Thursday, April 13, 2006

Joys of Exploration

It has been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the creeks and forests of a place, discarded by developers and home builders. Growing up in suburban neighborhoods in the midst of development meant that, temporarily, some places existed undisturbed. Had they not, however, the child’s imagination could take charge and turn the known into the unknown. The joy of exploration is about discovery and there is a bigger pay off if you’re the first to find out, even if your trail blazing is only imaginary.

I’ve grown accustomed to my adult explorations taking the shape of finding a favorite café, walk, or hidden corner in the library. In most urban cities you’d be hard pressed to find an un-trodden trail or abandoned valley or forest floor. In a lot of cases the sheer number of explorers makes it difficult for a place to appear forgotten or overlooked; well worn foot paths hardly allow room for improvisation.

Thankfully, Wellington still has rocks to overturn and discoveries to be made—literally. The topography demands that certain areas resist man’s temptation to develop. In other cases, habitat is protected for wildlife. Park areas have been set aside but only a few of the most popular are maintained. There are still many forests and small valleys that have no grand entrance or paved paths. The inroads are hidden and out of the way, which means that visitors are rare and the forest has a chance to establish its own, unique character, no matter if it was once disrupted.

Dacia and I have wandered along many paths only to find them dissolve or branch into different directions. In some cases the way ahead is blocked but other times we’ve been able to continue along with only our sense of direction and enthusiasm leading the way. We have gone ahead, not knowing if we’ll have to turn back, retracing the same steps. We’ve persisted and risked the fading light at day’s end would catch us too soon and leave us in the dark. I’m dramatizing to some extent, but this a country where reports of hikers gone missing are in the news repeatedly. What a feeling, then, to push on and emerge on the other side in a completely new place. Even a known place reached by an unknown route is a success and cause for celebration.

This morning we headed up into the woods just a few blocks from our house where a path picks up at the end of a residential road. The trees have been cleared, but grasses and plants have grown in over the trail so it’s obvious that visits like ours are rare. We enter a valley that is narrowing. Gradually the sounds of the city are replaced by the rustling of our footsteps, the distant wind heard in the trees along the ridge above and the wondrous bird calls. We’ve come to recognize a few of the most common calls like that of the Tui. They never cease to sound extaordinary though. Instead I’m compelled to listen closer to the striking liquid melody—imagine a tiny brook with the water sounds amplified and musical—that’s just the beginning.

On the ground we see a handful of Amanita mushrooms scattered around—the quintessential speckled red topped poisonous (or hallucinogenic) variety. This is an old stream bed that has been filled in, the water redirected to deliver the wetness away from the houses down below. A little farther we see the stream disappearing into its catchment. Just then, a red and green flash in the tree tops. Dacia spots two Kakarikis, yellow-crowned parakeets. They walk along branches with longs tails flipping back and forth, pigeon-toed. Their fluttery, awkward flight between trees is no less comical. The two are keeping together and rummaging through the branches for food. It’s odd in a forest of so many bird sounds that these two are utterly silent. Though not endangered this is a rare sighting within the city and a first for us--we’re thrilled. Before we can get a closer look they fly off, up towards the ridge.

The path is eventually swallowed by the creek and we continue on from rock to rock. An old, rusty, round 50’s era washing machine with rollers lays half buried. An even larger metal object is sunk into the earth not revealing enough for identification. These abandoned household items and junk—a rotting leather boot, broken plastic bucket—are signs that we’ve reached the real backyard of Wellington, the place behind the shed where stuff is tossed and forgotten. Uncovering these lost objects in their final resting place ignites the excitement of discovery. Though it’s not the ocean floor, and these aren’t gold coins spilling accidentally from a sunken treasure chest, it makes me feel there’s room for happy accidents and untold pleasures.

On our way out, Dacia slips on the mossy rocks leading around a deep pool. I hear a ker-splash and look back to see her knee-deep in the dark water. Luckily she’s wearing a skirt and the only thing wet are her shoes and socks. As soon as she’s back out and on solid ground she takes them off without complaint and continues on foot. What a delight, it turns out. Unexpectedly, her bare feet thrive on the soft grasses, damp earth and even the sidewalk all the way home. Perhaps this was the plan all along.

“Do you want to go for a walk this morning?”

“Yeah, let’s go see what we can find.”


At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Ema said...

Ahhh - I so enjoy reading your posts, you two. What a wonderful thing to discover - and right in your back yard! Especially considering the closest thing to connecting with childhood discovery for me lately has been hooking up the old NES. So glad you found a place to call home - it looks wonderful.


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