It’s a misty autumnal morning in the hills outside Melbourne, and for this northerner it is the middle of winter – but in the most delicious ways. The last of the apples lie fallen on the ground overnight, not yet touched by the feathery golden leaves releasing one by one into the stiff wind. Fist sized, they fit neatly inside my palm. Pocketing one, I bite into the other, crisp as the air.
Wrapping my scarf securely around my neck, I step out of the garden and towards the end of the cul-de-sac where the houses finish and the bush starts. Multiple trails fan out like the forking branches of a tree, all equally unfamiliar. Low clouds scuttle overhead, and the forest dances in passing shadow.
My body quivers in excitement. Beckoned by the curved track on my right, I begin a slow traverse of the ridge, my footsteps silent on the damp. Breathing deep the scent of home fires and gum leaves underfoot, tears spring to my eyes. Gosh how I miss this.
Not so long ago, it’s what I did most days during the year I lived in my bush shelter – wander that is. Seemingly identical to the outside eye, wandering, as I discovered, isvery different to walking.Far from a heavy-packed hike from point A to B, or an exercise-driven march, wandering has no time or destination. When bushwalking, there is a right way and a wrong way, a track to be followed or deviated from. When wandering, deviation is the trail, ‘lost’ a relative concept known in shades of discomfort and excitement.
I like to think of it as a kind of active ‘wondering’; a meander whose path is determined by curiosity – the lure of a new bird call or patch of orchids perhaps. Questions beg more questions, leading me further and further from my starting point, and yet no closer to an end, because there isn’t one. Rather than stimulating a sense of achievement, wandering evokes more of a childlike joy, a grand adventure with me the intrepid explorer.
Although suited to bush settings, wandering is an art form that can be practiced anywhere. Try stepping outyour front door without any preconceived notions of where or how long you’re going. Perhaps you’ll follow an impulse to explore the strange building on top of the hill, be drawn to a tree in the park, or duck into a new coffee shop for a reflective cuppa. Who knows? Watch how much more you notice when seeing with the eyes of a wanderer, an inquisitive tourist in your own backyard. Watch how your senses come alive.
A sunny patch of grass invites me to rest. Removing boots I spread out on my back and expose my belly to the sun, soaking it in like a lizard.
I’m not exactly sure of the way back to the guesthouse, but I’ll end up somewhere, sometime.
As Tolkien said, ‘not all those who wander are lost’.