Cataract Gorge, Launceston 2014

The gorge in tranquil mood

My mouth has been in pain all week, so much so that I – a loather and normal refuser of painkillers – have consented to dulling my sensory receptors so I can eat. I’ve been out of sorts and feverish: it must be a good weekend to play in the garden and with the dogs, have a break from driving and go running in the Launceston Gorge instead of walking.

The suspension bridge at the Basin

We pulled and tugged at weeds; I tilled the soil with my trident and combed it with my fingers so I could feel its texture and have proper skin-soil contact. I searched for worms and found too few, said “hello” to myriad narcissus shoots searching for the sky, delighted in the sight and smell of roses that have survived the recent heavy frosts, and spread huge mounds of leaves I’d raked onto the garden beds to help enrich the soil whilst keeping weeds at bay: earthy, elemental jobs that keep me in touch with nature and the fabric of life. I also mulched with branches we’d chipped – fallen or pruned from our trees – and with manure gathered from Harriet, Hilda and Sir Galahad’s contributions: we give our scraps to them, they scratch some and eat some and give us eggs and manure in return that we give to the plants to make new veggies, the scraps of which return to the chooks. Round and round goes the cycle of life.

Toddler Gussy participates in the cycle of life while Elin, our Swedish visitor, gathers manure from the chook pen. (Photo taken November last year)

Gus marches an egg to the house

And we ran in the gorge – the beautiful Launceston Gorge with its emerald waters – past the bridge that, in the right weather, perfectly reflects the rocks that frame it. These rocks are always interesting, blotched with patches of lichen in browns, creams, olives and rusts, and often topped with rich green mosses, oozing life and zest. Ducks and swans cruise around here. In summer, we even see seals playing or sun baking.

As you run higher, the river narrows and becomes a series of white ribbons of light, cascading over the taupe grey rocks, the water funnelled and directed by the shape of the rocks in its path. Eventually, if you run even higher, you reach an open area called ‘The Basin” – where rocks and bush form an amphitheatre around a luxurious expanse of water, where we all used to gather on warm evenings or hot weekends to swim in a natural setting, light shafting in between the rocky towers. Teenagers jumped off dolerite columns; we all rode logs of driftwood like horses, trying to balance on them; there was an atmosphere of community health and enjoyment … and then our council sold its soul to profit, failed to control the big business that should deal properly with our sewerage, and now no one swims in those polluted waters except uninformed tourists who must wonder why they swim alone.

My favourite tree, a linden.

After the Basin, the path swings away, continuing upstream. In fact, one can choose from a variety of paths, but my favourite pursues a course that has the stream down below me to my right, but still audible and visible at all times. I run until I reach a second suspension bridge, higher up, and then have a variety of tracks to choose from that bring me back to the Basin a different way, through appealing place names like Dead Man’s Knoll or Snake Gully Head, possibly intended to keep tourists in the nice safe manicured section, out of harm.

The gorge is a riot of colour in spring, with huge rhododendrons the size of houses catching the sun’s rays

Sometimes when I run, I am amazed to see people walking or running, completely zoned out. You smile and nod, but they stare into space as they go past, not noticing that another human has tried to interact. As they can’t hear words like “hello”, or “Excuse me” when you try to get past them (they’re often hard to get around), and can’t see a smile on a face, then I can only assume they also fail to hear and see the sounds or sights of the gorge. What they’re missing! The sound of the river trickling or of it rushing furiously in flood, the sound of the little birds playing or of the wind in the trees.  Nature’s music will always sing to my heart above metallic noise.

My daughter running at the gorge

Sometimes the waters of the gorge are the merest trickle, quietly seeking the larger junction of two rivers that combine to form the main harbour of our town, but other times the waters are a torrent to rival any mighty flood as unbelievable quantities of it rush down the narrow space between the two walls of rock flanking it, in unchecked, wild fury. Leaning over the railing, I can stand mesmerised for ages taking in my own small size in the presence of that natural force. In 2016 there was a tremendous ands wonderful flood, but instead of allowing the denizens of our town to witness this spectacle, and to perhaps learn a  little of humanity’s place in the presence of vast nature, our timorous council locked us all away lest people get their toes wet and moronic judges allow them to sue council and get away with it. A society that fails to think beyond litigation denies its members a full experience of life, and thus reduces the possibility that its younger citizens will ever learn their place in the natural scheme of things.

Paddymelons, wallabies, possums and peacocks play here, mostly undeterred by admiring visitors (and regulars). I love to see the first two hopping across my path, and enjoy the sight of mama peacocks attending to their young, teaching them how to forage under the rhododendrons.

Today was winter, crisp with sunshine, and the glean today came from the turbulent water catching the angled sun as it forked over the rocks below. The gorge just happens to be positioned such that the early and late rays light the water but leave the sides in shade, making for maximum contrast effect of the play of light on the waters. Everything sparkled today (but, as usual, I ran without a camera).

Last week, the gorge was in autumnal mood, all misty moisty and glistening. Here are some photos of that – I returned at lunchtime with my camera to record it.

It’s easier to count the days I don’t run in the gorge than the ones I do: I don’t if I’m off bushwalking or travelling. If I’m sick, I run slower and / or shorter. If I’m dying, I walk, but I’m still there, daily imprinting the beauty on my mind, noting each pool and rock and cascade, the tunnels of trees and all the other shapes and colours I love there – and smiling hello to the few people who still register another human as they go by; those ones smile back.

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