“The result of these walks on my head is tangible: they refined what I can see.”
– Alexandra Horowitz
Date 29th August
I was meant to leave town and camp, but instead of doing that I decided to do two days walk (15km) in one day so I could stay at May’s again. It did seem kind of silly to walk just 7km from a nice warm bed and May’s kindness to camp in a yucky-looking rest stop on the side of the road with no showers.
I walked with my small Roman pack that Ash had brought for me, just so I could carry my water bottles, book and lunch. I wished I’d taken my orange dry bag with me because I felt kind of vulnerable without it, like people couldn’t see me. Really though, I’m not actually sure that having a high-vis thing flapping around makes any difference. People still drive waaaay too close to me when they don’t need to. I’ve started to wonder if they even see me at all. One man stopped in a ute though, so obviously he saw me. He wanted to know if I was ok. A lot of people beeped and waved too. I wondered about that. Did they know who I was?
There were 3 dead barn owls at different spots, which made me a bit sad. Normally I take dead animals off the road and lay them down in what I think is nice resting place and tell them that I’m sorry they died needlessly. I didn’t do that for the barn owls because there wasn’t much room to bend down and pick them up….also, they were a bit stinky, so I just said sorry to them and left them were they were.
On the way back into town I went to Gloria Jeans and had a coffee and read my book for a while (Songlines by Bruce Chatwin). It was an effort to just sit there by myself without wandering up to another customer to strike up a conversation. Funny how I feel like it’s ok to do that in a pub, but it’s not ok to do that in a coffee shop.
I tried once to talk to a man sitting by himself in a coffee shop several years ago. He was at a table next to me and I was by myself too, so I leaned a little way over to him and said with a smile, “Nice ink,” indicating with my eyes, the awesome tattoos on his legs. He was just an everyday-looking kind of guy, much the way you’d imagine someone’s dad would look. He put his cup down, took a breath, turned towards me and lit me with a hateful glare, after which he went back to drinking his coffee as though I never existed. That day I actually didn’t look like I’d just fallen out of a tree like I usually did because I’d been to a meeting, so I had on my good duds, and even some makeup, so I felt like I shouldn’t really frighten anyone off, but argh, I was wrong.
“What, are you too good to talk to me then?” I asked.
“I didn’t hear you,” he claimed.
“Oh, don’t you know how to say ‘pardon’ or ‘excuse me’?” I asked, because I knew he was lying.
He went back to staring straight ahead, finished his coffee and got up and left. It was a weird experience and I’ve never forgotten it. It often features in my mind when I’m deciding if I should approach a stranger to say hello. Ninety nine percent of the time I don’t let it stop me, but sometimes, sometimes it colours my experience of the world in a way that I wish it didn’t, although, for the hundreds and hundreds of strangers I’ve struck up conversations with since that experience, no one has ever done what he did. Sure, some people don’t feel like talking, some people are rude (never outwardly though), some people are shy, but nothing has ever come close to the coffee shop morning with old mate and his tattooed legs. I wonder what ever happened to him? A better question would probably be: Do I even care?
I didn’t feel like going straight back to May’s so I went wandering around the shopping centre in the hope of finding a few things I needed. I couldn’t find them and I when I saw an elderly man sitting on a couch I could help but want to talk to him. He was scratching some scratchie tickets.
“Got a winner?” I asked.
“Not really. I bought a few and now I’ve broke even. I’m trying to decide now if I will go back and get another, but if I do and I don’t win, then I’ve lost money. I don’t want to do that,” he said
He told me he was waiting for his wife and asked me if I was waiting for my husband. I told him that my husband wasn’t there and how I was walking and stuff. We got talking about animals and he told me about his cat that died and how sad he was about it and that it happened a long time ago, but still couldn’t get over it. He also told me about his blue heeler and that it looked like a wombat because it was so fat. That made me laugh because our blue heeler, Congo looked like a wombat when we first got him. “Yeah, I know what you mean! Ours was one width all the way through too!” We both laughed.
He said he was worried about his fat dog because his last blue heeler had a heart attack one day when he was walking it. “I did mouth-to-nose resuscitation and pressed on his chest. He came back to life, but the vet said I should have let him go and we had to put him down in the end anyway. It was really hard. I hate when animals die because I really love them. I suppose I shouldn’t get so upset about it. I’m just a big softy.”
“You’re not soft. That’s just what it means to be human,” I said.
His wife came then and he told that I was doing the walk. She gave me one donation, then after a few minutes got another donation out of her purse. She said her sister died from brain cancer a long time ago. “It was my job to look after her and make sure she didn’t hit her head. One day we were in the trailer and as we were going along, she fell off. I thought I’d killed her, but she was ok,” she said.
They told me some stories about a few things that weren’t very nice and it made me feel sad in a way that is hard to describe. “People think that stuff like that happens only in the movies, but it doesn’t, it really happens in real life,” she said. I don’t think I’ll ever forget them. I thought about how lucky I was to have met them that day.
After the shopping centre I went wandering around town a bit. I visited the art gallery and tourist information centre. The whole town smells like roasting peanuts! It’s awesome!
On the way back to May’s I saw a radio station. I walked past it and thought do I want to go in there? I decided I didn’t feel like doing an interview, so I kept walking. I got a ways down the road and thought no, this isn’t about what I want, it’s about doing what’s right. It wouldn’t be right of me to ignore the opportunity to get more awareness and potentially more donations, so in I went and did a pre-recorded interview that would be broadcast as part of the news. Another announcer came out and said she’d like me to come back in the morning for a longer chat, which I agreed to. I was glad I went in there. It changed the way the rest of the hike panned out.
Congo: now blue heeler, once was wombat.