate sound they must have made when the boat went down.
The clouds here are brushstrokes made by some wildly confident artist who dips her brush into a multicoloured pot and with one sweep leaves us gasping…
The sun rises behind two sandstone steeples. Both are made gold in an instant. Their bells don’t peal – that would be too presumptuous. They ding and dong like twins with different pitches, humble village workday calls that take me back to other walks where equally intimate bells called across fields to me as I hiked.
These are welcoming bells, greeting me just as my neighbours did. They came from downstairs on the day my boxes were delivered, and helped me unpack. We were a team in an instant. The bloke from upstairs knocked one Sunday night with fresh fish fillets, caught that day. He and his bonny wife have a little boy who is getting teeth. I will miss that gummy smile on the stairs when the molars have all pushed through. I hope to be here to see him start to read or to wobble down the hill on training wheels.
Other neighbours tell me they are “here” if I need them.
I am here too.
I want to be here for a long time.
There are enough trails and mysteries to keep me twisting and turning on myself, getting lost and found, picking up shells and watching sea-snails leave rust-coloured trails, wondering and wandering, for many long days – should I be lucky enough to have them.
To have days. Days and days of health and light.
To live and breathe and walk…
And yes, I really do see them.
They’ve been heading north, though I am told that now others are coming south.
Do they greet each other?
Do they swap stories of their watery ways, calling to each other in recognition, as we walkers do on our separate but joined trails.
“Morning! Lovely day!”
It’s always a lovely day…
I’m stepping into these days and these ways, finding my rhythm and my pace, learning the stories underneath my feet and inscribing my own tentative etchings over them. I make my way home, muscles warmed and cheeks red, telling myself to remember.
Remember this day.
This air. This bird call. This sun on my cheek and this glint on the water.
Remember this possibility.
I am walking into a new life. I stumble. I lose my way.
But I’m walking. One step, then the next. I’m walking myself home again…
A PS – There was an article of mine about this magnificent part of the world in the Sydney Morning Herald on September 19th. Just click here to read. I’m pretty passionate about the subject, as you can tell!
And here’s another from October 14th – a different take on the same issue… www.smh.com.au/comment/dont-turn-south-head-into-a-wedding-production-line-20151007-gk3oxr.html
For some moving pictures, here is a video (with some bolshie locals!) about the issues…
On a different subject…The Accidental Atheist is 30 minutes of searching radio as Gary Bryson, a lifetime atheist, asks whether he has “missed out” on something. One of the people he asked was me! Our conversation took place out on South Head at the entrance to Sydney Harbour – a place of deep meaning for me. You can podcast it by clicking here – https://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/peo9QyyE2Q?play=true
If you are in Australia, grab the spring issue of SLOW LIVING magazine from your newsagent. It’s a beautiful mag, and I have an article in it that celebrates a personal “lighthouse” person – one who got me through some rough water! You can’t get their articles online, but if you are considering subscribing, I can recommend it. Info here… http://www.slowmagazine.com.au/current-issue