01 Dec 2020
“Do you think the wine was off?” mumbled Dave placing a mound of scrambled eggs on the breakfast table. We were so thrilled to be sitting, feet up by the fire last night, that we may have overdone it.But after a hearty breakfast and a digest on the couch, we were ready to go and explore the forest.
We adore the Blue Mountains, and come as often as we can. For obvious reasons this year, we haven’t been up as much as we’d like, so driving through the canopy of trees to Govett’s Leap Lookout, we wondered how the scorched earth was recovering from last year’s inferno.
The day was well on it’s way to heating up, the temperature was 35C by the time we pulled into the jaw dropping lookout at Govett’s Leap. Inhaling a last few breaths of air-conditioning, I stepped out into the dazzling sunshine.
Dave and I have never been a fan of the heat. Give us freezing horizontal rain, gale force winds or sub-zero freezing fog. But blistering heat and blazing sunshine- no thanks! ‘Why head into Central NSW in summer?’ To be with family for Christmas after a year of closed boarders.
The heat of the mid-day sun combined with the eucalyptus haze bleached the landscape into its familiar pastel blues. Gazing across the vast gorge of basalt cliffs and layers of blue ridge lines, denuded by bushfire, we took in the changes to this scared and ancient land. Looking beyond the burnout forest, a carpet of green is coming through. And on the first official day of summer a few late wild flowers lingered in the sun.
“Oh no, the track is still partially closed” I said reading the National Park sign. Closed from Barrow lookout so we decided to carry on as far as we could knowing that the stairs would give us a decent workout on the return.
The forest has been completely transformed. Gone is the overhead canopy and ferny undergrowth, the cockatoos, honeyeaters and Rosella’s. In their place the grasses are thriving and over growing the track, blackened trunks are furry with lush new growth.
“The Banksia pods have opened” noticed Dave stepping around burnt branches. Their woody seed pods open during or after a bushfire to release their seeds into a post-fire environment. We can’t help feeling down about the devastation around us, yet this native forest seems designed for fire. And it’s heartening to witness it’s recovery.
The further we pushed through the grass down into the valley the louder the cicadas became. Their familiar rise and fall reverberating through our mind.
The overgrown path lead down, down, down neatly chiseled sandstone stairs. Twisting and turning down through the remains of banksias and stunted mallee scrub, fallen trees and past a giant anthill. Down, down, down until we reached Govett’s Leap Brook. Although it was much lower than usual, this time last year it was completely dry. Today this little oasis seemed all the more precious amongst the recovering forest.
Crossing the stepping stones the path climbed and turned a corner opening out to the Barrow Lookout. Looking back towards Govett’s Leap is a dramatic view of the waterfall and hanging gardens clinging to the cliff face. We can’t go any further from here, the path being closed for bushfire recovery works.
“Feel that breeze” I sighed leaning into the wind rising up from the valley below. Barrow Lookout is an exposed rocky outcrop at the edge of the cliff and we couldn’t linger in the heat of the full sun.
“And now for the assent” we braced ourselves for a steady climb. I was feeling quietly confident being the fittest I’ve ever been. I wondered if I’d make the climb without stopping this time. Well, no. Hangover meets 35 degrees is my excuse! I concentrated on keeping hydrated and pushing through the fatigue. Dave pushed on ahead.
My apple watch crackled “Hey Maaate… is it hot enough for ya?” Teased his disembodied voice.
“Hang-over!” is all I could manage in reply.
At the top of the ridge I slowed down and took a moment to… I don’t know…to just be in the moment. Walking into the sunlight I let my hands run through the long soft grasses outlined in gold. I started thinking about how I could paint this experience in abstract colour and form. I stopped to photograph the vibrant green leaves and the delicate wildflowers. Even in this state of recovery the forest is beautiful. What a relief.
Back at the car park, and it was still empty. Dave was leaning against the back of the car, boot open, sitting in the shade, gulping down water.
“We’ve got the forest to ourselves!” I called as I pulled off my hydration pack and wafted my shirt to catch the breeze.
“It’s too hot to be out…”
“Only mad dogs, and Englishmen” I chuckled pointing a finger at my English husband.
Later that afternoon we found ourselves flopped around in the stifling heat like wilted flowers. Dozing to the sound of the ceiling fan, only moving to splash water on our faces.
“Now all we need to do is drive to the dump and scoop the whole lot (camping gear) in” said deadpan Dave
“Before we’ve even unzipped the new tent?” I started to giggle.
“I’m trying to imagine us in a tent in 35 degrees” he started to giggle too
“We don’t even have a fan…”
The more I thought about it, the harder I laughed. All the research, time and effort of buying camping gear. The difficulty finding available stock, of being home for courier deliveries, of back and forth to the post office for missed parcels etc. and then picturing Dave backed up at the dump and unloading…. Now I was hysterical. Tears rolled down my cheeks, I couldn’t breath. Looking over at Dave and he too was racked with laughter.
Not long after a gorgeous cold front blew into town. With windows flung open we welcomed the wind and rain with a renewed energy. The storm came and went as quickly, the parting clouds bringing a warm golden light.
Elysian Rock, a short walk from the cottage, looks south over the broad valley dominated by the flat-topped Mt Solitary. This time last year, we were standing here with our girlfriend Amanda, from WA, watching a bushfire grow from 55 hectares to 1,000 hectares in a few days. A huge orange helicopter thumped over head towards the blaze. By the time it reached the fire-front it was a minuscule speck lost in the smoke such was the scale of the disaster. This was one small fire compared to what was happening in the rest of the country.
I hope that never again, will we see a bushfire session like last year.
Today, the valley was a different kind of gold.