Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Feeling Stone

by J J Cohen
(read Karl's post first, and then register for Speculative Medievalisms II)

Manja (photo by Harry Wakeling)
After twenty-four hours of travel we are back in DC, where the humidity is making me long for the crisp winds of Melbourne again. All four Cohens awoke at 4 AM this morning, energized and hungry. We agreed at breakfast that we already miss the birds, marsupials, wildflowers, food and -- more than anything -- people of Australia.

The trip to Melbourne and various parts of Victoria was wonderful. Stephanie Trigg was too good to us: picking us up at the airport and giving us (courtesy of Paul) an unforgettable dinner that evening; ensuring that we saw as much of Melbourne as we could; providing us a farewell dinner that was likewise among our most memorable, and included a walk to Ceres to put the chickens to bed (as well as lots of time with the too cute for belief kittens).

You can listen to my public lecture for the "Hearts and Stones" collaboratory here. It includes an image capture of my PowerPoint, a series of simple photographs I've taken over the past year that are intended to comment in a quiet and more personal way on the materials of my talk. The only image not mine is the first one, used to advertise my lecture: the imprint of hands upon rocks created when Aboriginal artists blew ocher from mouths.

I was so taken by this image that I decided we would attempt to see a version while visiting the Grampians, a range of mountains in Victoria. Manja (the Cave of Hands) contains many of these imprints. The state park where this aboriginal shelter is located suffered devastating floods last January. The main road through the park remains closed, obliterated by a landslide. We had made arrangements to stay at the Aquila Eco Lodge located within the bush (up a long dirt road, snuggled at the base of Mount Abrupt, surrounded by sand, eucalyptus, and kangaroos). Though having to get up in the night and place wood in the stove to keep the place warm could have been a nuisance, it never seemed that way -- and staying beneath so many alien stars more than made up for any lost sleep.

The lodges' owners, Harry and Iwona, were incredibly kind in helping me to determine if the road to the hiking trail to the shelter would be accessible in time. As it turns out, the opening occurred just a few days before we arrived. Unfortunately, though, some rather bad rains arrived just before we did. Our red with dirt Prius became stuck in the mud before we could get near enough to hike to Manja, and although we got out, we realized if we pushed on we were likely soon to find ourselves in a quagmire. Turning back was a huge disappointment, but if we'd continued we would have been courting disaster: the road was deteriorating quickly; there was no one else in the park (we did not encounter a single human being the whole time we were in the mountains); the incline was tremendous, so that even if we did get to the trail for the shelter there was a good chance we wouldn't be able to get back through the mud. We were also already many miles from the main road. By consulting our map we were able to find another hiking trail through a burned section of eucalyptus forest that if we had been able to follow far enough would have conveyed us near Manja ... but even though Katherine is an incredibly intrepid hiker for age seven (she completed miles upon miles of sometimes quite challenging hikes during this trip), she is after all only seven and at a certain point it was clear that we were not getting to the shelter at all.

Harry, owner of the Aquila Eco Lodges, Mount Abrupt
The only person more sorrowful about our aborted mission was Harry. An incredibly good natured man, he had mapped our route for us and provided us with all the information we need to reach the site. He showed up at our lodge later that evening with a CD on which he had burned his own pictures of the shelter, along with his laptop. We sat together at the table and he gave us a virtual tour of Manja's art, peppered with personal anecdotes and eccentric observations (he loves modelling the geometry of how various hand prints were made). It was great, as well as typical of the many kindnesses we encountered during our journeys along the ocean and into the bush.

Now I need to figure out how to get back.

1 comment:

Eileen Joy said...

I'm listening to your lecture now--it's wonderful. I'm sorry about the aborted trek to the Cave of Hands, although it humorously reminded me of a trip I took to the Texas panhandle in the mid-1980s with my sister and girlfriend, when I camped in Palo Duro Canyon State Park: lots of amazing rock/stone formations but we never got a chance to explore them because just after we got our tent situated, we had to evacuate because of a flash-flood, common in that area. All I remember of that time is that I really thought we were going to die, but of course we didn't. This was one of those "nature is actually inhuman" experiences.