Well, it was nice to get out of the attic and roam around Tassie for a while: we hauled backpacks through Cradle Mountain National Park, then visited the sights in and around Hobart. My family then left and I spent six days alone in the northeast of Tassie, writing.
I feel rejuvenated — spending time in the wilderness does that for me. It’s physically tiring, but my mind craves it. For me, nature replenishes in a way nothing else can — craggy mountains, untouched rainforest, wildflowers, still lakes, even the brisk cold is revitalising. It has a way of clearing my head, bringing me back down to earth but also uplifting me, freshening me when I’m stale.
I live in a suburb of Perth near both coast and bushland. I walk everyday, through the bushland and up over the sand dune to the beach. Everyday, I smell the peppermint gums and see the blue of the ocean, and it helps top me up. But it was re-energising to visit Tassie and walk in true wilderness on the mountains again.
While I was away, I finished the second draft of my novel. I stayed in a little cottage at Branxholm, a picturesque town in the northeast.
The cottages were perfect for writing — set next to a paddock with llamas and beyond that, the river. I could hear the llamas honking and the rapids of the river as I worked. I wrote outside during the day, with the birds and the llamas for company, and walked by the river — actually, I limped as I’d hurt my foot on the Cradle Mountain trek — amidst manferns and rainforest, and absorbed the sights and smells and sounds.
The funny thing was, everything was just how I remembered it from childhood. For example, in my novel I’d already described the river as across a paddock, through a line of trees, and then down over the rocks. And that’s exactly how it was …
I was alone at the cottage. Completely. For the first time I ever remember. I’d been away without my family before, but to conferences with other people. This was totally solo. It felt weird and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t lonely. I thought I’d love the solitude and had been looking forward to it, but it felt strange to not have my day dictated by kids’ schedules, to have no noise to distract, no mess or clutter to clear, no cooking or washing for six …
What’s more, I couldn’t shake the feeling of emptiness at not having my family with me. As soon as I dropped them off at the airport, I felt desolate. The drive up north was the loneliest drive I’ve ever undertaken. My heart felt heavy indeed.
Yet it was good for writing — I got more done in six days than I could do in six weeks at home. And I had space, the mental space that only solitude provides. I decided that I want my cake and eat it, too: I want my family around me, but I want them to leave me alone and give me space when I want to write. (Did you hear that, kids?)
There were things I’d forgotten from when I lived in Tasmania — like how green it is. I took mental snapshots on the journey up, marvelling at how many shades of green there can be in one vista. By the time I left, I’d already grown used to it. The green no longer seemed so vibrant. That’s what happens, I guess — you get used to something and stop noticing.
Apart from the loneliness, returning to Tassie always evokes mixed feelings for me. I wanted to feel like I’d come home, like I was back in a nurturing bosom, amongst the familiar. I wanted to feel a longing for it, a love for it again, like this was still part of me, still in my soul. Instead, I think I love Tasmania in the way you love a cranky old relative — you miss them, but as soon as you see them again, you’re reminded of why you live apart.
Going back always brings back memories, good and bad. Even the good ones now bring with them a sense of loss for the happy times that can’t ever be again. Everywhere I drove or walked was so familiar that I felt as if I’d walked it before, but this time I was alone. I missed the people who were with me in the past but are no longer with me now — especially my father. When I saw the river, I knew he would have been the first one in for a swim, and as I walked its windy route, I could picture him with his line in, hooking a trout.
There was a sense of loss for the past that has gone and can never return, and at times that became quite overwhelming …
But there was also a sense of distance from the place, too. I used to feel like Tassie was part of me, and whenever I returned or saw photos of it, I felt a sense of longing and yearning. I didn’t get that this time. I’ve moved on, I have a new home. I didn’t feel the longing for it in the way I used to, and that made me sad, too. That I no longer felt that way about my birth state.
I will go back — I want to go back in winter, when the sky is clear but the air is so cold you can see your breath. When the grass is white and everything is crisp with frost. When the mist doesn’t lift the whole day and all you can see is thick, white fog. I want to feel it again, even with the memories.