Country walks

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“You never regret a walk,” my friend Kath said. I recall more or less the exact spot on the Bridport walking track that she said this, as the gentle gradient continued upwards through thickening forest on a sparkling midwinter’s day and she was reminded of a walk she had once made in Rwanda. I still cherish the feel of the breeze that afternoon: how, as we reached the she-oak forest, its searching tendrils seemed to feel inside our lungs and open us up; how our conversation came with walking and found its own trail; and, how our eyes rarely met but didn’t need to because our hearts spoke in tune with our steps and their breaths. That brisk July day, cheeks like Red Delicious, we walked the world in our conversation. Country walks aren’t like bush walks where often the aim is to “bag a peak” or circumnavigate a lake. Nor are they like a daily walk intended to raise the heart level to a certain beat per minute.  Walking in the country is a way of spending time with someone while doing something that’s not too strenuous. Because it’s gentle, different thoughts pass through you as you share the turning of the day: light thoughts that ramble. Not intended to impress they seem more heartfelt because of that. And as you stop to find the way across a fence, meander across a paddock, stop to smell the air, hear a bird, or spot a view that you simply have to share… you realize you never regret a walk and especially with a friend.

 Published in Country Style, July 2013

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Contradictions of blossom

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For my friend Andrea the first signs of Spring start not with the first wattle or jonquil but when the scent of daphne is in the air.  Not one to tease or intrigue, in Australia’s southern states she will puncture the air like an exclamation mark at precisely that time of the year when everything else seems unsure of itself: when it’s not quite winter and not yet spring.  The power of daphne’s perfume is at odds with her mini-me flower clusters and those in between days where two seasons overlap. Despite an old-fashioned name, daphne will coax you into life like a snake charmer would lure a curled-up copperhead from its dull winter slumber. From September the washing might now be hung out to dry properly, instead of being dizzied in a dryer.  But if you welcome Spring simply because of the promise of Summer and warmer temperatures that it brings you will miss the point of September.  Which is to hold joy and sadness in the palm of one hand. Because the more you appreciate the beauty of daphne, the more you will miss her essence when she’s gone, making way, as she must, for more show-pony blooms like magnolia and rhododendron.  For centuries the Japanese have learnt this empathetic twist: in the northern Spring families will picnic under clouds of flowering cherry trees not just because they’re pretty but because they are transient. We can learn from their ability to sit under the cherry blossom, appreciate beauty, and feel sad at its passing.  I will know when it’s Spring when I visit my elderly mother and she presses a handful of daphne cuttings from her garden into my hand. I will put them on the dashboard and drive home to The Nuns’ House sick and happy with their scent.

Published in Country Style, September 2013

Image: Spring in Japan by Masako