28 July 2008

ash hibbert


The night air was lukewarm, and the unshielded sky revealed the summer heavens.

Relaxed, I walked through the small tree-lined park, with Jonsie - my sheepdog - scouting out the nearby trunks. Darkness owned the reserve; the only source of illumination was streetlights in the distance, and stars from the moonless dome above.

Stones of the path crunched beneath foot. A dog barked in the distance, joined by another. A family laughing and talking, a car sped across the road ahead of me where the path ended: the town’s perimeter, the backwater, hiding in a secluded, warm corner facing rolling hills, paddocks, beyond an initial plantation of huge eucalypt, pines, and wattle.

A faint breeze carried the smell of summer’s dawn, spring’s dusk and the waning hours of Thursday. The sun had set an hour ago left a faint reminder on the horizon I was aiming for.

The small park sat in a gully between the ends of two courts - the better part of town. The road I was approaching shared the gully, dipping and rising in equal measures.

I looked instinctively for Jonsie as we approached the road – and found him sniffing large branches felled from the huge natives above us. He stared expectantly after giving up trying to lift one of them, looking for what direction I would choose.

On a whim, I walked on ahead, across the road and into the paddock. We had both walked this area of town countless times on nights similar to this one, which hung around us like a gentle, haunting tune, but we had rarely traversed the area beyond the road, over past the line of trees and shrubs where the paddocks began - and only at day.

I called to Jonsie who had begun up the path, and he turned, quickly intercepting me as I crossed the road. We passed beyond the trees together, into the fallow field.

Stumbling on the unfamiliar terrain, we eventually reached the even-mowed plateau of the oval. It was empty, vacant, and silent. With certain steps, I walked forth, letting my feet plot an invisible path across the open space.

Then the solitude descended, heavier than before. I felt at peace, alone, beyond the conventions of town and home. I breathed deep, letting my muscles relax, and my guard - down. I opened to the universe, and the night’s haunting tune.

The coolness gave a sense of stasis, of stillness, of time stopped. I felt like a diver entering the airless world of a pool, in a world that prohibited breath.

With the solace of silence almost complete, something else took its place like a stranger’s face recalled from a childhood dream.

I slowed down, and stopped completely.

Jonsie ceased trotting and turning to stare up at me, as if he too felt it, yet was surprised that I did as well. I looked around. On the perimeter of the oval to my left, the ground rose rapidly, crowned by a line of pine. To my right, the ground rose as well, yet sharper and higher, blotting out the lights of the town. If I kept walking, I would come upon a tall line of fencing. Turning around 180 degrees, I saw the steady ascent that would lead me either back home. Town, however, seemed distant. The sound of cars had dropped to an almost silent background, and my breathing and the beating of my heart grew surreal, like a needle dropped in a domed amphitheatre. I felt isolated, alone, as if I was the alien, and the new emotions native. I was vulnerable - yet not threatened. I stood within a nexus, where town and wilderness met.

I stood by a window, blinded by an unworldly glare, staring out. It was as if waiting just over the tip of the hill, to the West, where the pines lined up, an army awaited - a stationary force in another world, watching me. The feeling of their stare hung over me, descending like a net, running in me, like a million tiny spheres spinning around onto every surface of my body and racing down my blood stream, into my heart and head.

Invasion, I thought. It was like some extra-terrestrial force, scanning their first encounter. Yet then I realized that it was no violent entity – rather, the maelstroms that spun within me like a tiny whirlpool, whispering to me - a primitive nomad who had drifted from the safety of the herd – had always been there. It was something subtle, frightening, and even angelic.

I glanced upwards instinctively, and it was as if suddenly, just for a moment, the stars flared up. Then the brightness died away, back to the interrupted darkness of the sky.

I called out to Jonsie, and together we headed east.

Back to town - back to the herd.

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