Eaglehawk Neck and more

Eaglehawk Neck is not a place that thrills me, in that it has no high mountains and no lush rainforest, but I do like beaches and cliffs, so, as my camera club had a weekend there last weekend, I decided to join in.

Sunset Tessellated Pavement

It would be fun to see the Tessellated Pavement under different lighting conditions, and spend some time at the beach. I have always found the paths to be too tame and manicured for my particular tastes, but the tourists like them, and they need some spots, so this one does the trick.

Aurora, Tessellated Pavement

As it turned out, I hardly saw my club members at all, but I made some lovely friends instead, and they gave the trip a pleasant flavour. In particular, I had fun with Daniel and Sarah from Sydney while we waited in the cold for the moon to set so it would be dark enough for aurora spotting. I had delicious coffee on the hill with them next morning, but had to do the 1 a.m. shift alone, as nobody else seemed to want to get out of bed at that hour. I received a small aurora as a reward.

Happy dog

Tessa, my dog, mostly lived in the car, as my accommodation was a “pets not allowed” place, but Tessie is fine with that, as she knows I keep popping in to visit her, and that she gets several runs and walks each day. She feels secure in the car, and does not suffer from the normal separation anxiety that has been her lot since Bruce’s death. We both adored the Neck beach, where dogs are allowed to romp and play. She dashed in and out of the surf with joy. It’s so great to find a beach that lets dogs have some fun.

Happy dog

On the day I left, I popped into the Springs on kunanyi, and made friends with Sharon; we had fun walking trails together and talking heaps.
The next few days were spent admiring the wonderful Gussy and Abby, and watching gymnastics, waterpolo, chess club and the regional Primary School Athletics Championships –  photographing Abby’s gym and Gussy’s Aths races.
Shown here are some highlights from the trip..

Start of the bell lap, 800ms

February Plains Basil Steers Huts

This was only my second visit to the beautiful February Plains. I tend to always want to go up things, or else down cliffs in search of waterfalls. The February Plains involve almost no climbing at all (who counts two hundred metres?) , and no cliffs. You just amble your way through often very open forest – at best, myrtle forest – or along wide, flattish glacial valleys with ankle-high vegetation.

Basil Steers Hut 1

It is nice to have a goal for one’s ambles, and February Plains provide several excellent ones, part of which is a visit to the old huts of possum-trapper and snarer, Basil Steers.

My friends tell me that this is the biggest cushion plant in the world. Who am I to dispute such a claim?

On Wednesday, a small clutch of us visited the two huts left standing, as well as two ruins, where we searched for scraps of tin to indicate that a hut had once been there. We also navigated ourselves to the old Innes Track, where bits remain, which we also examined. We could manage to follow it for a little, before signs of its former existence petered out. This was intended to be a long track, from Liena on the Mersey to Rosebery and the mines on the west coast. The idea was no doubt good, but the reality of the terrain and the distance, inter alia, held the trump card. It was a failure, but by no means because of the excellent surveying done by Innes. The Innes Falls are also named after him: what a beautiful place to be remembered by.

Sue climbs a tree to get a better shot of the cushion plant. Hope it worked, Sue.
Such devotion to a good shot.

As we headed down to Sardine Creek, right near the end, someone said: “Look. Little Horn.” You wouldn’t believe how close it appeared to be. On this day, it was still covered in white from last Friday’s snow.

Basil Steers Hut 2

Somehow or other, we managed to clock up nearly 16 horizontal kilometres plus 277 ms of climb. That was very inventive of us. And right near the end, we got another aspect of interesting and important history. Brian O’Burne, one of the small group I was in, had been part of a blockade trying to save the February Plains from the destruction of Gunns. He showed us various aspects related to the struggle and amused us with tales of being put in gaol and taken to court for daring to protect an area of stunning beauty. I’m so very glad they won. Once you kill an ancient forest, it is gone forever.

Some of the forest we walked through.

It is hard to believe, looking at barren Afghanistan, that it once had beautiful forest. The Russians cut down trees at the rate of 200 trucks of timber per day, following their invasion of the country in December 1979. Their destruction of this neighbouring country seems very similar to what they are currently doing to a different bordering neighbour, this time, Ukraine. The world around us seems threatening and in turmoil. How wonderful to retreat into the wilderness. Even a single day refreshes us and reminds us of the healing powers provided by a retreat into a realm of calming green, open spaces and rugged wildness.

Garden: Family Easter 2022

As I explain every time I post on cultivated nature, such as my garden, rather than wild nature (wilderness), my love of nature is not restricted to bushland and forest, but also encompasses beautiful gardens. This year, as I photographed the family Easter egg hunt, I was in my element, enjoying the colours of autumn, the profusion of glorious trees that I have planted, (which my neighbours hate!) and the thrill of the chase.

