Necessary Nature

Elemental Fires of Friendship

🔥 🐂 🐾 🌈 🧗🏼‍♀️🚘 🏕 ⛰ 🌄 🔥

There’s nothing better than to sit around a campfire with family and friends,  pondering the very essence of life itself. Sitting under the stars, watching the moon arc its way across the heavens, souls are directly connected to nature with no barriers in between. Gone are the distractions of the urban world, replaced by timeless bush conjuring timeless conversations.

Easter is a traditional time to go camping in Australia. Sometimes, with a load of camping equipment, a full family and a couple of dogs squished into a car immobile in a traffic jam, it seems the entire nation has up and left, relocating to the bush for a soul-break. The year we had driven for an hour already when my mother suddenly asked, “Did you let the cat out?” to a groaning chorus of “No” as we knew we would have to drive back home  to let her out, thereby adding two hours to our five-hour journey… at that time it almost didn’t seem worth the effort… a mood that quickly reversed by the time we arrived at Our Spot.

Our Easter Spot was in the Victorian High Country, on the Howqua River. Just us and the bush. In the early years- until they were banned for environmental reasons- the cattle, whose eyes would shine in the firelight as they paused to wonder who we were, would be quiet observers of our camp. There was a tall apple tree, a sign that people had been there before us. We wondered who and when. Years later I read John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When The War Began: the mountain setting was taken from that same mountain range, and I felt I knew the hermit because I’d seen the apple tree: I had direct experience with what was described so vividly in that book.

Easter Sunday was always special, a day I looked forward to. The Easter Bunny- strangely always around when my father, the earliest riser of the family, was building our breakfast fire, the dogs having their first play of the morning alongside- hid the hard boiled eggs we had dyed in the preceding week, as well as a couple of chocolate eggs the Easter bunny supplied (no Easter bilbies in those days!). An early memory is tripping out of my almost-too-small gum boots in my hurry to get out of the annex and start finding the precious cargo. In my younger years I didn’t have the patience to wait!

The egg hunt was followed by hot cross buns toasted on the fire. My father had a very strict rule that they were not to come out before Easter Sunday, and he always became quiet and reflective during Easter Sunday breakfast: lost in his thoughts about the religious implications of the day, possibly transported back to unspoken memories of his childhood.

I still prepare dyed Easter eggs on an annual basis, even though I currently have no children to share the tradition with. And I follow in my father’s footsteps by not starting on the hot cross buns until Easter Sunday, when I like to set up a special breakfast on our verandah to enjoy the crisp autumnal weather. We watch the sun rise over our coffee pot and homemade jams, enjoying a relaxed conversation. A peaceful start to the day!

A regular part of our camping was climbing Mt Howitt. This involved a full day of walking up and down the steep Howitt Spur, the most direct route to the top. We relished this bushwalking, communing with nature and trying to pick the birdcalls, something my father was expert at. Watching the signs in the foliage to determine when we passed above the tree line, we knew we were close to the top when the only plants were ground cover and our breath was running short- sure signs of higher altitude.

One year my father announced that we would go a different route, up and down a mountain next to Mt Howitt and then to the summit up a different side. We would go down on the usual track, the Spur.

Off we set, armed with trail mix and caramel-coated Brazil nuts, enjoying the wild bush so beautiful in that area. After almost two hours of walking we passed another group of hikers. They asked where we’d come from and my father duly answered. A look passed around their group. One said, “But that mountain’s ahead of you.” Out came the maps and an impromptu break was had while the maps were pored over. Although only eleven o’clock my mother unpacked the lunches, sensing this would take a while.

The inevitable had happened: we had started on the wrong mountain, therefore we had an extra mountain to climb. Grooaaannnn… We arrived at the summit well after four o’clock, instead of at lunchtime.

Oh well.

If we hadn’t started on the wrong track we wouldn’t have seen the gang gang cockatoos on the Devil’s Staircase- the only time I’ve been to that part of the mountains, and the only time I’ve seen gang gangs in the bush. And we also wouldn’t have seen the rainbow below us, a complete circle of colour around the summit of Mt Howitt: an experience so astounding and unique it remains a special memory that generates feelings of warmth from my very core. Mere words fail to capture the splendour of that magical memory!

It just goes to show… starting off on an unplanned track is not wrong, it’s just unexpected… and it leads to the most pleasant of unexpected surprises!


5 thoughts on “Elemental Fires of Friendship”

  1. Beautiful memories Annabel. I love your writing. So much of your wonderful personality is expressed in your choice of words. Keep ’em comin’ please!


  2. What a wonderful memory Annabel. Nature punctuates the intensity of modern living infusing it with a stillness and spaciousness , allowing us to return to our deepest selves. I’m due for a soul break and I can’t wait to immerse myself in the forest. Lara x


  3. Oh, Annabel – what a glorious memoir! 🤗
    Camping over the Easter weekend is also my favourite – crisp Autumn nights drinking red wine around the camp fire (especially when accompanied by a guitar and singalong), snuggling under a doona, big BBQ breakfast the next morning, followed by dappled sunny days! Perfect!
    Why haven’t we ever done this together in all our years of friendship? 😊


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