Thursday, 1 March 2012

Californian wildlife

I spent a couple of weeks of February in California. It's a rather nice place - just a shame that it's a long-haul flight away. I feel rather guilty for having indulged - I can hardly claim it was an essential trip - but I did it, I enjoyed it, and there we go.

I had an interesting insight as I wandered around Yosemite valley one cold afternoon. God, Yosemite is astounding. You could not make up a more ridiculously beautiful place if you tried. If anything it's got too much beauty - sheer granite faces, gigantic waterfalls, snowy pastures, pine forests, bears, coyotes - it's kind of like God couldn't decide which he liked best so he just stuck the whole lot in.

I thoroughly enjoyed my three days there, but I was lead to ponder my response. I really felt like I was walking around in a postcard. Not just because it was so outlandishly beautiful, but also because it was a setting that was so far from where I belong. I know nothing about how to survive, or how to relate to such a place. This is not just because I live in a city - I've lived in wilderness areas in Australia before - it's more than that.

I can explain best by contrasting my response to Ululla Station, the desert wilderness in Australia where I lived for two years. I haven't lived there for ten years, yet whenever I return I feel a deep and abiding sense of relief. Whenever I'm not at Ululla, a part of me is in a holding pattern until I can return. It's not just that I know the place, how to live, what to do (to be honest I'm usually fairly clueless when I arrive back, having slipped completely into city-slicker-mode while away)... It's more that the place somehow connects to my spirit in a very basic way. I feel entirely free - free of the encumbrances and luggage of our dubious civilisation, and free to be entirely present and awake in a place where I belong.

As much as I enjoyed Yosemite, I didn't have that sense at all - I don't belong there, and I never will. Perhaps my response to Ululla is a little taste of what land means for indigenous peoples. The connection between land and aboriginal people is something that gets a lot of airtime in debates in Australia about our cultural dynamics, but I suspect this connection is a notion that is quite mystifying (possibly quite dubious) to a lot of white people. I'm not suggesting that I know what it's really about (I 've had two years of contact with the land, they've had one thousand generations) but I guess I feel a little bit of the ache that aborigines talk about when they're exiled from their land.

* * *
For my own benefit, I'm going to jot down some of the birds that I saw in California. Feeding my internal twitcher...

Western scrub-jay, turkey buzzard, red-tailed hawk, wild turkey, varied thrush, anna's humming-bird (gorgeous little things; saw one almost every day), Cedar waxwing, red-winged black bird, dark-eyed junco, house finch, firecrest (or the Yosemite equivalent), some kind of red/black/white woodpecker, a load of other unidentifiables!

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