I'm off to Cairns for my niece's wedding. But I journey slowly.
I drive along the highway beside the hoop of a Clarice Beckett rainbow in a Clarice Beckett sky. The high clouds are billows of grey overlaid with apricot, above them vivid slashes of orange, and along the mountain range horizon, an echoing horizon of leaden clouds. The base sky is a luminous grey.
I spend the night with my friend who sings with magpies. I feast on her view out over the Moruya river to the sea; and on kale (for the first time), a curried lentil-and-meat pie, and pear and poppyseed cake. I retreat to bed between crisp cotton sheets while she plays ukelele and recorder. The music flows downstairs, and for the first time nearly forever I go to sleep without a book in my hand.
In the morning we walk down to the wharf, past mangroves and reflections. The river winds its way to the mountains, peaceful in the morning light. A young girl on a bike passes us, gripping a fishing line and we wish her good luck. We chat and enjoy the silence and then I work up a sweat climbing the access stairs, past a plant that reminds me of fritillaries: practice for the steep road that leads to my Cairns cabin. Back at her place I look in awe at the garden she has created only eight months after moving in: at the swelling Jap pumpkins, the circular wood stepping stones, the tepee for climbing beans, the extraordinarily healthy looking strawberry plant, and the wonderful higgledy piggledy fence that keeps the macropods out. An elegant iron seat rescued from the tip looks out over the flat swirls of the Moruya River as it approaches the ocean.
We head into Moruya for coffee before I board the Sydney bus. I have a view through two windows. Through one the landscape has a pinky orangey glow, like bushfire light. Through the other it is a bluey grey, the difference replicating the colour propensities of my two cameras. Splats of rain run down the glass.
A woman moves into the seat beside me. I covertly assess her. About my age I think, maybe a year or two older. When we strike up a conversation, I discover she's 82. This is the second time I've made such an assessment lately. I've crossed an age border in my thinking. We begin to chat when the traffic slows to a crawl, and the bus begins its slow slide into ninety minutes late. As always, there are many fascinations in the life of a stranger. The sense of a village life in Kurnell, population 2000, bus service minimal, distance from Sydney's CBD 35 kilometres. A marriage between a traveller and a homebody. A collection of wine-makers in the family. The difficulties of talking to our children about end-of-life issues.
Finally the bus reaches Sydney as dusk falls and I capture a few city buildings with my iPhone and a train to my sister-in-law's in Blacktown. We yack and eat and wine (with unusual restraint) until 11. She is an avid and rigorous family historian and it is always good to catch up on the latest find or the latest brick wall, even though it isn't my blood family she's investigating. I see yet again how rich her life has been in experiences and in generosity. She is in a sense part-custodian of fifty years of my life, and my admiration for her deepens every time we spend time together.
In the morning I sit on the porch in the sun, idle and relaxed. The sun makes tiger shadows on my leg as it passes through the porch table. I notice the red veins in the leaves of the plan in the red and white striped pot and the nubby stripes where the leaves spray out. I begin to relax into thoughts of a holiday in the far north.