A misty, whispering spray settles on my face. I breathe in and out deeply, and open my mouth wide, then wider still. I taste the water on my tongue. I keep my face turned towards the spray until my mouth is full. As I gulp and swallow I taste tea-tree and pine needles, essential oils shed from the overhanging trees on this side of the waterfall.
It’s cool here, deep inside the forest. It is removed from the city and the country towns I’ve driven past on my way here – to my secret and sacred place. It’s my hiding away in a totally earthy and joyful place, and has been for many years.
This National Forest has many hidden and beautiful wonders. I grew up with my siblings free-ranging on a farm close by. We ran, played and explored acres of space that were only defined by fences built from thick greying corner posts and long lines of rusting wires. My parents taught me that I was never lost if I had a fence-line to follow home.
On this hot, moist day in spring, the season that traditionally brings renewal and regeneration, small bracken ferns, tips coiled, invade the spaces between the moss covered rocks. Maidenhair ferns, a striking vibrant bright green, contrast against the brown humus that has collected in this sheltered place. The tremble and flutter of these multi-leafed ferns in the slight breeze is beautiful to watch. They hover in place on their black, hair-thin stems, like tiny green butterflies auditioning for a space flight, gravity-less and no longer earth-bound.
The tinkling of bellbirds blends with the burble of the water over rocks. They create something akin to a new age sound recording conveying a heart-warming connective earth music that has a relaxing effect. Sounds calming and consoling. I feel the pulse-like energy thrumming through the soles of my feet.
Life in the city is full of raucous sounds and harsh words that hurt the senses. I don’t want that anymore. I want clarity, peace and aloneness.
Life with Howard is so demanding. Always wanting, wanting and never just letting me be.
‘I just want a beer,’ he’d say petulantly.
‘It’s just a spliff,’ he’d whine.
‘It’s just a hit of something,’ he’d whinge.
He’d take any drug, any filthy white powder, reduced and doctored and then injected into muscles or veins, or snorted into one nostril at a time. It is never too much or too wrong for him.
I’m pivoting around in a circle now, arms outspread; looking up and around at this thickest part of the forest. Tall timbers of grey-green pines were planted a hundred years ago for the benefit of a timber harvest of the future. Yet the undergrowth is stymied, curtailed and even dead in places. Layers of needles, shed from the pines over time, muffle footsteps and insulate temperature. The toxins the thin leaves exude inhibit the growth of the natural wild food plants and in turn reduces the number of creatures feeding here. The chain reaction results in a reduced menu for the local bird population.
Poison comes in many forms.
‘Whoosh!’ I look up.
The sky is filled with hundreds of currawongs, their songs of joy loud and declarative as if pre-arranged that they sing at an Eisteddfod just for me.
On the other side of the waterfall, scrubby heath plants fill the gaps between the native grasses, some with purple fruits, some with flowers of bright yellows and oranges, and some with fluffy petals in pinks and reds. Flannel flowers dance in bright white skirts and wave on long stems. The vibrant red colour of the abundant waratahs in full bloom match the flash of the red under-tails of the black cockatoos that swoop across the waterfall, playing under the water spray. Ah, September.
Distracted, I slip on the slimy, bright green threads of algae at the water’s edge. Arms spread akimbo and feet madly grappling for purchase, my heavy-soled leather hiking boots sink into sludgy, sticky mud and entrap me.
‘It’s best you do as I say,’ he’d growl.
‘Why do you wind me up?’ he’d say.
‘It’s only a small bruise,’ he’d excuse.
As I struggle I inadvertently make a deeper pit for my buried feet. I give up on the effort. Some forces are too strong to fight against. I sit down, exhausted, in the mud. Soon my jeans are soaked. I take off my boots, struggling with the knots, now soaked and swollen tight by the water. I throw them behind me up onto the bank.
As I rinse and clean the mud off my clothes, I smell the putrid odour released from the dark, airless, previously undisturbed soil layer under the water. Decay in such a sweet setting is uncomfortable to confront. It reminds me what I have left behind at home.
I move across from the shallow cloying edge, to the deepest pool of water, and then on again to the stream of the clear flowing waterfall. Fresh, clean and shiny bright, the tiny waterfall droplets sparkle, hiss and moisten the air. This little spout is insignificant, not much more than the spray from a large household showerhead, and yet it brings with it a feeling of vitality – cleansing me from the putrid stench of my entrance at the pond’s edge.
The temperature is so much cooler in here, the air so much fresher – I sense the dose of an ozone hit. Is there an electrical storm to follow? I step further into the centre of the pool, and remove my clothes, tops and bottoms. There is no one here to watch or judge.
I float – arms spread. Body up. Body down. I dive, in a twist, in a deep, deep dive.
I realise I’ll never get the outcome I want.
I hold my breath and try to touch the bottom of the pool.
I exhale and test myself, one, two … thirty! Up I come.
My husband will always lie to me.
I drink this sweet water, but the clarity is odd – not quite clear, not quite opaque, but a tinted, light shiny brown in colour – like weak billy tea in a camper’s white enamel mug. It is not cold, not hot, more the temperature of a baby’s bottle tested on the inner elbow, and that is how I feel now, as if I’ve regressed to an earlier childhood stage where there is no fear, no worry and no conflict.
I won’t have my own children: nature beat science on that challenge. Something Howard harps and wails against. I’m trying to think of reasons to go home. I’m looking for comfort that isn’t there, of joy that passes by, of love; long lost love.
I move back to the waterfall, facing upwards and receiving the full fall of water against my body with joy, abandon and relief.
As I feel my body dissolve into the liquid that surrounds me, I am at once intricately linked, ultimately important and full of a never-ending genuine connectedness with the earth, with life.
I lie back and move into the deeper water that pools in a swirl in the centre of the pond. I cannot imagine a fence-line that will ever lead me back home from here. There is no independence, no control in my future. I have, right now, the freedom to let it all go. To release the constriction. My eyes are gently closed, my lips are held softly together, my tongue up against my top teeth, and I begin to feel all my body systems integrate with the neutral temperature and liquidity of the water. My body rotates back under the thin yet steady watershed.
I lose the ability to tell the difference between solid, liquid or plasma states and I become one with the water. My breathing, my future, my past, my now; doesn’t matter anymore.