Friday, December 14, 2007

wandering in the wilderness

the mighty, multifaceted Torrens

I'm onto the religion thing again, and it's not so much that I'm obsessed but that I'm almost wanting to find something to obsess over, or at least to find a subject to dedicate myself to, to anchor my flighty craft.

So, perversely, I'll avoid referring to it awhile. The other day I took Courtney out, down to the river, to give Sarah a break. Courtney was in love with the idea. Pic-a-nic basket, blanket, cut lunch, fruit and cordial. It was sharply hot. 'Remember when we went to the river and me and Isabelle climbed the rocks in the water and it was really dangerous, let's go there again...'
I remembered it, mainly as she'd often reminded me and I'd wondered at how such a seemingly paltry occasion - we'd stopped for only a few moments where the river was the shallowest, narrowest thing and Courtney [who's five] had been trying to match her twelve-year-old cousin's boldness, wobbling on a few lapped rocks and maybe getting her feet wet - could have so happily stuck in her mind as the consumate Wild Experience.

I would never be able to find that fortuitous spot again, but maybe I might find something equally memory-inducing. I drove into Bonython Park, just down from our house, and instantly found a perfect pic-a-nic spot, with soft greenery sloping down to the riverbank, and reeds and willows and magpies and bobbing moorhens.

We played for a while at simply imbibing the Great Outdoors whilst speedily polishing off the cheeses, fruits, sannies and juices - at Courtney's insistence, everything was eaten within five minutes of our arrival, apart from some bread for the ducks. We wandered down to the bank, Courtney hunting for fishing sticks. I saw a solitary duck heading our way, and Courtney threw a few morsels at it. In fact she’d ripped up and tossed in all the bread within seconds of its arrival. Within a few minutes there were more than a dozen of the creatures, but no bread for them. They clacked and squabbled and flapped each other off the premises, and I was reminded of something I’d read, or heard, recently, that the Rwandan genocide was more about a pecking-order battle over scarce resources than anything else. I didn’t know about that, but I did know that if I left my two cats without food for more than a day they’d be growling and hissing and trying to scratch each others’ eyes out…

There was a bridge nearby, and by it a kind of weir with rocks piled behind it and a pool. I felt that something more memorable was required than feeding or not feeding a few ducks, so I enticed Courtney over there, with some difficulty at first – she was more interested in trying to make a fishing rod out of a willow branch. Once there, though, she was captivated. In vain did I try to interest her in a beautiful ibis at the far end of the pool, fishing itself with statued intentness and brief bold plunges. Even the mother duck with its tiny babies in arrow formation on the weir’s edge only elicited an unconvincing ‘aw, cute’.

No, she was absorbed in something else as she stepped onto those more or less flat, safe rocks largely submerged in the shallow water, zig-zagging to the bank opposite. 'Look at me, I'm fast, I'm brave, bet you can't get across this fast [of course I pretended to struggle], I'm a good jumper, aren't I?' Backwards and forwards she went, finding different routes, trying more slippery and submerged rocks, but nothing so dangerous as to really perturb me. I recalled mark twain, the mark of two fathoms, marking the border between safe and dangerous water, the boundary we all like to ride, so much more exhilarating than feeding a few ducks.

She quickly exhausted the limited repertoire, though, and would've been contented in endless repetition, but I finally lured her up some steps on the further bank, to the great unknown where I was hoping to find a toilet block. 'Are you busting, or are you screaming? Screaming's when it's running down your leg and you can't stop it,' she explained. 'I'm busting too, but I'm not screaming.'

Over the embankment was a running track with exercise stops and a green toilet block, all chained up. Further along the track there were signs pointing to toilets, but I couldn't make sense of them. We went back down along the river, and I spotted another bridge further along. Before reaching it though we came across a wooded island which cast a giant shadow, chilling us a little. 'Look there', I said. In a pool of light, halfway to the island, a large fish, a dark but distinct shape, lazily wagged its tail just below the surface. ‘Let’s get closer’, she whispered, and stepped onto the muddy little beach easing into the water. ‘Whoah,’ she shouted as her feet sank into the ooze. ‘Look out, it’s quicksand, you’ll be nothing but bubbles in a few seconds. Hey, but look at this, just what you’re looking for.’ It was a fishing rod, yellow in colour, faded and muddied yet still with its reel and line. Courtney didn’t want it though – too yucky, she said, too strange and scarily abandoned, I thought. But she did want to do some exploring, coaxing me over to a marshy region closer to the island. ‘Your shoes are getting very muddy, and there are crocodiles, and we have to find a toilet soon, remember?’

So we moved on, crossing the bridge back to the other bank, where she decided that she was very tired suddenly and needed to hitch a ride on my shoulders. ‘See if you can see the car from up there.’ ‘Oh no, we’re so lost, we’ll never find it.’ I helped her to a spot of gingery tree-climbing along the way, and she at last sighted our vehicle. Only a few minutes’ drive home.

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