He was used to sandy dunes and the low, restless push of the shrubs that dotted the coastal shores, ceaselessly shifting as the tides pulled back and forth. The horizon, distant and slightly curved, sometimes with cargo ships drifting past in the foreground, was a changeable blue. The hills that formed soft mounds had been cleared of any big trees long before he was born. There were trees and shrubs in the coastal town, but the feeling of seaspray and spaciousness was something he’d taken for granted.
But it was different here. His first impression was as close to claustrophobia that he’d felt in the outside world. Huge, towering gums, their trunks thicker than a man’s girth, seemed to press in against him. Tea-tree bushes, some of them taller than him, seemed cramped into any pocket of space, their sharp nettling branches reaching out to brush against him.
As he made his way along the narrow track, a rocky brown path that was under constant infringements from the encroaching bush, he pushed and shoved, one arm held out straight in a vain attempt to save his face from the whiplash of prickly shrubs and the sticky residue of spider webs, almost impossible to see in the greenish light. This must have been what it was like to discover a place, he thought, to push through despite the natural world resisting all of your efforts. But at least there was a track that he could follow, even if he wasn’t entirely sure about where it would take him.
A flicker of movement just ahead pulled him up short. Was it a snake? Or one of those huge, ancient lizards which moved with a speed incongruent with the size of their stubby legs? He waited, his heartbeat loud in his ears, but he couldn’t see anything else shift in the half-light.
He turned about slowly, breath rasping, suddenly desperate to be able to see more than a few metres ahead. He tipped his head back, eyes searching for a glimpse of the sky beyond the swaying khaki canopy. He listened hard, but all he could hear was the shifting of dry leaves, of long flaps of bark scraping against ancient trunks, the distant chirp of birds calling out a warning that he was yet to understand.
Photo: just a few of the millions of trees in the Blue Mountains National Park