Events down south make people uneasy. They thought things were pulling back, a seeming return to some sense of normalcy. A fallacy in this day and age though, it would seem, and so The Fear returns, albeit in a smaller, perhaps more manageable fashion.
We grab a couple of apples from the bowl on the table, dig around for raincoats, pull on gumboots and jump into the truck. We stop for fuel and a donut and then head out of town, across the highway and through green and rambling farm country. We slow down to pass through Mullum, coming out the other side and gearing up again, out past the golf course before turning right and booming through the low-lying flat bordered by cow paddocks to the base of the hill where we gear down and begin the climb.
Here, The Fear doesn’t exist, merely a feeling which dissipates the further up we go.
She sits in the back and chats through a mouthful of fruit, her old and frayed stuffed sheep sitting on her lap. I sip coffee from the ever-present travel mug and navigate the turns and dips with one hand on the wheel. We reach the top and begin the winding drive through the rainforest, leaving Mullum and the farmland below, and the ocean across the way, behind us. We bump over potholes and the truck rattles and hums.
Passing Malcolm’s Corner, we head down into the gully, over creeks, the sixth and seventh crossings under water which sheets out behind us as we plough through, pulling off to the right and up the steep driveway to Mum’s place. She’s lit the fire and we eat donuts and drink coffee. The sun hasn’t yet made it into the valley and it’s cold and damp outside, despite the fact it’s almost nine o’clock.
After a bit, we pull on coats and boots and drive further up the hill, pulling in beside a looping and rambling fern, jumping out onto the wet grass, stepping across puddles left from last night’s rain. Some sort of flowering native bush arcs over us, upended pink trumpet flowers hanging down, their unheard symphony directed right into the wet earth.
Birds call from unseen boughs, and the noise echoes through the dense forest as we enter. It’s loud, yet there’s barely a sound.
She adds to the sound, the every-present chatter bouncing back to the birds as we step over strewn rocks and moss-covered branches fallen from the trees arching above us. The path is faint but we’re able to navigate, down dips and across dry creek beds, further into the wood and up, the path cut into the side of muddy hillocks, jerry-rigged steps build into the steeper parts, ducking under ferns and hanging vines.
We hear the small waterfall from a ways away. We stop every now and then to listen to the silence. The sound of water gets closer as we wander up and across, the bird call echoes still and the light is gloomy, even though we can see sunlight across the tops of trees up above.
The final part is muddy culvert cut by rain, a slide with rope looped around trees to the side to hold onto as you make your way down to the edge of the creek which pools in between mossy rocks, fallen trees rotted with moisture and cut through with divuts as chunks have pulled away and fallen below in wet and woody piles.
She delights in squatting by the nearest pool and dipping a hand into the water, squealing at the chill and wiping on her shirt front, cheeks rosy and nose running in the cold air. We wander around the side of the creek, climbing across and over to the small waterfall, the deep pool at its base, sheer rock behind, plant-life falling across it all, the birds still hidden in the trees.
We wander back soon after, the promise of time by the fire an allure too good to pass up in the chill. We climb back up the muddy culvert and follow the faint trail back the way we came. I piggy-back her for a while. Off to the side, as the hill cuts way, the growth is dense and green, eternally still, a labrynthian run of cuts and dry beds, criss-crossed with thick, branch-like vines looping trees and swinging low to the ground before soaring up once more into the canopy where you can’t see them any more.
She laughs most of the way back and concocts elaborate games to be played under ferns, or balancing on top of fallen trunks.
We come out the other side, into weak sunshine which washes the hillside for the first time all day, leaving the wooded birdsong behind us to be replaced by the rosellas and whatnot that stay in the open. We walk back to the truck and head back down to Mum’s place where it’s warm and there’s no Fear. She has another apple and anything bad just doesn’t exist.