Time to relocate again. After all, I've been at my daughter's for two weeks. Now it's time to visit my son and his family on Mt Tamborine. There are two routes I can take. The main one through Cunningham's Gap where there's a danger of the mountain slipping or the road falling from under you. The other one along the Mt Lindesay Highway, otherwise known as the goat track. I opt for the goat track which connects with the end of my daughter's street. It's six months since I've driven any distance solo and I'm eager to set out.
Robert Macfarlane is in my mind as I drive off. In The old ways, he describes in meticulous and miraculous detail his experiences as he criss-crosses England and beyond. I've tried now a few times to figure out how I could emulate his writing to conjure up place.. Today I'm going to try again, leaving the camera to its own devices and depending merely on words.
I drive through straw-coloured rolling hills, with patches of grass copper in the early morning light. Occasionally I glimpse the pale blue line of the mountains of the Great Divide. Smoke from winter burn offs smudges the clear air. The road attracts a dapper, black-and-white-suited wagtail; crested pigeons strut across in front of me unphased by my approach; a kookaburra swoops kamikaze. I'm soon driving on intermittent gravel. Tractor tracks gouge the dirt until they turn into a property gate, and the road is barred with tree shadows.
Soon the landscape closes in. I pass a failed fantasy planting in drooping ruin and then a thriving plantation of eucalyptus saplings, and then the tiny township of Legume. Here Margaret Drabble joins me, vividly present after a previous trip when J and I discussed The needle's eye intensely, through mile after mile of wind blown grass. Today there's an occasional wattle on the hillsides bursting into bloom.
Mt Lindesay makes a brief appearance in the distance, all definition lost to light and only its shape remaining: the same light picks out the spires of cypresses on thickly wooded hills. Beside the road, mile after mile, the delicate silhouettes of windmill grass. Shadows turn into potholes, and potholes are shadows. The bitumen is narrow, and the side of the road is carved away into a ragged drop. Fortunately, I have it pretty much to myself.
In Woodenbong, I stop for a while. This country contains layers of my life, each one blurring the clarity of previous layers. I visited this part of the world with an early boyfriend whose family had a dairy farm. I remember dense pine trees enclosing a circle of light; my hat, worn for reassurance; a sudden awakening from romance when he ignored me after a dramatic fall onto concrete. Later we came here to a Mt Barney cabin for a family weekend: long walks through grass tree country; an escaped calf; vast mountains of food. An early morning drive on another occasion with J through freezing air: a gloved picnic by a creek; early morning light hitting the hills ahead of us. These pieces of my past crowd my memory.
Mt Lindesay's shape becomes clearer; I hear the sharp call of the whipbird, and the song of bellbirds accompanies me as I drive around corners thick with treeferns. And then there is Mt Lindesay again, layered like an austere, slightly skewiff wedding cake; or a forbidding impregnable fortress; or maybe just like Mt Lindesay, indescribably dramatic.
I resist the call of the camera for a long time, but it finally becomes too insistent, and anyway I am suffering from phrase-making fatigue. I pull over and discover a gate I can easily open, just a chain wound round and slotted through itself. I walk up the track until I am face to face with the mountain (from this angle not at all reminiscent of any kind of wedding cake) and take those photos I'd forbidden myself.
The journey becomes less interesting after Rathdowney, and more car-infested. I am honked by an impatient carload of young men, and collect an unwelcome tail. However, I'm nearly there. I turn off the Brisbane road to the Mountain and soon I'm driving steeply through national parks and rainforest palms to the final familiarity of my son's place.
There doesn't appear to be anyone around. Then I hear a voice calling me, and my Most Beloved Senior Granddaughter emerges from a hammock strung between two trees near my caravan home, where she's been reading. My Most Beloved Senior Grandson erupts from the house, nearly as tall as me now, for a big hug. He says “You smell just the same, Nanny Meg”. I meet the budgerigar, Toggles, that he was longing for when I saw him last at Christmas, and the new hens. And I finally get an explanation of a huge pile in the drive, nearly as tall as the house, covered with tarps and surrounded by old surfboards. It's a skate ramp, waiting to be installed in the back yard.
My strategy for describing? I know my memory can't hold more than a few things at a time, so my journey was studded with pulling-off-the-road-and-jotting, whenever I had three phrases I needed to record. I'm dead certain this is not how Macfarlane proceeded!