Gussy in the chase
Abby in action
Ah ha. There’s one by the BBQ
Fletcher finds one high in a tree
Rush rush

I was also fascinated, not so much by the joy of the children – Easter is a fun family time – and a life force here symbolised far more by activity than the chocolate eggs they were hunting, but by their exuberance in the hunt. The images show rushing, urgency and the thrill of the chase.

Another one for Fletchy. His first Easter.
Indefatigable Gus
Go Abby
Just for the heck of it
Not slowing down

But what if I explain to you that they are just running for the sheer pleasure of it? The rules in our family are that you rush to get eggs, sure, but not for yourself. No. You get the eggs for everyone and you put them in a communal basket. There are no prizes or rewards for being fast, or faster than someone else, for finding more or bigger. Later, after all the eggs are gathered, we take it in turns to take an egg from the basket until we feel complete, and then opt out of any more taking. If only society at large could operate like that!

He didn’t get to taste chocolate, but he liked finding eggs anyway. Letting go into the basket was a challenge, but he got there.
Don’t you just love her style? Textbook. She’s six.
Round the corner for the next one

So, all that running that you see here is just movement as an expression of joy; movement as an end in itself rather than a means to it.; movement as an expression of the wonder of partaking in life.

Time for babies to enjoy leaves

Meanwhile, the children ran like that for nearly forty minutes: 8.37 until 9.15 is the range of times in the photos’ metadata. No wonder they do well in beep tests, cross country and orienteering. No wonder it’s not a big issue to climb a mountain with me.
Probably 17 photos is a large number for a blog post, but I had real trouble culling it down to that!! I hope you forgive me the indulgence.

Wellington kunanyi anxiety detox

What do you do in times of stress? Here is what I did.
My daughter went to hospital yesterday to hopefully give birth after too many miscarriages. Her waters broke at 6 a.m.. At about the same time I pulled out of the drive to travel south to have breakfast number two with my Hobart family, 2.5 hours away.
How do you kill a day punctuated with meaningful texts from your son-in-law telling you your daughter is being brave but there’s not much progress? Her pain continued.

Laccaria sp

First I went running on the Pipeline track, followed by fungi hunting (and catching) in the Fern Tree area, in a mossy, peaceful glade, whose serenity provided a break from this world by transferring me to one in which there was neither time nor pain: only beauty. I entered the world of plants and was made welcome. For me, to photograph fungi is to dissolve myself and enter their world; to become temporarily part of it. We are one as I devote myself to representing the magic of that world.

Mycena sp

Emerging from that aegis, I checked messages and drove higher, to the Big Bend area near the top of kunanyi (Mt Wellington) where I switched from a green, moist, protected world to a wild, windy, grey one, but one in which a few flowers could be found lingering into early autumn. The challenge of focus stacking in the wind distracted me a while.

Gaultheria hispida Snowberry

Messages checked; I transferred location to the Springs, where, I confess, it was hard to find flowers through the tears now falling.

Billadiera longiflora Climbing blueberry

I had not wanted lunch, so decided it was time to walk the eager dogs who know nothing of maternal angst, after which it was time to walk to collect children from school and walk them home.
So far the exercise tally was looking pretty good and it was to get much better.
The after-school activity for Wednesday is Orienteering. I think I entirely forgot I was worried as I did the Novice course with tiny Abby and her friend Riva, and then tackled the first third of the long course with young Gus, who discussed at each control his plan and then executed it with me shadowing for safety. A bit of chatter decorates exertion.

Ozothamnus ledifolius (Asteraceae) Big Bend

There is still no progress. Now Yelena needs an epidural block as she has been in pain for over half a day and it is taking control. Having not felt like lunch, I ate dinner with gusto (and it was delicious).
We were given an ETA of 2 a.m. I was exhausted and went to bed around 11.

Lomatia polymorpha Big Bend

At 12.20 there’s a text announcing a Caesar. I wait. 1.30. No news. I am not going to sleep, so I dress and pace the streets of South Hobart, now allowing shocking fears to take shape.
Some people drink; some smoke; some take harder drugs. I pace. I paced through the night Bruce disappeared. Pacing helps me enter some zone of semi-oblivion that smothers pain, sorrow,  frustration, anger, loneliness or any of life’s negative emotions. It detoxes and de-stresses me in moments of trial. Swimming laps and running have the same function: their regular pattern induces a kind of hypnotic trance that quietens the orderly left hemisphere and allows the poetic, creative and freer right hemisphere to wander.
Very nice Louise.

