Back Home.. An Expected Connection

Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 6.5 Minutes)

Something grand, right out your back door.

Gonna be bold and start with a few hypotheticals: Imagine every mountain peak has a bitumen pathway to the top and helicopter access. Every valley has a bitumen road carved into it to the waterfall at the top of the valley. Every river has a bridge over it, and better yet each river is channeled into concrete canals. At the top of every peak is a cafe. And a hotel. And from each peak you can look around to all the others from the comfort of your car, every other high point covered in roadways and hotels and cars. At night, the stars are out competed by high beams.

Imagine this at your favourite piece of scenery – or to the top of Uluru, Cradle Mountain, or Wollumbin.

It’s a totally gross hypothetical. Most can imagine it easy enough, as most people in the world are surrounded by some/all of these elements in the urban environment. It’s straight up unacceptable that where we spend most of our time we can’t drink from creeks or rivers and don’t breath the cleanest air, and to do so have to travel to areas to ‘refresh’ and seek respite from the hectic nature of our urban life.

One of the beautiful elements of wilderness is the opportunity we are each granted to reflect, experiencing the sheer contrast urban areas have with the wilder ones. What elements of the wilderness would you like to see at home? Clean water? Clean soil? Strong biodiversity? Quiet, or the near silence of wind caught in the tree tops?

To complement the wilder places, I’ve been reminding myself to see the bush closer to home. Or the greener grass on this side of the range, I guess.

It’s mid-morning and a wallaby is startled out of the shade of a she-oak, hopping off through the sedges, taking pause to look back in my direction and check out what disturbed it now its intimidation levels have dropped. Day long on this aspect of the hill the bush is gorgeous when the sun’s out; it gets a real rich yellow colour from the ageing sedges that merges with the scattered crisp green canopies and shade of the eucalypts. Staring up the hill the curve meets the open blue skies, uninterrupted. The gulls down on the shoreline are always making a racket. Or when coming back here in the evening, you’ll have a couple yellow-thoated honeyeaters chasing every bird away, or a heap of swallows feasting on the wing.

I really dig my local patch of bushland, it’s delightful. During winter and spring I was out amongst it most days of the week, walking through the sedge and sitting in the shade of the Amigdalina gums. Studying or working away at home, I’d break up my lectures and readings with time in the bush, in some ways reinforcing what I’d just been learning but in other ways just pacing or running around, resting my mind. These days, after work I get home, drop my bags and keys inside, don my runners and go for a run through the same area.

From a purely human-focused perspective, this area ticks all the boxes, even though it’s entirely surrounded by houses. It’s close to home, can host walking/running recreation, I don’t need a heavy pack, native species and solid bird watching are on offer, and my mates are close by to join. It’s an all round winner!

These days words like pristine are essentially hollow, given the global changes to climate. Our species fingerprints are all over the scene. And much like our surroundings, the depth of our understanding of nature evolves over time.

I’ve just wrapped up reading two fantastic books that I highly recommend picking up/borrowing – the first is ‘Rambunctious Garden’ by Emma Marris. Through a swathe of angles Emma pulls apart some of the history of environmental and wilderness conservation, and casts her thinking into the future, into the myriad of ways we could protect and reimagine our backyards with wild values at heart. The second is Second Nature by Michael Pollan. He explores nature through the eyes of a budding gardener, and how the attitude of growing vegetables and establishing a garden have changed over time, and whilst complicated and nuanced, are an important interpretation of nature.

Emma, and most folk with an interest/obsession with land ethics or deep ecology, frequently refer to Aldo Leopold. An amazing writer, he brilliantly wrote about his interactions with his local patch of nature – open grasslands in central northern America – and helped redefine how many people thought about their surroundings.

Aldo wrote that ‘One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds‘. I agree in that once you see an issue of any kind you’re destined to forever see it (that’s confirmation bias for you). Although what’s more pressing than the frequency of observation, is being reminded that we are not alone. Knowing that there’s an ever growing number of people concerned with the health of their surroundings.

I do feel that if we’re able to see an issue, then we must do whatever we can to help it. People know and want to see the state of the environment improve for themselves and following generations of life, and rightly deserve to be able to live in homes surrounded by clean air, water and soil.

Given that we spend most of our times at home, one flow on from wilderness inspiration is, as Marris puts it, knowing that ‘there is nature in more humble settings’. Wilderness is just one element. We can’t be in the wilder places all the time. I dwell on wilderness much but I’ve relished in seeing the benefits and values of nature closer to home over the years. Because of the local bushland, I know our air is clearer, the hum of the city dulled, animals closer, and the water that runs into our backyard filtered. Without this patch of quiet and access to others like it, our baseline of expectations for ‘home’ would be different.

Our local patches of bush close to home are incredibly important to us. They need care and smart management given the close proximity to high densities of people. If we’re spending most of our lives in urban environments, these areas just have to be healthy, strong, and enjoyable places that don’t sacrifice clean water, air and biodiversity.

