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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s like the peace hidden and lying in wait in every person’s heart has emerged, just for a few moments. I wonder if they felt it? And I wonder if they experienced a connection with the other travellers they wandered amongst? And I wonder if any person leaving the beach was changed forever?
There are no directional signs, and it’s not an official tourist attraction, yet the beach is obviously visited by thousands of travellers who contribute to the impromptu art. Balancing towers of rocks and stones against a backdrop of tropical ocean, on the road from Port Douglas in far north Queensland to Cairns. I guess it’s rather unique.
Just picture: all cultures, all religions and all faiths, all political persuasions, all sexual orientations, and a full spectrum of social standings mingling, admiring, and feeling part of something simple that is also something special. And knowing that this simple natural expression of cross-cultural creativity is special. Boundaries have been crossed and walls have come down, and everyone is part of a whole. There are no officials telling dark-skinned people to go there or rich people to go here or heterosexuals to go there. Every person is equal and one with everyone else. A celebration of humanity. That’s how the world should be.
I’m disappointed to find, a few months later, that most of the stone stacks are gone. It doesn’t appear to be an act of wanton destruction by humans, but rather, I think Mother Earth has claimed the stones with boisterous stormy seas. More towers of balancing stones are starting replace those washed away, and I hope the process will be repeated so that people from all over the world and from all walks of life can once again leave their positive energy and creativity for all to enjoy.
I sat on the beach this morning amongst the new art pieces to write, imagining cultures mixing, and all going away with a smile in their hearts.
They’re common birds. I see them every day. Yet they still provide interest and delight to a genuine lover of nature. With one wing lifted and spread out, the dove rolls over and appears dead in the midday sun, presumably enlisting the heat to evict parasites. Its mate joins in the ritual. Then they get up, shake, spread the other wing and stretch out on the grass. Finches feed around them. Suddenly, with a whirr of frantic wings, birds large and small move as one, disappearing into the undergrowth. The brown torpedo-shape of a juvenile Black Butcher-bird darts low over the feeding grounds, diving into the undergrowth. The predator emerges empty-billed, and the pray remain silent and still until the clearing is again safe.
Nature plays out extraordinary sequences of well-being and survival, dedication and loss, life and death, everywhere, every day and night. To the human who appreciates and is fascinated by the details of nature, these sequences are always interesting, often entertaining, sometimes laugh-out-loud amusing, and with limitless beauty and wonder.
Whilst travelling, I meet other birdwatchers/photographers. Some are pleasant company, more are so obsessed with the end result of their hobby (ie: the number of ticks on their species list, or the perfect photo) that they miss the point of nature entirely. They emit stressful, threatening energy that repels the very birds they’re chasing. That self-serving vibration repels me too. I wander off in search of the natural peace that nature IS when nature is left to BE. And because I have no agenda, all I want from nature is to enjoy the beauty and magic of the moment, whatever that moment might produce, PEACE is granted to me.
Thousands of mangled kangaroo carcasses litter the roadside – some desiccated fur and bleached bones, others fresh and being devoured by ravens and raptors. A ghastly sight, but not much is wasted.
Mobs of kangaroos suffer the midday sun, searching out a morsel of grass worth eating. As brutal as it might sound, motorists unintentionally running the roos down are doing them and their kind a favour. The drought is harsh.
Creeks are bone-dry, rivers reduced to chains of stagnant puddles, farm dams are not much better. Emus wander aimlessly across abandoned paddocks, camouflaged against the grey bushland.
Acacias are beginning to bloom – today is national Wattle Day. Occasional thickets of cypress and weeping wilga share the landscape with the wattle and eucalypts. Hundreds of kilometres of the grey semi-arid vegetation and dusty earth becomes monotonous, so we pull over to rest and watch the birdlife. It’s only when you stop and take the time to observe the land that the birds reveal themselves.
We left the tropical Queensland coast and mountains behind a few days ago. Instead of sandy beaches lined with palms, we now have sandy plains, bull dust swirling as a willy-willy whips up the bare ground, and scrub struggling to survive.
The further west we travel, the less traffic we encounter. An occasional caravanner dodging road-kill, like us, and road trains ploughing through them. Australia is a vast and diverse country and I feel fortunate to travel in comfort and safety, and although the scenery is dull in colour and sparse in density, there is beauty all around for those who appreciate the details of nature.
Once in a while I encounter people who are genuinely happy to share their space with Nature’s not-so-popular creatures: the creepy-crawlies with bad reputations. It’s a joy to interact with these rare people.
I don’t need any encouragement to appreciate the creatures on the bottom of the popularity list. Bugs and small creatures that slither, wriggle, hop and crawl are welcome in my life (on my terms, mind you. I like to know the approximate whereabouts of these hairy-legged and slippery-skinned creatures so that I don’t unexpectedly encounter these potentially scary corner-dwellers at inopportune moments). Okay, I guess I enforce reasonably strict conditions in my own home, but outdoors is a different story altogether.
Whilst travelling and camping, I’m thrilled to be blessed with up-close and personal meetings with all animals with or without hairy legs. The campers’ bathroom here in the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland hosts many a creepy crawly, the most delightful being White-lipped Tree Frogs. They settle into corners to rest during the day. I’ve found four of these most attractive frogs lurking in cubicles, and as they were on the top of my ‘must see’ list, I’m a happy camper.
And then there’s Mrs Orb Spider hanging oh-so-resplendently in another corner. Every morning she repairs her web, discards left-overs from last night’s meal to the floor (more fastidious at her house-keeping than some orb species), and dangles, legs outstretched, to digest her food.
A pair of Orange-footed Scrub Fowls scooted through our camp, strutted into the Ladies, scuttled around briefly, and strutted out again. And the Pale-yellow Robin perched next to the ‘Ladies’ sign before ducking inside to try its luck with bugs inside. It all happens around the amenities block, for those with a keen sense of observation.
A trip to the loo has never been so much fun. It’s a pity it’s not snake season.
There are other people on the beach – walking, playing, fishing – but the atmosphere of the wide open space of the beach allows me to ignore them without being impolite. Everyone is doing their own thing so there is no unspoken expectation to engage with them. I like that. I like being able to find some solitude out in public.
I think it’s the gentle rhythmic rise and fall of the waves that I find so captivating. And the peace.
The protected beaches of north Queensland, with islands and reefs taming the ocean – like the swaying coconut palms overhanging the shore, the waves mimic the peaceful tropical pace. Roll in, disperse, roll out. Repeat. No thundering surf. Just toddler-sized waves, gently turning over shells and coral debris, spreading out onto the beach, soaking into the sand, with the remaining trickle of water returning to the sea. No push and shove. No unrelenting brashness. Just a slow hypnotic chorus. A calmness that permeates my depths.
I cross my legs, wriggle my backside into a comfortable depression in the sand, and let the beauty and tranquillity of nature nurture me. And I am grateful.