There are places in diverse parts of the world that have grabbed and pulled out parts of my soul from the dusty bottom drawers of my being, to be scrubbed and hung out in the wind to dry, sparkling white, in the sun. They haven’t been particularly sensational or impressive places, but they’re places that have lodged memories in my head – the kind of memory you keep in a box tied with string, a box that may gather dust in the attic, but every so often, you blow the dust off and rummage around inside, re-examining mementos, sights and smells and emotions returning with the touch of them.
There is a place, not far from where I live, that has been an oasis for my hectic little family, you might even say a life raft to sanity. It’s just a farm, or it was before it was sold and subdivided for lifestyle blocks. When we first started going there, we were all shell shocked by life, but my husband was (and is) convinced that being in touch with the land, harvesting food from it, being on it, is essential for mental health and healing. He’d used his theory with a lot of success with clients, and the opportunity to control the pest population on this farm meant that not only would rabbits and hares hunted on the farm would go into the pot at home as free meat (and be saved a slow death by poison), but the time spent on the land would be as therapeutic, if not more so, than hours having heads shrunk by psychologists. That was the theory, and so it was. Though the farm was eventually sold, over the approximately 2 years we had access to it, we glued our loose and broken bits together to form a functioning unit.
When I said it was just a farm, I may have been slightly misleading. It was a farm, but it was extraordinarily beautiful. The landscape varied from sheep-grazed grassy slopes to broad vistas across the city and coast, to dense native bush cutting steeply down into gullies which would have taken considerable effort to access.
One of those gullies, less sheer than some of the others, had a path leading through it, starting deceptively evenly, then descending into a church of trees, down to the font of the stream in the nave. The sun would, depending on the time of day, scatter the treetops with its brightness, until we settled down further into the embrace of the ravine, where the sun never touched bottom, the well was too deep. There slender trees rose silently over our heads, their feet in the loam, serene as transcended spirits. Small birds, like sprites, flickered close around us, briefly fascinated by our intrusion. Leaf matter, the detritus of years of shedding, covered the ground, rustling with our footfalls, dampening the echo of voices, though I never liked to be loud in that space; it seemed impious. The sides of the valley, grown with tree ferns, rose up, high and steep, from the ravine floor, where a stream shushed an eternal path beneath the roots of brackeny ferns. Though it accompanied the path as long as it stayed on the valley floor, the stream wasn’t easy to see. It had dug itself into the earth, the koura and slow fish living virtually subterranean lives in its lithe serpentine belly.
We’d follow the path to its conclusion, and then stop and have our lunch, hovering over damp ground while we ate, before turning to head back, descending from sublimity, ascending to mundanity.
PS. During the time we were going there, the place pulled a poem out of me, published here.