A favourite line from Rambunctious Garden is: ‘We’ve forever altered the earth, and so now we cannot abandon it to a random fate. It is our duty to mange it. Luckily it can be a pleasant, even joyful task if we embrace it in the right spirit.

I’m inspired by the wilderness but wilderness alone will not save us.

We need to protect our local patches too.

This piece (finally) wraps up my ‘Back Home..‘ series. I spent the summer months delving into what wilderness means to me. I wrote about being on the top of Frenchman’s Cap, on some of the challenges of being out bush, about lengthy multi-month hikes, and about the need to chip in with a changed attitude to protection for our backyards.

If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s here at home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas at threat from human activity? Does a true wilderness include people, or not? There’s so many questions, and given the number of trails there’s always plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined nature.

Heading into winter I’m working on a physical print book, and excited to hopefully release it in coming months. Follow me on Instagram here for updates and where/how to pick up a copy.

I always want to hear what you think – what does wilderness mean to you?? Comment below!

Happy trails my friends,

Jimmy Nails

During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign 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 inspiration for this piece is right outside my backdoor in nipaluna/Hobart, on the traditional lands of the muwinina people. 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.

Bibliography / Suggested reads:

  • Emma Marris ‘Rambunctious Garden
  • Aldo Leopold ‘Sand Country Alminac’
  • Micheal Pollan ‘Second Nature

Back Home… Challenging Elements

Longer Form (Est. Reading Time 8 Minutes)

Fourteen Remote Days Out Bush

The sun is setting behind the coastal mountains, each brimmed with a line of clouds waiting for the days final event, a last hurrah of sunburst. Sooty oystercatchers call from across the bay, tiny fish leap out of the ankle high deep water as it recedes. A seagull forages for food rather than beg me for hot chips. Currawongs clanker, honeyeaters hustle. The breeze shifts. I hear it first from the north, pushing through the tea-tree forest.

Unhurriedly taking in the changing surroundings and slow lap of water against the shoreline is one of the principle pleasures of remote hiking. It’s cheesy, but it’s one of those occasions you don’t want to pass by. It’s so peaceful. Totally chockers with peace! Like the mountains in the distance, the quiet reflects my calm, my content. I haven’t felt this solo peacefulness in a while. I have with others, somewhat, but not on my own. And not this remote, well into the Tassie wilderness.

For the first eighteen days of the year I hiked, incorporating the Port Davey, South West Cape, and South Coast Tracks. Here is a selection of diary entries from the trail that capture the wild and remote vibes of this beautiful slice of earth.

The southwest region is spectacular and the hiking world-class. And it’s challenging. The vegetation can wall up to impenetrable scrub in an instant. It’s renowned for its fast moving and unpredictable weather, of relentless rain and punishing winds. You’re seriously remote, days and days from any human structure or transport. The paths, where they exist, are slow going – including river crossings, mud, and more scrub.

Walking on my own on trail, for day one I found myself overthinking and planning. Then on day two my thoughts fizzled to straight out head-in-the-clouds daydreaming. Day three and my mind ticked over restlessly, taking in my surrounds details as I moved further south. Come day four, despite my running thoughts on trail, I forgave my thinking. It’s hard to sometimes, to cut myself some slack.

Steering away from Scott’s Peak Road, the dust of my ride settling as they headed back to Hobart, I caught my last glimpse of motorised transport for four days. The last car I’d see for two weeks. With the exception of the time tested path and the well rusted star pickets that line it, the landscape before me is shaped by time only. Crossing the Lost World Plateau, I follow narrow benched tracks with my eyes as they contour away into the distance. Mountains capped in white quartz, locked in the mist for morning tea, now appear clearly to the east north south and west. A coastal breeze pushes up the valley, the thicker, enthusiastic air pumping its way off the coast as far as it can. It fills my ears as I round another twist in the path.

Apparently people have a love/hate relationship with the Port Davey trail. I loved it – the huge sweeping views of the Spring Valley, ace tracks surrounded by wicked peaks, and crossing the Bathurst Narrows by boat. Conditions were fortunate for me, and in crappy/sodden weather the mud, exposure and patches of confronting vege could definitely have potential to test ones resolve.

The relentless crashing against the Wilson Bay rocks pumps over the dunes and into the forest. It’s calming us, reminding us to rest after yesterday’s epic 11+ hour traverse of the South West Cape Range. This range juts 600+ metres straight out of the ocean, a spectacular zig zag of peaks, saddles and misleading gullyies mostly above the tree line. It’s an area battered by wind and weather for eternity. From all angles – northerlies push across from the mainland, easterlies across from the Pacific, west and southerlies straight off the 40’s and Antarctica.

Nearing the end of the beach we were treated to five minutes of blue sky, and the split in the clouds let in enough sunlight to create a stunner rainbow. One so low and squashed the New Harbour Range loomed up behind it. Between the highs and lows of being out bush on trail – part of the trick is hanging onto these moments through the mud, rain and pain. The same way your body forgets it all when you’re deep into a fantastic yarn with your hiking mates. But really the rain is just as beautiful as the sunlight. The cold just as special as the warmth. The expanses of button grass just as grand as the towering mountain peaks beyond.

