Travelling – it’s not just about seeing

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For me, a place doesn’t need to be spectacular to have a breathtaking affect upon me.

Wind howled around the caravan yesterday from dawn til dark, forcing me indoors for the day, so I was out walking on the beach first thing this morning in the stillness of the early light. It was spectacular in a simple, ordinary way.

Time enough had not elapsed to putrefy the weedy mat that yesterday’s storms had dumped on the beach. A day of sunshine would bring out the stench, so then the beauty will be much diminished. Strangely, the sound of the waves was muted by the cushion of weed. Although the waves were breaking right at my feet, they sounded way off in the distance.

I walked to the sandy peninsular, free of marine grass where the waves were given free reign to tumble and roll – translucent green falling onto white sand with a scattering of seashell fragments. The sky was grey, but many delicate shades from violet to blue to grey and back to white. Such elegance.

An old man exercised his dog. A young man stood in the water, fishing. Terns and gulls claimed their patch of sand to rest. Rays of sun occasionally cast golden light on the many jagged limestone rocky outcrops in the ocean. And windswept clumps of dune-grass still holding droplets of rain looked, to me, as splendid as any wildflowers.

My connection to the landscape and every component of this scene was automatic and strong. Nature touched my soul, uplifted me, and left me with a feeling of  wholeness and gratitude.

In contrast, we then visited the Pinnacles Desert – a truly spectacular and astounding ancient natural site. And although I was suitably impressed, little emotion was evoked.

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And that’s an integral part of me. It doesn’t take some monumental icon or tourist attraction to wow me. For me, it’s all about what moves me emotionally, what touches my heart and soul, a connection, a feeling of being nurtured and of belonging – not me belonging to a particular place or a place being somehow mine simply because I’m a citizen of this country, but a merging: a feeling of oneness. A beauty and serenity that is within and around me. Something subtle yet obvious, to me. Yes, a feeling, a connection, an awareness.

Often, a fantastic attraction that sees hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of tourists or visitors annually, leaves me dulled, presumably by the massive whirlpool of energy that remains – in comparison, a simple natural place that is only visited by those who are delighted by solitude and understated beauty can be spiritually awesome, for me. Today, the two separate places left me mulling over the unmistakable difference that grand and simple can often affect upon me, and why, and I am more aware of me as a result.

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Travelling – Sitting on a mountain

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A mountain only by Australian standards. Elsewhere in the world it would be classed as a rocky hill. East Mount Barren in Fitzgerald National Park on the southern coast of Western Australia.

And it doesn’t matter that I only made it to the foothills. Size and scale don’t equate to success or notoriety in my world, for my soul has been touched by the magic of nature. That’s a beautiful and all powerful experience.

I’m perched on a chunk of granite with a splendid view of ocean, beach, mountains and bushland, all bathed in brilliant early-morning sunshine. A gentle breeze whispers to me. The solitude is precious. Birdsong, waves rolling in to the beach – no human-made sounds. Sunshine is warm on my back. The moment is perfect, and this moment is all there is.

I put my pen down and soak in the tranquility and beauty. It is now a part of me.

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Travelling – Observing the behaviour of shore birds

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Shorebirds can be difficult to identify by a shorebird-novice like me. But for someone who appreciates the nuances of animal behaviour, they can be endlessly entertaining, even without names.

Cudgeon Creek estuary at Hastings Point on the north coast of NSW proved to be a great place to watch the comings and goings of sand dwelling birds – our first stop on our around Australia caravanning trip.

Other sand flats and rock walls gave up surprise encounters with fascinating birds too. Like the Osprey, a raptor that generally preys on water-dwelling creatures, but is not immune to opportunism created by humans. I watched a woman catch a garfish and secure it to a bigger fishing rod in the hope of tempting a table fish to her hook. But the Osprey had its name on that garfish. It swooped to steel the live bait from the line and flew off to feed on it from a high perch. Brilliant!

And bath time always provides plenty of amusing antics. Crested terns scooped water up with their bent wings, splashing like children for longer than necessary. They all bath differently. Ospreys stand alone in the shallowest of water, tentatively dipping headfirst, throwing water onto their back, with its mate on patrol in a nearby tree.

