Re-wilding my thinking
This piece was brewed from the kilometres and sweat of being out on the Frenchman’s Cap trail, where the wilderness put me in a mind primed for writing after the time on trail was done. I opened the piece with ‘Back Home:…‘, as it’s not only written in the comfort of my home and shelter from the relentless summer heat, but home is my favourite flip side to wilderness. It’s where our experiences and memories of being out bush are allowed the time to solidify and take on meaning of their own. And I’m not going to pretend I don’t prefer my bed, clean clothes and fridge full of food.
After being on the west side of the island, I was hanging to share some post-hike thoughts with you. But first step was to figure out what it was I was feeling perched up on that quartz peak deep in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. At the time I was overwhelmed. Physically not so much. Mentally, wiped out. Staring out for hours over a horizon filled with ridge lines and valleys. Every moment spent in the vast, vast, vast outdoors – especially these places void of almost any physical alteration or addition to the landscape by humans – adds to the complexity and scale of the area. I feel increasingly small, with a growing desire to hike further and deeper into the place.
“Should we hit up sunset up top?!”
“Yeah, I reckon!”
Not a cloud in the mid-December sky. Southern sun beating down on our dusty hats and patchy shirts, my exposed upper knee, between gaiters and shorts, holds an experienced and sturdy tan from previous weeks. My neck, freshly exposed from a haircut the same day, not so much. From the trailhead we yarned about how we’d approach the peak, and we decided on trying sunset. Pretty easy decision given the weather, and its unique calmness on offer up top.
I won’t bore you with a break down of the peaks, but from up on ‘Frenchies’ you’re over 1400 meters above sea level, and in the right conditions it’s a three-sixty delight of geological activity stretching as far as your eye can see. Shards, crescents and walls carved into rock by glaciers in previous ice ages compose your skyline. In the shadows below, rivers like the Franklin flow free from its headwaters through to the harbour, this river famously protected thanks to tireless campaigning by those before us. People that loved wilderness and natural areas shaped the conservation movement in Australia forever. Folk who’s footsteps I’ve literally followed, right up to working with the Wilderness Society.
Strolling into camp on night one, we’d left town later and arrived with headlights and star filled skies lighting our path, after negotiating our way over tree roots and muddy segments after sunset. In the quiet of the night we muffled our enthusiasm and excitement a little easier given our tiredness, to the benefit of our fellow hikers already well asleep. Satellites and shooting stars kept eyes focused above, and after a few failed late-night exposures (photographs), I bunked down on my newly acquired sleeping mat and sleeping bag liner, vaguely listening to resident frogs. My little tent is home. My sleeping system and pack all have their place, the pack contents too – exploding over the floor, food sealed and away from the tent walls, save a repeat of the possums breaking in. It’s extremely rare that I don’t fall asleep within five minutes. The combination of relaxation and exhaustion guarantee a solid nights sleep. Beside me as I sleep, my morning musli soaks in a red, trail beaten, metallic cup.
As the sun dimmed on night two, three of us walked around the massive bulge in the earth, laughing or stuck for words with how amazing our backyard is. A truely special place, that we’re fortunate to be able to climb and experience. The mountain highs saturate your thoughts and senses. In the past few days I’ve drifted through the hours, chipping away at work, at planning the next four weeks of hikes, and snagging the last few xmas presents for the festive break on the coast – but always returning to this moment up top.
For day three, we powered out to the trailhead through the first real heat of the summer, and cut a path back to Hobart and a burger and chips. Being on trail and returning home with mates is a totally different experience to hiking solo. Yarns, laughs, advice, support – all you’d expect from sharing a memory. Be it in the morning over breakie and a tea-leaf filled cuppa (or for the prepared, a pressed coffee!), spreading out a map beside our gear, or pointing to landmarks and sharing our gathered intel as the day progresses. We all gravitate towards sharing, and making memories together. It’s one thing humans can do really well.
Now in the settled, post-hike respite, I’m preparing for next weeks trip, and building a stockpile of food for two weeks wilderness hiking in the new year. My thoughts have settled and they’ve settled as this: Sharing wilderness is really important to me. Sharing the quiet. The remoteness. The quality of the experience on hand. I’m fascinated with these places and what it means to people. How it inspires them. How we all have our different interpretations of it. I love hearing these different takes on the special landscape around us.
And every time I return home from a sojourn out bush, the experience shapes my relationship between home and wilderness, it changes and continues to take on new, exciting, and even challenging forms.
Though ‘Back Home..‘ I’m going to delve into what wilderness is a little more.
If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s that mean for our home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas under threat? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails and making up for lost time we’re teeing up for next year, plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined ways.
So, here’s to turning a bit of home thinking time into home writing time. I’m looking forward to sharing this over the coming summer with you all.
And I want to hear what you think and what does wilderness mean to you! Comment below!!
Happy summer trails my friends,
During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign for wilderness protection with the Wilderness Society, and on days off I hike in the Tassie Wilderness World Heritage Area. You could say I’m a wilderness tragic. Outside of wilderness I’m a sucker for melody, cook a mean pasta, and need a third dot point.
The Frenchman’s Cap Trail, and the Wild Rivers National Park – the inspiration for this piece and where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the Toogee nation. I respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and waters on which I was able to traverse, learn, and appreciate – and pay respect to the First Nations Peoples and their elders, past, present and future.
Previous photos from Frenchman’s Cap, here.