By Vita Forest
“You mean this isn’t even part of the walk?” face sweaty, voice grim.
I walked on. We would not turn back, not now, no way.
But now it was THE walk, not a walk from the station, not the walk down the hill but THE walk. See – the dreaming poles marked it. It was not the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end but it was the beginning. There was mutinous muttering from Max and Lucy, Fleur whispered she could take them back. But no! We were going to do this walk and we were going to enjoy it…
The kids took off their shoes to wade through the water at Werri Lagoon and did not put them on again on the other side. They stalked on grimly in barefeet. And I thought why not? And pulled my shoes off again too. The grass was soft and buoyant and the wind from the sea felt good on my bare skin. We stepped along up the hill, away from the beach, away from the shrieks of the swimmers and the drone of the cars and into the silence.
The complaints stopped as we climbed the bare grassy slopes that hid the town and the road. The kids fell silent and felt the breeze, saw the blue water sinking back from the black rocks, saw the green hills rising away into the distance along the coast and the wildflowers buzzing with butterflies and crickets. All you could hear was the booming breath of the sea, rising and falling and the hundreds of birds hidden in the undergrowth.
“Is this The Shire?” they asked, but we didn’t come across any hobbits.
Further on, pelicans flapped by lazily in formation, so close you could hear the air against their wings. I stopped and stared up at the hill rising to the west and even though it was “just grass” every blade was alive in the wind, not a solid monolithic mound but a writhing, dancing collection of stems, each one clutching a fist full of rattling, plump seeds.
Later we went off the track into a stand of remnant rainforest – the rainforest that used to run all the way down to the sea. We sat enclosed in the shady room fretted with tree trunks and ate fruit. I climbed down deeper and found a circular cairn built around the sinuous roots of a tree that was totally enclosed by the scrubby foliage around it. Cradled inside it like a snow dome. Someone else had visited too.
I had promised them cows and we saw some, staring and edgy at Max’s frenzied hooting. We were disturbed to see an anxious calf on the wrong side of the fence. We wondered how it had got out and how it would get back? Barbed wire was strung tight across the top of the fence and the gate we eventually passed was locked. There was also wild fennel, identified by rubbing its lacy leaves between finger and thumb and inhaling deeply. Aniseed.
We peeled eggs under a tree at lunchtime and looked back across the path heading south. And after lunch we came to the stile, THE stile and I told them the story of how, years ago, I had looked at this stile, every day, every time we came down to the beach, the stile in the distance on the headland, near the dry stone walls. How I’d watch walkers climb over it and hike along the headland, coming from who knew where? How I stood rooted on the sand, small children at my feet. Them. And I had wondered – what had those people seen? Where had they come from? With their backpacks on their backs, while I watched, anchored to the beach. Now I knew. They were us. Ten years later but there we were, walking out of the wild. Walking north along the track. It was us all that time.
We stopped again at Easts Beach, Lucy tumbling and dancing on the sand and falling into the splits. Max watching critically and remarking, “When she laughs, her bum shakes.”
And it did.
Max and Lucy swam in the surf (Neptune’s son). I made do with a paddle and Fleur with a siesta under the tight shade of a juvenile pine.
Walking on, I watched a bare-chested man saunter past the “No dogs on the beach” sign carrying two black Chihuahuas, one tucked under each armpit. He carried them into the water where they bobbed serenely, safe in his arms.I guess they were never on the beach.
At the end we found we were all sunburnt despite hats, sunglasses and slathered sunscreen. There were red stripes where we had been absentminded with the lotion. And my toes… well they appreciated the cool dip at sundown in the rock pool at Blow Hole Point.
And Fleur said that she doesn’t know if she would do it again.
But she’s glad she did it once.