The impudent, hot, unsparing day"
--Sidney Lanier, 1880
Try reading poetry after some Christmas Day champagne in the sun. For that matter, try reading the Book of Revelation. The strange seems relevant and the relevant, strange, in a country where the water swirls down the drain counterclockwise and the stars appear upside-down. Of course, it is all relative. To penguins, people probably all look alike.
There are no penguins in the Gippsland Lakes, although I know there must be koalas because we smelled the eucalyptus trees all along the Lilly Pilly Gully trail. The hole in the ozone makes the sun burn the life out of you in Australia, and there are other serious environmental problems, but you'd never know it driving through, or past, one national park after another for hundreds of kilometers. I can understand why the first Europeans here, as in North America, must have thought there was no way they could ever ruin the land. They must have perceived its resources as infinite.
On our anniversary we were headed down the South Gippsland Highway towards Sale, which was nice, because we were civil-partnered at Sale Town Hall in Greater Manchester four years before. We had Christmas music playing, including "The Star Carol" which my family used to sing all together. That is the biggest thing missing, singing carols in harmony. Fortunately there were enough distractions in Victoria, "the place to be" according to the license plates. We passed through Stratford, on the Avon River, which doesn't much resemble its Shakespearean counterparts in either England or Ontario. Instead, the hay bales on hillsides reminded me at times of East Tennessee. But then, in the middle of the farm, there would be palm trees, and the spell would be broken again.
"Agnes Falls," said a place name sign. "I wish she'd stop doing that," T. said.
So we reached Wilsons Promontory, a huge national park which is the southernmost point of mainland Australia. It once was possible to walk from here to Tasmania, when the ancestors of the Kurnai and Boonwurung lived here; but did we see any of the middens (shell deposits) they've left behind on the beaches? In any case, "the Prom" made up for anything that may have gone wrong earlier in the trip, not least because now I can say T. and I finally went to the prom together. It is a 30-km drive just from the park entrance, and there the paved road ends and the trails go off in every direction. We took the Lilly Pilly Gully trail across the southern face of Mt. Bishop through stringy-bark forest. We saw evidence of living kangaroos, which was more than we'd seen so far, and an abundance of bird life, then walked through a stand of warm temperate rainforest, all in a few moderate miles.
We then took the access road to Squeaky Beach, so called because the sand is so fine that it squeaks under your feet. It had gotten a bit windy and cooler so I was wearing my Canadian Olympics sweatshirt, and so began chatting with a family from Ottawa, who are over here for five weeks before settling in New Zealand for two years. Good for them! I am sure I never exchanged "Merry Christmas" with Canadians on a beach before.
The woods were alive with birds, such as the laughing kookaburra and, among the nocturnal animals, the powerful owl. I liked the sound of that, and imagined T's David Attenborough narration: "Whatever shall we do, children? Let's ask Powerful Owl, who lives on the mountain." But it was only on our way out of the park that we stopped at a wildlife trail and came across bunches of kangaroos, placidly eating their dinner, then bounding away!
"Bah! don't hop!
Look at the owl, scarce seen, scarce heard,
O irritant, iterant, maddening bird!"
The Christmas decorations hanging on the lights in towns look just like those in my birthplace. Back in Tennessee, we used to joke that the possum didn't exist as a living animal, because we only ever saw the [nocturnal] species run over in the road. That is what I was beginning to think about 'roos!
Wilsons Prom is the nicest place I've seen in Australia, one of the nicest in the world. Down the road we saw signs for sheep shearing at the cricket club (!), four wineries on a single turnoff, and this gem right afterwards:
"If you drink, then drive, you're a bloody idiot."
If we thought kangaroos were hard to find in their natural state, the lodge was an even greater challenge. It was worth it in the end, though, as the view was the most panoramic I have ever seen, and the woodsy smell reminded me of one of my favorite places on earth, Algonquin. The place was bought by a couple who farm on the adjacent fields, and didn't want the place overdeveloped. As we looked across field and down the waters breaking on the beach to the misty mountains, a beautiful rainbow burst into view, as elusive as it came. As were the rabbits, one moment munching peacefully outside our window, the next vanishing as a bird of prey soared into view.