Lomatia polymorpha

At last at 2.40 there is news. Mother and baby are alive. I don’t care about fingers and toes, weight or name. I just want life and now I have it. Time to walk back to the house and get three hours’ sleep before driving back to Launceston, packing my bush pack and driving to the far SW of our island for a three-day walk.
And for those who’d like to know, my 161 cm daughter gave birth to a bouncing 51 cm boy. Oh life is glorious. He has already won our hearts completely.

Southern Ranges: on Risk taking

Written the night before I set out on my expedition…
In the days before I embarked on a solo attempt of the Southern Ranges, one of my Instagram followers posed the question: Why on earth would I (or anyone) do something dangerous, and solo? In order to bridge the gap between his/her understanding and mine, I need to clarify a few points, especially as I also had a comment from a huge beefy fellow near his physical prime who told me that what I was doing was not dangerous at all. For him, it was, indeed not, but I am not him.
(1) Danger is not an absolute, a one-size-fits-all garment. What is dangerous for one person might be totally innocuous for another. It is also not a constant: as we grow in strength, ability and experience, our concept of, and the reality of, what is dangerous for us changes.

Southern Ranges in snow

For me to attempt an aerial triple summersault with half twist, the daily fare of some top gymnasts, would be very dangerous. I have never had that ability. For preschooler, Abby, it would also be dangerous. However, for Abby maybe seven years from now, it might be a daily thrill.
The relativity of danger is dependent on our age, physical condition, technical expertise and general wisdom to name a few factors that immediately spring to mind. It is very, very hard for one person to label an activity either dangerous or easy for another. Even if one knows the other very well, one can still err. A judgement here is, at best, an educated assessment rather than an immutable dictate.

Southern Ranges Richea pandanifolia and Richea scoparia

Funnily, our emotional attachments also alter the amount of danger inherent in an activity. As Alex Honnold prepared for his free solo climb of El Capitan, his friends grew increasingly anxious. Fairly recently, Alex had fallen in love; all of a sudden, he had something to really live for, and they were worried about how this might affect his ability to do something so daring. Interestingly also, is that on his first attempt, he set out, but realised very early in the climb that his mood just wasn’t right. He withdrew from the attempt. The day he did do it, he arranged a few elements to be different. His mood influenced the degree of danger of exactly the same activity. The danger differed!

Cockscomb Southern Ranges

He is now married to that girlfriend, Sanni, and that gives him “more to lose on a rock than just his own existence” (Seth Wickersham, ESPN). Now he is married, his perspective on danger has changed. He also knows full well that if he becomes a father, it will change again. He insists he doesn’t want to die soloing, lest he join the legions of legends who “got too cocky, or too depressed, or too unlucky.” In other words, danger has to be constantly monitored; we shouldn’t take any danger as unalterable or given. We need to constantly reassess it in the light of who we are now and what we can do.

The Hippo, Pindars Peak Southern Ranges

Tommy Caldwell, another adept climber, explained in Alone on the Wall: “On one hand I am still a kid, full of wonder, chasing dreams of distant summits. But I’m also a father […] and this means I am no longer allowed to die.” If you refuse yourself permission to die, that alters your perception of danger. I have two daughters who have lost their beloved dad in the wilderness. I utterly refuse to have them or their children burdened with the impact of losing both parents in the same demesne.
I refuse? Of course staying alive is dependent on more than that; I am mortal. I refer back to what many regard as the greatest risk taker ever (an opinion he does not share) said above in criticising other people who carelessly die: too cocky. (There are other words, too, of course). My refusal means I pay attention to dangers and to where I stand in regard to any danger. I enter areas of risk to me, but my assessment is that the risk is somewhat big, so as to be a challenge and cause fear and respect, but not so great as to be foolhardy. It is attenuated, well-calculated risk. But my risk is not yours, and vice versa.

The Hippo Southern Ranges

(2) As Alex pointed out in an interview during the captivating movie Free Solo, danger has two elements:
(i) consequences, and
(ii) risk.
The consequence of my being hit by a 60kph car is probably death. The actual risk of that consequence happening, given that I look to each side and pay attention, is minimal. Sometimes when we use the word ‘danger’, we have consequences in mind; other times, risk.
Alex knew that the consequence of falling whilst climbing El Capitan would be a definite death. He felt, however, that his skills (honed through years of hard work) and natural abilities meant that, for him, the risk of that happening was minimal. Therefore, he was prepared to do it, and did not consider himself foolhardy. Because he believed he had accurately assessed all dangers and gone through all possibilities, he also regarded himself as neither cocky nor stupid. Had he over-assessed his abilities, he could be regarded as hubristic; the fact that he pulled off what no human has ever before achieved meant his assessment of himself was accurate. New achievements like his regard risk, but hopefully just the right amount and no more.

