It is May 2020 and the Queensland government eased some social distancing restrictions. A neighbor, Lesley, and I planned a walk to a special spot at Long Timber. Lesley explained, “Wally’s Grandfather preserved these places, the gullies he said were a refuge, and the ridges with tall trees were the bank account. If times got tough, the timber could be sold.”
I woke up a bit late that morning excited to explore this new place. I dressed quickly in warm clothes, an undershirt, two long-sleeved shirts, and a sweatshirt with a wool hat on my head, to keep the cold at bay. Central heating was not considered necessary in Queensland. I ate a good breakfast of fried eggs and toast. Then I grabbed my walking stick and hurried down the hill towards my walking partner. Just before I left the house, I took off my sweatshirt and my wool hat. It was eight a.m.; the cool morning of Queensland’s fall weather was already warming up.
The cattle looked on as we walked through the first gate, and across the paddock. Since it was cool, we walked upstream and found a rock-strewn crossing over Ewan Creek where our feet would not get very wet. When the weather is warm, we just plow through the creek enjoying the cool squish in our socks for the rest of our morning walk. On the opposite bank, we scrambled up a steep embankment to the lush paddock on that side of the stream. We made our way across the grass and up the next hill, then down into another creek. The family named this small muddy stream, Banana Creek after a large grove of bananas that grew here years ago, The bananas, not native to this changing climate, were frozen into black mush 1954. The gully had been preserved in almost its native state. As we walked, I saw the land my mother had seen as a child here in the early 1900s. The trunks of the palms rose straight up. The fronds at the top filtered the light of day with patches of blue peeking through. The breeze of the sun-drenched field eased into a pungent breath of oxygen-filled air. We slowed our walk, gazing upwards in awe. “They harvested the blackbutt, the large trees out of here, but left the palms,” Leslie said. I looked into the dense vegetation trying to imagine the huge trees that must have been there. I was determined to return by myself to spend some quiet time.
The next week it was Mother’s Day in America, and I felt a walk by myself to Palm Grove would be a visit with my mother. I asked for directions since the first time I’d tried to find this grove on my own I’d gotten lost. Wally pointed across the valley, “See those two gum trees there, the path is just past those trees.” I took my walking stick and started off across the creek and through the paddock. As soon as I stepped past the blue gum trees, their white trunks standing sentinel at the entrance I felt the cool air of the bush. I could tell the cattle had taken refuge there yesterday by the cow pies on the path. There isn’t much grass, but the cool air provided a pleasant place for the cattle to chew their cud. I placed my iPad upon a stump and typed on a live desk. The moss and growing lichens filled every crack in that stump.
I clicked the iPad shut and stuffed it in my backpack to continue on. The path became impossibly steep, and I stopped setting the iPad upon another stump. The air was totally still. The breeze of the paddock was stopped by the dense bush. I didn’t notice this steepness when I was trying to keep up with a group. On my own, my old body rebelled, but I was determined to soldier on. I knew just up ahead I will find the bush my mother told me about. I ascend all the way to the top of the steep hill and realized this is NOT the way I went with my companions; this is Not the way to palm grove. I slid back down the hill almost landing on my iPad stuck in the pack on my back.
I retraced my steps and discovered the clearing where I made a wrong turn. I followed a path off to the right, and finally, I saw the tall palms. They beckoned to me and I walked straight in and sat down on my jacket I’d brought to protect my butt from disgruntled insects. My eyes beheld a dense bush of palm trees. Their trunks stood straight like telephone poles. Vines hung down like thick tangled wires that have found their own way to travel from pole to pole. The bush appeared too thick to wander off the path. I thought I’m sure mother wandered off the path when she lived just next door to here so many many years ago. Now as I sat still, I heard the birds of the bush. Their peaceful calls reverberated through the tall trees. I stayed still long enough that the mossies (Australian for mosquitoes) began to find me. I brushed them off and decided to move onwards, but I was afraid the noise of my feet would distract me from hearing the chorus in the trees.
I rose up from my seat and fastened my jacket back around my waist. I still wanted to see banana creek. It was just around the bend. Palm leaves littered the muddy ground. I saw where during floods the creek had cleared a path. Now the stream was little more than a moist sandy path through the palm trees. To my right was the marvelous strangler fig. A parasite of enormous proportions. It is not a parasite but more of an opportunist. Strangler figs grow from sticky seeds dropped by the birds high up in a host tree, the roots grow down into the ground and branches stretch up into the sky. The roots surround the tree. Eventually, the host tree dies leaving a huge hollow fig tree towering high enough to reach the sun. I stood for a moment at the base of the tree, and I began to follow the creek, carefully watching my feet for snakes in the dense covering of dead palm fronds. The light seemed like it was beginning to fade, so I decided to turn back home and come another day to explore the creek some more.
“The path is through those Blue Gum Trees.”
The top of the live desk.
Native Piccabean Palms twenty feet high
Twisted vines making their way from tree to tree in the dense palm bush
The hollow base of the Strangler Fig