Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

The Big Rock

Written 27 September

Driving in on the highway, about 70 km out, a shape appears in the distance. Flat top, large rock of a mountain sticking up out of the surrounding flat grassland. For the size Uluru is supposed to be, seeing it this far out seems a bit unlikely. And it is. The tabletop mountain in the distance is Mt. Connor, or as it is affectionately known, Fooluru.

Half an hour later as we approach the park, the real deal appears in the distance. It appears suddenly large on the horizon rather than as a dot that slowly grows in size. Off through 15km of haze it appears different than I expected. It is supposed to be a giant red rock in the desert. None of it seems right.

For starters, this doesn’t feel like desert. It is by rainfall percentages. But the plants out here are resilient. Clever. Tough flora that have evolved numerous creative ways of surviving in red sand. It isn’t even in red sand. It is red dust. Sand is heavy and made of silica. The dirt out here is former rocks and sediment so old that all of the useful nutrients and organic matter has long since been leeched away. All that is left is the iron dust that blows around the country as it has for millions of years. And growing out of the flat expanse of dust is spinifex grass, bushes, shrubs, and trees. The yellow grass has a hint of green to it. The leaves of the bushes much more than a hint. And the tree leaves are straight up forest green. This is a very strange desert indeed.

And beyond all of those shades of green stands a monument of rock. That it is a giant rock I cannot deny. But that it is red seems a bit off. It is a faded color of rust with the iron in the rock having been weathered and oxidized. The red color that appears in the pictures is a trick of photography amplified by shots being taken only at sunrise and sunset.

It is hard to even believe it is real. Through tens of kilometers of atmosphere the rock has a blue haze. The color is that of a bad western backdrop. A slightly blue-tinged orange and burnt sienna shade painted onto a cloudy blue background that just seems a bit too picturesque to be real. And the shape of the rock, that it is the only thing in my field of view above the horizon looks like an error on the part of the painter.

As we drive closer it doesn’t really perceptibly change, though every kilometer something seems a bit different. It gets larger, sure. But as the haze diminishes, the colors become ever more vibrant. It becomes more real. The ridges and folds stop being painted on and start actually having a texture. And by the time we’ve parked at the base, the rock known around the world has a bit more of a perceptible feel to it.

The oddest thing about it is the lack of vegetation. At parts where cracks run up from the base a bit some plants have taken root. And in a couple pockmarked crevices some select greenery has managed to survive. But for the most part this is a bare surface. The shingles of raised rock are darker than the general surface around them, and the places where water runs off the top in the rains are marked by black streaks, possibly a sign of the pollution in the air or possibly just a sign of other elements being washed down over the millennia. But aside from these colors, aside from the crevices and caves dotting the surface, nothing else is here. There is no tree line. There is no point where smaller shrubs take over from larger plants due to the alpine environment. There is simply nothing but rock above the tops of the trees growing around the base.

It is an impressive sight to behold. As far off the beaten track as it is, as long a drive as it was to get here, I’m glad that I did it. It isn’t the life-changing visage that some people have raved it to be, but it is stunning and weighty. I cannot deny that. But even in looking at it now I can understand why no one was really able to sell me on it. The rock is much longer than it is tall. This means photographs will have to be pretty creative to make it look interesting. There is nothing around it, which while making it more impressive to see, also makes pictures less compelling. And there isn’t much to say about it in a brief manner other than, “It is a giant rock in the middle of flat desert.” Sure, it sounds like something, but it doesn’t quite sound as significant as it feels to sit here at ground level.

Here at the base it extends further in each direction than my field of vision. The color is dull and vibrant at the same time. The clouds passing overhead create light patches that float over the surface, illustrating an ever changing array of spots I should behold. The surfaces look largely flat but simultaneously textured. The rock immediately in front of me seems clear enough that I could reach out and touch it, but the sides at the limits of my vision are already far enough away that they are starting to develop a slight blue haze. The rock is a movie screen I’m sitting too close to. And above it floats effortless clouds in a perfectly sky-blue sky. The air smells clean. The temperature is hot, but a light breeze is keeping me cool. The sounds of steps on the fine gravel of the car-park have a fittingly textured feel for the look of the stone. Everything around is colorful and yet muted. Green, orange, yellow, blue – all light, all soft, all almost pastel. Taking a deep breath here I feel it. I feel every bit of being here. I am in the Outback and I am soaking it in.

There is a reason the pictures don’t do Uluru justice and the descriptions don’t seem to explain it. It isn’t just a visual thing. And it isn’t just a language thing. There is a feel to the place. There is a smell. There is a sound. Just sitting at the base of this rock is a full-sensory experience. I am here to soak it in.

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This entry was posted on October 15, 2012 by in Australia, Northern Territory (Darwin), Outback and tagged , .

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