Snow patterns, The Hippo, Southern Ranges

Hopefully we each set ourselves goals and move to the next level of our own abilities. Each move may involve a little risk. That tests us. We only come a cropper if we have failed to adequately read the situation or our own ability to deal with it.
If we are content to just sit in one place and not increase our abilities in our field of interest / expertise / knowledge – to stop striving – then we are, ‘to speak with Goethe’, succumbing to the temptation of Mephistopheles. Mephisto, or the devil, bets with God that he can stop Faust’s Life Force, or striving, and tempt him to “Verweile doch” – to sit back and lie on his lazy bed (Faulbett) and stop pressing forward. He then makes essentially the same bet with Faust. And if Faust says to any moment: “Please stay, please stop moving forward”, then the devil has won, and may destroy him, Faust. I am a person who keeps striving for the next level in almost anything I do. It’s just the way I am. I guess I have a strong life force. A lazy bed is torture for me.

Southern Ranges Grass pattern The Hippo

Now, of course, the Southern Ranges are no El Capitan, but if I fail to read them or me correctly, the consequences could still be the same. If I blithely and ignorantly think I will be fine without taking all the adequate precautions, that hubris could kill me. I am very aware of my own potential to fail in this task as, whatever some beefy male may claim, with my diminutive frame, it is a big battle, and strong winds which occur there could easily pick me up and deposit me in a place of no return. I have heard of the winds there lifting large full-packed men into the air. What hope do I have? I have heard of groups which linked arms in order not to be swept away. I have no arms to link with. I have heard of tents being massacred and the inhabitants being exposed to rain and wind with no protection. They have been rescued by their mates whose tents still stood. I have no mates there. I find the male who told me that what I am doing is nothing to be ignorant. Sorry. I go fully aware of its potential to harm me, but I also hope at the same time, that I have what I need to cope. If the weather forecast changes, I will need to get out of there as quickly as I can. I will have mild fear for most of the route because of that. At my furthest point, I will be 45 kms and a great deal of thick bush away from safety. (The route is 90 kms out and back).

Snow on Coxcomb Southern Ranges

I have invoked Faust and his striving to move to the next goal. I will change tack and look at another figure from both history and literature: Joan of Arc, already immortalised yet even further brought to our attention by George Bernard Shaw’s play: St Joan. I love Joan. She is so very full of life and the love of life. All that she says and does seems full of this life force that embraces the gifts of this wonderful world.
In a scene that is key to me, she has just recanted her beautiful voices because of pressure from the church. She was told that if she did this, she would be given life, and would not burn at the stake. So she does, and is then told that she will be moved down to the dungeon. First, she turns on her accusers in what I call her ‘I-never-should-have-trusted-you’ speech. What she particularly attacks is their concept of life. Her same attack could be levelled at medicos and lawyers six hundred years later (we haven’t got far, have we): “You promised me life, but you lied. You think that life is nothing but not being stone dead.” For Joan, life is not just about breathing; it is about real living. She discusses some of the elements of real life: “to shut me from the light of the sky, and the sight of the fields and flowers [… to manacle me] so I can never ride with the soldiers nor climb the hills; […]”. I would forego many things “if only I could still hear the wind in the trees, the larks in the sunshine, the young lambs crying through the healthy frost, and the blessed, blessed church bells.”

Southern Ranges view to the sea

Ultimately, Joan tears up the form she signed, electing to burn at the stake rather than endure a “life” that is mere breathing, mere existence for existence’s sake. For Joan, life is about engagement with the world of nature and the opportunity to employ her life force. When Joan chooses death, she is actually, paradoxically, choosing life. She has far too much life in her to be satisfied with mere breathing. I love her. I want to go out and grab and grab all the beautiful moments of life until my very last moment has come. And that is what my darling husband managed. Sometimes that grabbing of life involves risk, but when we take that risk, we feel terribly alive.
When you make demands of yourself that reach to your own extremity, you are on fire. This trip feels to me, because of the tests it will put me through, like a World Championship or an exam. But I am ready to take it, and just as races and exams used to thrill me by putting me to the test and demanding that I gave them everything I had, so will this expedition. And that is why I will knowingly do something I know to be dangerous. It is an intelligently calculated risk, but hopefully not one that will take me over my limit. If I pass my test, I will have grown a bit more as a person. I will feel very, very alive at the end of it.

Southern Ranges in a good mood.