There’s a few more distractions for us when at home, but when out bush we’re clearly surrounded by the best opportunity to be reminded of the importance of a healthy backyard. One that it’s simultaneously resilient and fragile. That we’re part of this intensely interconnected world, in such wonderful ways far beyond our wildest understandings.

Last night a thunderstorm hit the coast above our camp. My tent lit up brighter than day with each strike of lightning, and I’ve never heard a noise so loud in my life. It was exhilarating.

On the South Coast Track, again, and it’s raining, again. It feels so familiar, this 80 odd kilometre stretch traveling lutruwita’s wild and remote southern coast. I’m recognising things constantly. Even non-view related things, like certain broken boardwalk planks or piles of timber stacked neatly off to the side of the trail. I’m recognising the terrain. I sense a growing familiarity with the area. Each experience hiking is naturally shaped by company and the weather. This feels like a layering of experience – sometimes shock and awe, and a week of rain. Others comfort and familiarity, and a week of rain. Did I mention the rain?

I wonder what it’s going to look like next year?

I like to believe that this trail and terrain will be here relatively unchanged into the future. That the wild and cultural elements of the place are retained and nurtured, so that each layer of experience we lay down is comparable to the quality of past experiences – not a reflection on what’s no longer here.

Now I’m at camp, nestled into the eastern pocket of Surprise Bay, perched on a limb of our campsite banksia. If you’ve been here, it’s the gnarled specimen in the lower level of camping pads, that’s warped into a verticle standing spiral, creating a perfect seat in the diffused setting sun. I’m treating myself to a little music, subtle tunes as I type whilst my hiking pal reads and stirs dinner into action. Today was a wet, wet day. Solid rain from the west smashing into our backs as we plodded towards Prion Beach and the testing three boat crossings of New River Lagoon.

It was also our penultimate full day of hiking. I know it’s a daydream, but I still wish it would go on forever. That the trail didn’t wrap up in forty k’s and turn into a bitumen road back to nipaluna/Hobart. That it journeyed through the southern ranges and forests, linked through to kunanyi, and wound its way back north – to the east coast, to the Bens and wukalina/Mount William. Maybe one day it will – a continual hiking loop around the state. Months of traversing the many and varied landscapes of this special, much loved island almost swallowed by the southern ocean.

My tent broke last night as well, after a challenging crossing and with tired body. Today, my body is tired but oddly I feel I could go on hiking for hours. ‘It’s not that I don’t feel the pain, it’s that I’m not afraid of hurting anymore’.

After twelve straight days of hiking over two hundred kilometres, heading over the South Cape Range was unreal. A mental brick wall to be overcome. We decided against a rest day, and I’m glad to have done so. On the other side I felt revitalised, pumping with excitement and new energy.  To be in the weather all day every day. To watch it pulling towards the coast, at a rate much faster than you can walk, all the while you’re mentally adding up the ks to decipher where you might be once the weather hits, and how drenched you’ll be come camp.

The challenges the remoteness of the southwest throws at us (or we throw ourselves at) are intangible, and are the thoughts needed to overcome a storm, a muddy path and flooded river, or overwhelming chill/heat. I, like many, are drawn to the element of challenge that the wilder places on earth provide. The weather, the terrain, and the physical and mental levels one reaches through the journey.

I was so impressed with my fitness today. Powering up hills like they were flats and setting some serious pace. Breathing is solid and fitness clearly pumping after so many days hauling 15+ kilos over the summer terrain. It’s been a long time, years, and many hurdles since I’ve had this level of up hill fitness. But I’m over the heavy boots! This landscape is divine, totally humbling under the giant gums, dense south facing beech and horizontal, and the continual tea tree heath. And mud. And hard water ferns for entirety or forested areas. I love it so much!

Reflecting with people who I met on trail – some for who the SCT was their first ever multi-day hike (quite the achievement): I feel that our take on the nature of our experiences is how the hiker adapts to the trail. We can revel in the depth of wilderness, grow our skills and ability to conceptualise the challenge effectively, or even up things to pack in heavier weights and live a comfier trail life with tarps, snorkels, and changes of clothes. Or we could be shitty. Either way, the challenges of the trail are a reminder of the importance of allowing ourselves and future hikers the chance to gain and grow from these experiences.

Though ‘Back Home..‘ I’m going to delve into what wilderness is a little more.

If wilderness is ‘out there’, then what’s here at home? What does our future of wilderness look like? How do we protect wilderness areas at threat from human activity? 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 2021, plenty of time to mull over the topic in more refined nature.

So, here’s to turning a bit of home thinking time into home writing time, and looking forward to sharing this over the coming summer with you all.

And I want to hear what you think. Comment below or join me on Instagram!

Happy summer trails my friends,

Jimmy Nails

During the week I study wilderness at University of Tasmania, I campaign 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 Port Davey, South West Cape, and South Coast Track traverses, and the Southwest National Park – the inspiration for this piece and where these photos were taken – is the traditional lands of the Toogee. 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.