All the World is Green - A Walk on Victoria's Lochside Trail
26 May 2010 · by Brennan Storr · Be the first to comment!
I lay no claim to the title of Outdoorsman. Some people, my good friends Scott & Rose, for example, are at home in the natural world. They run for fun (for fun!) and voluntarily spend time sweating under that awful orange ball in the sky photographing savage, toothy things whereas I am most comfortable somewhere quiet and air-conditioned where the most savage thing I’m likely to encounter is a poorly-made daiquiri.
The most vivid memory I have of the hiking trip Scott & I made in Joshua Tree National Park last spring is the sound of a rattlesnake communicating his displeasure at my proximity. Scott grew up in the desert and so being used to these kinds of things said only, “That’s a big snake”. I am a child of the mountains, where the things that can kill you are much larger and more easily avoided so my response to standing directly over a predator was one that came naturally: bowel-loosening panic.
When I saw on the National Geographic channel that there exists somewhere in the world a spider the size of a dinner plate I knew right away that the next time I needed groceries it would be waiting for me by the schoolyard fence, wearing a torn denim jacket and smoking a cigarette. Just two weeks ago I looked towards my empty fridge and had my coat on to make a run for supplies when I remembered what David Attenborough had said about the Bird Eating Spider’s abilities with a butterfly knife. I ordered a pizza instead. Knowing all this, two weeks ago Nicky still asked me to come out with her for a walk on the Lochside trail: “Your skin looks like crepe paper and if you get any paler light will shine through you. Come on, off the couch.”
It's a what? Oh, I get it now.
The Lochside Trail runs thirty kilometres from Vic West to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, providing a peaceful place for addicts to rob passersby and narrow-hipped women wearing spandex and grim expressions to feel morally superior. There is a sign at the trail entrance depicting a man walking which I foolishly took to mean that walking on the path was acceptable. Obviously I misread that entirely because every six seconds the shrill cry of “coming through” would fill the air and a man in dayglo top and unfortunate shorts would pass by, shooting us a look that suggested we had been occupying the entire path instead of tightly hugging the right-side fence like we were chimpanzees hunting for grubs. Several times I demanded to know where these peddling pedants would have us walk but got no reply save for a view that looked very much like two hams tumbling around in a lycra sack.
From caterpillar to post. Oh how I
do go on.
These encounters tapered off after a couple kilometres and accompanied only by the serene hum of nature even I had started to relax. The chirp of birds, the buzzing of insects and the sun on my back; maybe the outdoors really were great and the redness of nature’s tooth and claw came from eating punnets of strawberries rather than one another. Before long a noise insinuated itself into my fragile peace, faintly at first but increasing in intensity the further we walked. Neither Nic nor I could identify this unnatural “whooshing” sound until we came upon a break in the shrubbery and saw an elderly man wielding what appeared to be a flamethrower.
Yes, you read that right. I am not flashing back to the time I watched Apocalypse Now on mushrooms. I am not telling what my darling wife calls “porky pies”. This old man had a stick that produced gouts of flame and he looked determined to do whatever the situation required, be it chase Victor Charlie from the trees and reclaim Indochina or revenge himself on the clematis that had killed his brother. I thought about stopping and asking the old man just what exactly he had in mind but his hands didn’t look as steady as I would have liked for someone wielding an instrument of death. I wasn’t interested in getting any closer to the burn ward than necessary so we kept walking and left Don Quixote to torch some windmills.
Eventually we reached the Blenkinsop Trestle, 288 metres of wooden bridge that extends over Blenkinsop Lake. We paused here for Nic to take some pictures and I rested against the bridge’s railing. On the surface of the water I could see dragonflies chasing each other amongst the water lilies and ripples of movement beneath the surface that I assumed were fish going about their aquatic business. For the moment nothing was trying to eat me; nothing was trying to inject venom into my legs in a bid to test out my travel insurance, no tigers jumped from the water to avenge their mistreatment at the hands of Siegfried & Roy. In fact the most dangerous, and irritating, thing out there seemed to be man himself.
On that same trip to southern California Scott & I hiked into the desert early one morning and on an outcropping of rocks high above the ground enjoyed a can of Tecate beer in the warm silence. I felt this same kind of comfortable stillness then, a sublime sense of belonging in the natural world. Maybe even, as the man said, I felt that that the universe is unfolding as it should. I’m not an outdoorsman and the world is indeed full of fanged creatures that prowl the shadows of night and the halls of Congress but, they’re all just doing what that mysterious workman in the sky decided would come naturally. There was no malice involved, unlike the cyclist who just then whizzed past, nearly knocking me down. Before speeding off, he shot me a look that in no way said, “Sorry, my fault”. And so I found myself again doing that which comes naturally; I flipped him the bird. Mature? No. But satisfying.