Monday, June 15, 2009

Short Story - Tasmanian Wilderness

Researching the background material for a short story is a journey of discovery. The information about tiny plants and huge animals creates a sense of wonderment that one can not have simply by going there in the early spring, which is the time I had available for such a trip.

Included are some of the pictures of the bladderworts that live in this heath land of north-western Tasmania, a land still in hibernation when I trekked there in October 2005.

These beautiful buds are carnivorous. Just under the water on each stem is a little bladder that catches microscopic fish and insects. The plant then absorbs nutrients from the caught-creature to supplement its diet. Even though plants here have a very difficult time getting ‘enough’ from the nutrient poor soils of the heathland, evolution has provided them with alternative methods of feeding themselves.

Doesn’t that fact just leave you in awe of nature’s ability to take care of itself? This resilience and evolution remind me of an adage about how nature reacts to each individual in a species. Mountaineers will tell you “the mountain doesn’t care.”

In the midst of undeniable beauty, I felt pushed to develop a short story titled The Mountain Doesn’t Care.

When you note the lovely fairy aprons in the picture beside this entry, you may note that great beauty is often used in nature to ensure survival. However, as I found in my research, it takes a certain level of endurance and resilience to really survive in this wilderness, indeed, in all wilderness.

As I completed my research, there was an article in the 10 October Brisbane Courier-Mail about a trekker gone missing in the Cradle Mountain area. A local man set out on a 25 kilometer hike. The weather conditions in this part of the planet are such that one had better be well prepared to take such a hike solo. When he did not return to his car at the end of the day, searchers set out to find him. It is my understanding based on an interview with a Cradle Mountain ranger that it takes twelve men to bring an injured trekker home.

Notice in the picture of the Fairie Aprons, the sweet little carnivorous bladderworts, that there is not one, but an entire community of plants surviving in the area. There is surely something to be said for strength in numbers.

In the introduction to this essay, I make reference to the large marsupials of the Cradle Valley area. The pademelons and the wallabies are not large. The wombats, on the other hand, are larger than life. As we hiked along the heathland just above Marion’s Landing, we encountered a meter long wombat grazing on the button grass. He was not certain that he wanted to move to allow us to pass.

We waited; we were sure we did not want to disturb his lunch. The land around us was very wet, swamp soggy. Since we were not wearing gum boots and had a long way to hike before the end of the day, we decided to wait rather than take the chance of sinking into the mud over the tops of our hiking boots. Eventually, the wombat grunted and moved to the heath allowing us to pass.

In 1972 I had my first wilderness encounter while on a backpacking trip with my five year old daughter, my husband, and friends in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon. Although I have never been on an expedition, I have read widely of those who travel the high peaks of the planet. My favorite, Annapurna: A Woman’s Place, by Arlene Blume, is an excellent commentary on women’s experience with the wilderness. She is a role model in every aspect – as an author, as a leader, as a woman.

The last thirty three years of experiences in the wilderness have provided me with a great many women’s tales that need telling. For instance, I had an unfortunate experience with a milk crate on 4 July 2004, a friendly reminder that my body is not immortal. I broke my first bone. A 2.5 centimetre spiral break in the fifth metatarsal of my left foot endangered my trekking career.

My ‘accident’ convinced me that a story about a woman trekker who had an accident would be most appropriate. Ten days on Fraser Island in August at the Social Artistry Australia Intensive added to my resolve that this short story should become a novel. A conversation with Niccola, a fellow student, as we walked to our cars after class convinced me that a broken foot would be perfect. The mother of a friend of Niccola’s had sprained her ankle while on a trek in Cradle Mountain Wilderness last February and had to be airlifted to Launceston the next day.

This conversation led to my approaching my partner about taking four days to trek at Cradle Mountain. He agreed. I made reservations. We flew. The weather gods rained, sleeted, and suddenly offered intermittent sunshine. We had two days of trekking.

At one point, while trekking alone around Dove Lake, my mind was so immersed in the story that I stumbled and fell. It is important to be careful of what one asks for!

Although most of the research into the flora and fauna of Cradle Mountain was done on the Web, interviews with Cradle Mountain Lodge personnel and Wilderness rangers were helpful in discovering how emergency measures occur when there is an accident.

All of the research has been useful in creating an ambiance about the setting and possible conflicts with the natural environment. Meeting other hikers on the two days of our trek was very useful in creating personas for background characters; Australians do have a recognisable persona.

Researching on line makes me aware that one piece of research sends me off on tangents, some of which are useful; some of which are not. The travel to Cradle Mountain was instructive. I had no idea about locals’ attitude about ‘time’ in the bush of Australia.

The story, which will appear in the next blog entry, has been written three times, the last time while in Tasmania on a stormy Monday.