I’ve spent the last three months dithering. Dithering about whether to book a flight to visit my home in Wales this Summer (ok, Winter, if you’re in Oz). There are so many reasons not to, starting, and perhaps ending, with the reluctance to fly anywhere. In the environmental movement in the UK, it is frowned upon to fly. And with good reason. The overwhelming evidence is that my flight will eat up more than 10 tonnes of carbon emissions – one way! The average British person uses 9.5, and ideally, we would all be cutting our footprint to less than 2 tonnes. How can I justify flying home?
In Australia, this argument against flying has not made it onto the green agenda. Even the most committed amongst my friends thinks nothing of hopping on a plane to Sydney – the fifth most popular route on the planet. Australia is so big, people get used to driving long distances, but with a flight to Darwin taking nearly five hours, only the most adventurous (and time-rich) Southerner will choose a more climate-friendly option of driving or train travel. This might account for the average Australian climate footprint being more like 18 tonnes per person. Having lived in Australia a year, am I starting to acclimatise to this flying frenzy? Well, no…and yet…eventually, I have booked a ticket.
As soon as I do, the heavens open. Melbourne experiences the wettest start to April for a decade, catching the tail end of cyclone Ita. It’s like a “told you so” and a “welcome home” all at once.
On Thursday evening, I’m sitting on the train heading up to the Dandenong ranges, where I’m going to house sit for a friend. The rain drizzles down the train window as I stare out into the darkening gloom. It looks like that stretch of Wales between Bridgend and Cardiff on a damp winter evening. Yuck. Fortunately, the house has a cosy wood fire and a friendly cat to welcome me and the next day, despite the drizzle, I venture out for a walk in the forest.
The multitude of greens that is Sherbrooke Forest is the last remaining temperate rainforest in the Dandenong Ranges, to the East of Melbourne. The gum trees here are Mountain Ash (like the village in the Welsh valleys) and are the tallest flowering plant in the world. Today, I can’t see the treetops, as the mist is hovering, almost like smoke, at the level of the treeferns. As my eyes travel from the thick tree trunks skywards, my gaze gets lost and my face is dampened as if with dew. It’s a gentle, soft feeling. Soft on the skin after the harsh summer suns and soft on the eyes, which can’t get a focus on anything. I am walking as if in a dream.
The first time I came here, I was on a Yatra – a silent walk which takes its name from the sanskrit word for pilgrimage. We meet – a group of ten of us – at the Belgrave station of Puffing Billy. Puffing Billy is a steam train originally built to gain access to this hilly region but now run for tourists. It is far more exciting than I expected and the “toot toot” of the whistle follows us as we start into the dense undergrowth…
Through our opening circle, a bird swoops, feathers rustling, wings the sound of air. Nature welcoming us. Layers of bird song create a choir. High above us, cockatoos wheel and cry and the group mind chatters like the crimson rosellas flitting from tree to tree. The business of the world is hard to leave, but our boots on the soft earth make a calming mantra and soon, we soften into the silence.
The walk is punctuated with process taken from Deep Ecology – a way of reconnecting with Nature which was pioneered by Joanna Macy and John Seed. Our walkers are graduates from a Seed workshop and carry the experiences from that weekend into this – creating a comfortable closeness and familiarity. Lunch is in a meadow clearing guarded by forest. We hide in tall grasses, reflect and catch up. As we begin again, we are as gently focussed as the scarab beetle making his own slow pilgrimage across the path. The forest holds wallabies, which peek out from the trees before thumping off, crashing through the leaf litter. There are lyrebirds, too, waddling about trailing long feather-like tails and scratching like chickens at the dirt, in search of tasty grubs. This weekend, we even spot a blue-clawed yabbie – a kind a cray fish which we are surprised to see in the forest until we notice that his hidey-hole bottoms out into a pool of water. No doubt he has been enjoying the recent downpours!
As I’m walking in this beautiful, ancient place, I feel a pang of regret that I succumbed to the other life pressures which have finally made me book a ticket home. I remember a friend who has started a community energy project in Wales, called Gower Power. One of their recent activities involved planting 1,625 trees in Gower, the place I call home. Maybe, while I’m there, I go and plant a few myself. I’m aware that it can’t make it right, but it can’t harm, either.