Friday, September 04, 2015

Retreat, not surrender

The other weekend, against my mother's better judgement, I spent the night alone in the bush. Through a complicated set of circumstances, partly of my own making, I found myself with four tickets to a play in Kangaroo Valley and no "bums on seats" other than my own. The story of how this came to be is very long and convaluted, so I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that things hadn't quite gone according to plan.

My friend Selena and I took HSC drama together back in the day. We had bonded over incompetent teachers, encouragement of one another's "work", and the stress of writing and performing our own monologues. So, when Selena sent around an email announcing that she was getting back into acting, and would anyone like to see her latest show, I was, like, um, Yes! The other reason I wanted to go was that my favourite place in the whole wide world is in Kangaroo Valley. A beautiful secluded property that cascades from the road to the river, Werona is filled with happy memories, and gives me a sense of serenity and calm whenever I'm there. But I had never been to Werona on my own before. With a steep road that is in desperate need of repair, limited phone reception, and not a soul for miles around, it was a slightly frightening prospect for a woman on her own.

Werona in the afternoon light

Sometimes life feels like a battleground. You just deal with one disappointment, and another presents itself. It had been a rough couple of weeks for me, and I was very ready to give up on the whole trip, cut my losses and try to get as much money back as I could. But, as the saying goes, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade". I realised that to not go would be surrender. To go, was merely retreat. Excuse the pun. The most appropriate thing to do, I reasoned, was to take time out to gain some perspective, and re-group, so to speak. And Werona is the perfect place to go for a personal retreat. So, I packed a bag, told people what I was doing, and set off via the scenic coast road. With Missy Higgins and Imogen Clark to keep me company, I started to feel brave and strong and, well, marginally less bitter.

As soon as I arrived at Werona, I knew I had made the right decision. I sense of peace swept over me as I walked the track from the car to the hut. The birds were churping, and I could hear the creek gushing by, full after recent flooding. On closer inspection I noticed certain paths were extremely well-swept. At first I thought "oh, how nice that the last visitors swept so thoroughly". Then I realised it was floodwater that had paved the way. On a trip down to the river I saw with horror the extent of the flood-damage. The area that used to be beach in my childhood, was beach again, with a mini-avalanche having dragged the entire grassy bank into the river. I stepped tentatively across the muddy track, feeling my way back from a brisk swim when all of a sudden one boot began slowly but surely to sink into the fluid ground. "Well," I thought, with a sense of resignation, "this is how I am going to die - sinking boot-first into the swamp of despair". Clutching on to the nearest tree branch, I pulled, and slowly the boot emerged. Disaster had been averted. I hurriedly scrambled to higher ground.

Boots after an incident by the river

There was a brief moment when, back at the hut, I thought "what shall I do now?" I didn't know whether to write, draw, go for a walk or just read. But then it occurred to me. Tea. I should start by making a cup of tea. So, armed with a mug of comforting brew, I got out my watercolours and began to paint. And, as the sun gently set and the possums began to gather, I sipped my peppermint tea, and those earlier feelings of bitterness and anger were swept away as thoroughly as the riverbank of my childhood. This really wasn't so bad after all. 

The next challenge to greet me was getting the hire car back up the hill in order to set out for an evening on the town. The road had gotten progressively more difficult to maneuvour in the past few years, as rocks mixed with broken up bitumen. I put the car into first gear, took a deep breath, and floored it, spinning the wheel back and forth in an urgent attempt to avoid the worst of the potholes without losing momentum and sliding backwards into dense scrub. When I reached the top, breathing a sigh of relief, I promised myself I would not tempt fate again. The car would sleep at the top of the hill tonight. On the open road, I couldn't help but notice an incredibly full moon straight ahead of me. I had to stop and photograph it. Apparently that was the first of three consecutive supermoons.

Moonlight in the valley

The show was brilliant. Selena had organised for a friend of hers to meet me, which was lucky, because it was a very audience participatory kind of show, and the sort of thing where it's awkward if you're there alone. We were simultaneously guests at a cocktail party and audience in a cabaret performance. Interspersed between hilarious and food-related skits was a finger food degustation meal. Perched on cushions with our avocado au d'oeuvres and spicy ginger beer, we immersed ourselves in an awkward date, a meeting between wife and mistress, gossip with the girls, and repeated attempts to steal a bottle of wine. Just like the moon, it was a very full evening. 

As I returned to my hut in the dark, head torch on and scrambling over the indiscernable track, I began to worry about intruders and boogy men. All the ghost stories we told when we were younger came flooding back, and I wondered, again, if it was such a smart idea to come to the valley alone. Each step felt as if it could be my last, as every shadow held potential danger. But, I returned unscathed, and everything was as I had left it. Not even the possums had ventured to mess with my food or bedding, and I was able to light the stove, make another cuppa, and read into the night. 

A room of one's own, or failing that a table outdoors

Virginia Wolf said that if a woman is to write, she needs to have a room of her own. As I prepared for some serious blogging the next morning, a room of my own just didn't seem adequate. So, after various attempts at getting the sunlight and shadows just right, I took my writing table and tea outside and assumed the whole valley as my own. Aided by more tea, and the confidence that comes from having slept alone in the wild, I wrote and read and began to feel at peace with the world. So, as I made my entry in the visitors book, turned off all the appliances (at least, pretty sure I did) and generally made ready to go, I reflected on a wonderful weekend. While things didn't turn out exactly how I had originally imagined, it was in many ways better. And now I can say "oh, yeah, I've spent a night alone in the bush." 

No comments: