Story by Blair Paterson
If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of strength.
I’d like to take you to a special place. A place I’ve laughed and played, pondered and prayed, grown up and taken stock; a place I’ve been drawn back to many times, even if, like today, we will travel some distance. I haven’t been to this place for a while but I’m sure it holds all the magic and beauty of my younger years, and I’m quite thrilled as always at returning, but I’m extra thrilled today because I’m bringing you along.
I reckon we all have an inherent sense of wonder, which believe it or not is particularly obvious in you. I love to catch that look in your wide alert eyes as they flicker in search of ‘where to?’ and ‘what next?’ You are still young but I think it is time we both explore this ‘sense of wonder’ further.
Sometimes adults let our delight in the mysteries of the earth subside from our existence. The habit of treating ourselves with a nurturing visit to a place which is special becomes quashed by our busy lives. I try my best but I’m no prophet with regards to nurturing my own or anyone else’s sense of wonder. There will, however, be ample opportunity during today’s expedition of discovery for you and I to embrace whatever we want, including each other, at this magic place we’re going to, which I know as ‘The Rock’.
What is it that keeps drawing me back? There are lots of reasons we’ll talk about along the way but today I’m drawn back for another snippet of significance. During the next big roll of my own wheel-of-life I’m hoping to show the worth of visiting a place such as The Rock to someone special to me.
That someone special is you.
Hopefully I can warmly express the indulgences of my own sense of wonder, and hopefully there may be something of worth from the experience to help you develop your own sense of wonder and never let it subside as you grow.
Are you ready? I sure am! Let’s go!
We walk down the track cut along a slope between sandstone shelves and gum tree groves. I’ve walked this track so many times I could never forget where to place my feet. We walk a little further, across a plank and over the ravine. We watch our steps, we don’t want to fall. It’s very rocky down there and quite a drop into the bushes. We waltz through the clearing relieved that we have not fallen.
Here we are. I can already feel the comfort washing over me, as if being embraced by a loved one. We sit for a while, because that’s what you do on a rock, and look out over the river.
You’ll notice that The Rock is actually a series of sandstone ledges protruding from a cliff face. There are three main ledges at different heights above the river, similar to a high-diving tower at a swimming pool but much scarier for those afraid of heights. I know the ledges as top, middle and bottom rocks.
We’re sitting on the top rock. I first jumped into the river from here as a teenager after years of building up the courage. All the sensations of fear, adrenalin and peer pressure are flooding back. I remember standing on the edge while my friends and cousins coaxed me incessantly from the water below. I remember the feeling of my stomach lightening and the air rushing past as I leapt and plunged feet-first into the river. I remember taking an eternity before realising I should swim to the surface to breathe again. I remember my first jump was wondrous.
Along the track we just walked is the caravan park where I went with my family most weekends and school holidays right through my school years. Those years can be hard. Whenever I felt things became too much, I’d slip away and come up here to sit for a while. We don’t have a caravan anymore but in those days as a place of retreat The Rock was perfect because it was just a short walk away.
The Rock has such a pull for me that I still keep returning regardless of the distance I need to travel. The thrill and noise of jumping into the river is balanced by the tranquility and quietness of sitting.
Take a look over the edge. Be careful though. Quite spine tingling, isn’t it? I can sense you think so by your body language – as you draw breath you tuck your chin into your neck, pull your head back between your shoulders and shift your balance onto your heels. You squeeze my hand and tell me you think it’s really high and I agree wholeheartedly. Don’t worry though, I’m right here beside you, I won’t let you fall.
Isn’t there something powerful and awe-inspiring about standing unguarded on the precipice of a high, naturally formed rock-ledge? There is a sense that one’s own existence is balanced precariously between life and death in a way which somehow binds us to the raw elements of Nature Herself. Bound to a solid, powerful and enduring Nature over time and space, yes, but also bound to a fragile, vulnerable and complex Nature as a part of an organism in balance with Her own delicate existence between life and death. You are standing on the rock-ledge with your senses starting to open to your surroundings. I’m still here beside you. I feel it too.
While you’re standing on the ledge I hear you murmuring quietly and meditatively to yourself, about how your senses are engaged in the moment:
“I hear the water lapping softly against the rocks below, sounds which thump louder than I thought possible. I feel the breeze blow up from the river and tingle so sharply against my skin that I’m frozen in a dilemma about which part of my body to rub first. I stare as long as I can at the sun reflecting on the water but the glare is too much. I look away only to be dazzled by the movement of the rustling leaves in the trees. The same breeze is energising me where I stand. As more and more noises bang, clatter and compete in the amphitheatres of my ears I cannot help humming just to emphasize the rhythm of my own breathing and living. Through the soles of my bare feet I can feel the baking heat of the sun radiating from the lichen-covered rock.”
Are you beginning to feel an inkling that you are a binding part of this organism of Nature? I sense you are starting to, my child.
You are a tree, a little sapling. Your branches reach up and sprout leaves to take in the light and warmth you need for vitality and oomph. Your roots burrow down to lay foundations on which I hope you can base a long life blowing in the breeze and, without greed, let you to drink in all the nutrients and replenishment you require.
I bet you can smell the brackishness of the river below. Do you want to taste it? Would you like to jump?