The earth off the path is straightaway soft. Behind, the town. Entirely familiar, bitumen, brick and built for purpose. Ahead, the lagoon. Unknown, an ancient waterhole with towering paperbarks as silent, alert sentinels. It flows bone and ligament with the sea. A watercourse protected, like a dead king’s tomb, guarded by sea one way and firm ground to the other. It forms a winding fat artery, a lifeline pushing through dense grey-green jungle.
It’s almost a dare – come on in they whisper. we’ve been waiting for you to be brave. The wind catches the crisp and brittle leaves high up and the message ripples all the way down to the ground – be brave, be brave. At the gap that is the entry, the metal sign objects. It matches my heart and shouts in bold capital red – beware, beware.
The silence wraps around behind me, a heavy curtain swishes closed. An incessant buzz says welcome and licks its lips. The thud is my heart, my blood, my breath, my steps. The ground softens, incline slight. Ahead, paperbarks shudder to claim their place. They stretch and rise up to question, to inspect, to approve. There is grandeur in the silence that echoes and hums, murmuring an ancient chant. The lagoon is right there, a patchwork of brackish brown, sage green and late afternoon sunlight breaking through leaves that quake and quiver above. There is danger thrumming through my bones. Whispers bounce and ricochet, then birdcall – terwit terwit. A single sudden splash – and another – anchor my feet. Dragonflies, at least a score, flicker and flit to break the sluggish green of the surface, industrious and indifferent. Shadows skim and slip.
The wind picks up in a sudden flurry. Butter-yellow high branches groan and resist. The breeze skitters across the papery bark that folds back and flaps, once, twice. A solitary leaf loses its grip and slips, spinning downwards, nudging silently against the air. It ends adrift, afloat, alone..
My stuck feet feel the bass notes of a mighty system. It is the trees. The water flows below, around and within them on its way to the ocean. They are majestic, still, angled out across the water, casting shadows. They are other-world giants, their girths unearthly. Their root maze breathes beneath my feet. Here, the lifeblood hammers. It knocks and shudders but is even, slow. It takes my breath with it to a new calm.
Further in, the sage-tinted scum breaks to make way for lilies, their purple-tinted petals sitting high on stems like stilts. The spinning plates of circuses, balanced on spindles, shuddering on a wayward squall, but standing their ground. Unlikely beauties, here in the gloom, drifting in search of light.
No tree stands alone, each touching another in a tangle of branch, leaf and trunk. They reach for each other. Branches join and intertwine to form the vaulted ceilings of grand natural world cathedrals. There are no doors. Ancient whispered secrets, chanted prayers, murmured stories of miracles and forgiveness find their place on the breeze to resonate within these masterpieces, protecting, saving, reminding.
I turn and seek again the concrete path. Traffic and the clatter of a school chase the silence away. The earthy scent of eucalypt, leaf litter and deep water becomes the sickly sweet of planted pretty frangipani. The town, purpose built, groans on, a disgruntled rumble steadily depleting the ore reserves beneath it. The breeze catches a Coke can in the gutter.