A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
Written 23 August
What is it about a place that makes it resonate with a person?
Magnetic Island is a destination in Australia that is on the tourist track, but not on the main one. Everyone who’s been here seems to think it an essential stop. Spend a few days on the island that is more than 50% national park. See koalas in the wild. Snorkel at reef-fringed bays in clear water. Hike the trails between the bays. Relax in the sun or get your exercise. On paper it sounds like it has something for everyone without actually having everyone.
And in a way, it does. None of the statements are wrong. And it should be something I am all about.
And yet I walked for a few hours yesterday without much change in my mood. I didn’t feel remote and rugged despite the fact that I would go for half an hour without seeing someone else. I didn’t feel relaxed on the beaches. There were enough people that I couldn’t set up shop far enough away from them, but not so many that it is expected that you are going to be close to the next people. The clouds in the sky didn’t help me take better pictures, they just made the water look less pretty. When they broke, the sun beat down with intensity. I could tell where I hadn’t applied sunblock instantly by the feeling of my skin doing a slow char. The intermittent rain over the past few days meant the waters weren’t particularly clear.
I walked the trails hoping for pictures worth taking. I couldn’t find them. Did that mean they weren’t there, or that because I was in a disconnected mood I couldn’t see them?
I hiked through scrub and eucalypt sparsity over boulders looking down on bays, trying to reconnect to my energy. I love the outdoors, and hiking, and sometimes enjoy this type of terrain. And yet this all did nothing for me other than make me aware that my legs are in remarkably good shape.
It was half way through the loop that I had my first rise in mood. Oddly enough, it came from talking to the mechanic who has my car. I brought it in for a check engine light. His diagnosis is a new tire, replacing lights, clean the fuel injector, flush the brake fluid, and replace the air filter and oil. And the check engine light is referring to a problem that won’t affect performance or cause me to break down, so ignore it. It will cost me a few hundred more in repairs that I wanted, but it is an answer, and a confirmation that my car won’t kill me in the remoteness of this country. I call that a victory of sorts. Certainly enough of a win, and enough of a human connection, that I started to feel tapped back in.
Immediately after – ECHIDNA! Possibly my favorite Aussie animal, this monotreme (mammal that lays eggs: platypus and echidna only) looks like a cute cross between a porcupine and an aardvark. I cannot quite explain why I find them so adorable. He was burrowing for food unaffected by my presence. I gingerly strode past him and turned around for head on shots. No reaction. I lay down to get direct face to face shots. He just moved along his path which was my direction. Too close for my camera to focus, I just watched him burrow and move on. He came up, sniffed my camera, nuzzled it, then moved on. I held out my hand a few inches off the ground and he squeezed under it. I didn’t pet him, he did it himself. As he moved down the path his back feet pointed at me the same way his front had in the approach. Apparently they are attached backwards to most animals. They aren’t running feet. He would pretty much be pooched in a high speed chase. But they are digging feet, and he can dig in any direction without repositioning his body. Clever.
Despite the cuteness and excitement of this connection, my affect went back to near nil once he was gone. I was on a ridgeline, looking down on boulder strewn bays, water lapping at beaches isolated by outcroppings of giant sandstone rocks topped by sparse, tall pines. The area looked like the image of Alaska in my head, some idealized remote rocky and pine wilderness. The difference being the clear and relatively unfreezing waters here. And yet my ability to connect with it, to feel inestimable bliss solely by being surrounded by it, was gone. I’ve had hikes that feel epic. I’ve had ones that felt like an expression of the beauty of the universe wrapping me up like a fleece blanket. There have been treks that felt a manifestation of just how awesome and strong and hardcore I am.
And there have been hikes like this one. Solo. Alone. Detached. Scenery that didn’t really impress upon me any grandeur or emotion. Sometimes it is because it isn’t particularly inspiring scenery. Sometimes, like today, it seems like there is some mental block. Some reason I can’t connect with the land and exercise.
The last few hours of the hike were up to old military forts on a lookout mountain over the bays. Along the way were a few koalas in trees, and the requisite stop to take a hundred pictures in the hopes that one of them will come out as the quintessential “Yes, I was in Australia!” picture. From the top the view was vast. And with the storm clouds rolling in over the bays and up the hills, slowly eclipsing my view and giving me the thrill of knowing that I was 90 minutes from the hostel with about 40 minutes of daylight left. I took a final look out over the landscape that looked more glacially created than volcanic, felt chagrin over my tendency to push my time limits with hiking and sunset, and walked back down at a brisk pace.
If the hikes through the forests hadn’t quite connected me, the last stretch home over country road wasn’t going to. I put in headphones and searched for musical inspiration. I found as much solace there as I had in nature.