A Mangrove Heron skulks among the rock-pools searching out tiny fish, freezing like a statue, then thrusting its bill into the water at such speed that I always miss the catch. The heron did not miss.

Birds with long straight bills like straws, others curved downwards, poking and prodding the sand for morsels of food – birds that have flown halfway around the world. How is that possible? Incredible.

Yes, the bird world is breathtakingly amazing.

There are times when being alone is ideal

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Can spending time alone amongst nature be healing? Can spending time in nature be a spiritual experience? Yes, on both counts.

I was a bit apprehensive about swimming in the river on my own. But at the same time, I was overjoyed that I was on my own. Nature at its most beautiful: a mountain stream, crystal clear, deep, lined by boulders and trees. No man-made sound, no buildings, not even any rubbish. And no other people. Idyllic.

Carefully, I slid into the water, swam to the other side of the river, and sat in shallows above the rapids. Nature chatted amongst itself, with the babbling of the stream a soothing chorus backed by the swishing of eucalypt and she-oak canopy. Occasionally, a bird would add to the song with a musical call. Harmony.

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I lay back watching clouds float by, letting the water trickle over and around me. The sunshine was pleasant. The water was fresh and cool. Mountains upstream towered over the narrow valley. It was a stunning scene, and I was filled with gratitude for my stunning surroundings and the opportunity to immerse myself in Mother Earth’s beauty. Solitude.

At one with nature.

If I’d had to share the experience with a companion, or if strangers were also using the river at that time, the moment would have been something different, not as special, and I would not have been so profoundly touched by the spirit of nature. Often times, experiences are best had alone, and this was one such venture. Bliss.

A soulful experience

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Travelling – A garden to tell the world about

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Grand. Awesome. Immaculately groomed tropical plant collections from here and other tropical countries, obviously lovingly and expertly maintained.

Flecker Botanic Gardens, Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia. I’ve explored arid-lands botanic gardens, high-country botanic gardens, city and country, native and exotic, and always immersed myself in the beauty and fascination of the plants displayed. But really, this tropical garden tops them all.

Amazing ferns and palms are features. Stunning foliage plants. Mysterious carnivorous plants. Gorgeous blooms and odd seed capsules. Relatives of the grotesquely beautiful Corpse flower. Bromeliads, gingers, bamboos, and creepers. Orchids and strange fruit trees. Lush lawns and waterways. And tucked away in little leafy nooks are seats (themselves works of art) for contemplation and rest.

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What a truly inspiring piece of natural paradise. After wandering in wonderment, and sitting in silence, we enjoyed delicious food at the outdoor cafe. And then it rained, as it does in the tropics.

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Travelling – An impressive spider catches a bird in the rainforest

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She was hanging in the garden in a huge web tinged with gold. A BIG spider. A scarily BIG spider.  I first saw her while I was having breakfast outdoors. She darted to the bottom of the web pouncing on a brilliant blue butterfly. The butterfly escaped, and Mrs spider returned to the centre of her web, awaiting another hapless insect.

How do I know it was Mrs? Because in the spider kingdom, the female is usually hundreds of times larger than the male. At a close inspection, two tiny spiders were hanging out in the outskirts of the web, presumably waiting for a chance to impregnate the impressive mama, and probably get eaten in the process. It’s tough being a male spider.

During a late afternoon tropical shower, a dove flew through the web, leaving half the silky net in tatters. And then to make matters worse for the spider, the clumsy bird flew straight back again, almost taking out the spider.

More rain through the night, and when I checked out the spider in the garden, I was amazed to find a finch caught in the web. Now, the finch was only a little smaller than a House Sparrow, so that’s really some achievement for the spider’s silk – known to be stronger than steel of equal size. Nature is awesome.

The bird was still alive, and the spider showed no interest in the potential meal, so the owner of the Park rescued the bird and carefully plucked off all the silk fibres connected to its wings and legs. After a stumble, the bird flew off.

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I’ve turned this photo on it’s side so that the spider and captured bird are both more clear

This is what I love about nature. All the little details. All the daily behaviour and mystery. And that’s why I notice Mother Nature’s subtle, yet wondrous stories. Because I don’t just look, I experience. Yes, nature is awesome.

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