"the weeks wind like quiet cyclones"


   August 2002 — text by Austin Pick

Greetings once again from the ancient red-dust rainforest-haloed sunburst pagoda pendulum swinging sweetly down under the tropic of capricorn... Today all day I sat atop a boulder amongst whispering grasses and palms on a steep sun-kissed cliffside hovering over the tranquil turquoise pacific slipping and chanting on a shore of volcanic black basalt glazed by birds' flight, sitting... how peaceful, to be unseen, unappraised... sitting perched up a long scramble on a cliffside in a sea of grass above a sea of glass... meditating, meditating and calmly... dissolving... and if there is one scene which I could transmit as telepathic secret sneak preview, it would be this one...

The weeks wind like quiet cyclones, and I rattle around the cycles of windstorm, occasionally finding moments in the calm eye, floating watching this imax project through the bi -coloured lenses of my flying goggles, resolved in third dimension...

The weather reached a pitch when the Australians returned to college, when subtly separate cultures collided, widened and merged, when we became a part of... place.  

By and large I find Australians to be pragmatic, grounded, down-to-earth, friendly and open and laid-back, less concerned with... accumulation, be it things or status or prowess or progress or power. They seem somehow more mature, more readily comfortable, more... presently situated, perhaps because, as I assume anyway, they are less inculcated with any conditionings resembling the American... dream? delusion? They do not, for instance, seem to harbor that subtle sense that somewhere else, things are certainly better than they are here and now. Hollywood is too far away to be any sort of Holyland. For them, This is the Movie.   Evenly rolling, rolling...

Living at a residential college is somewhat like a relaxed blend of highschool gossip circuits; fraternity comradery and tomfoolery; summer camp freedom and prankery; and island resort. Its more involving than typical dorm life, and it's sort of like going to school, but not really.   I've been attending classes for about a month now. Taking five classes: Australia's Terrestrial Environment; Religion & Sexuality; Buddhist Meditation Theory; Witchcraft, Paganism & the New Age; and Rainforest Field Ecology. I have class three days a week, Tues. — Thurs., leaving gaping four day weekends which I have the solemn responsibility of filling with adventure.   And I'm attending one of the top-three Australian Universities. And this is typical. As my boy Lyster says, It's times like these I like to remind myself that I'm winning at the game of life.  

First week back and the Australians were swinging full tilt, confirming the rumor that these people drink and carouse frequently, gluttonously, gregariously. One night we skinny American boys were invited to an inconspicuous little gathering called the Young Boys. What basically ensued was a ritualistic fraternity-style binge-drinking session, a testosterone gumbah which resulted in everyone being covered, inside and out, with generous amounts of beer and wine and vomit. I did not vomit, nor was I vomited on, and have a relatively descent remembrance of the events that unfolded, but its all too ridiculous to recount in coherent strings of sentences. Had there been a bonfire, we would have been tribally stumbling in and around it, hollering and pissing and swinging our dicks and crushing beer cans on our thick neanderthal foreheads... There was something unsettling, something deeply primal about it all, something ancient and perhaps better forgotten, yet anyways unforgettable...

And that same night, all the girls in college gathered for an occasion they call the Century Club, something involving the consumption of hundreds of shots among them and the revealing of Ya-Ya secrets and that sort of thing, I suppose...

But it was just the once. A fullmoon flower. Australians are adept at work ing hard and play ing hard, but mostly do so with a sense of laid-back moderation. And you wouldn't be the first to suggest that perhaps there is a correlation between the copious consumption of spirits and a relaxed and generally congenial approach to life. Also maybe it has something to do with the fact that everything in Australia can kill you. Just the other weekend I saw one of the deadliest snakes in the world...

Moreton Bay, just off the coast from Brisbane, features some unique islands, the sand islands, essentially giant piles of sand with things growing out of them. But don't be misled by the helplessly dull label of "sand island" - they're actually beautiful and ecologically diverse. We made my way over to Moreton Island, the least developed of three largest, on a sailboat, and spent the weekend rambling around the island in lurching and jolting four-wheel-drive vehicles, led by three knowledgeable and relaxed bush guides, who cut us an itinerary of tubing, tramping, and exploration of some remarkable sand formations, all before lunch. In the afternoon we went sandboarding, which is like highspeed sledding on huge towering dunes, whipping down mountains of white sands at forty mph. Wwwwhhhoooppp! Sand everywhere — everywhere! Brilliant...

We camp in a little bungalow and cook a huge meal, then later at night everyone drinking carrying on, I drape cloak of giant blanket and slip to beach, windy chilled dark deserted & I reel, I stagger and nearly fall over with sight of stars NOTHING like this ever before seen... oceans and oceans of stars-womb... ahhhhhhh...! I recline on the dune bank and lie in stillness, muscular tensions evaporating sinking into the cold and the sound of sand and ocean and yawning cosmos and popping meteors flaming and dying until I can almost perceive the very curve of the earth, lying face up & out turning on the sphere and spiralling through the heavens... ( and if there is one scene which I could transmit as telepathic secret sneak preview, it would also be this one...)   

Next day we tramp up the rocky head of the island to the old lighthouse there, and from this vantage point we could see the ocean floor of the pacific far below --how clear this water!-- sea turtles slowly churning, pods of dolphins surfing in the waves, and, farther off... whales sounding! My first whales!  

And then off again, cruising down the beach collecting pippies (little shell fish) to eat later and soon we're stripping down for a dip in an island lagoon imbibed with tea tree oil from the surrounding trees, ridiculous cold and smooth and restorative feels like a bath of the gods... then lunch then sunbathing then why not, lets go snorkeling! So we're walking down the beach on our way to get snorkeling gear, and we come upon something curious that's just washed up in the surf, a long innocuous-looking sea snake. At this very same time a woman walks up, oddly enough a herpetologist from Texas. She holds the weakened snake aloft for us to see... It's banded with subtle colour and has a fin-like tail. One of our clever boys reaches out to have a feel — "DON'T TOUCH!" ...this is one of the deadliest snakes in the world... so why not, lets go snorkeling! (Turns out sea snakes have small mouths and won't bite unless provoked...) So we hooked up wetsuits and headed by boat to some wrecks on the bayside of the island, where we swam amongst schools of tropical fish and incredible shafts of afternoon light... we brought bread along as offering and were soon surrounded by hundreds of diamond-shaped fish, could feel them all around, nipping and darting at our outstreched hands... this attracted some enterprising water birds who dove and swam under and around us, chasing fish and bread with equal rapacity... and I'm running of words to describe such simple wonders...

More recently I visited another of the sand islands, Stradbroke, as a research field study for my Terrestrial Environment class. There's a huge sand-mining operation on the island (believe me, all the jokes about something so impossibly boring as "sand-mining" have been made).   Basically they tear up huge sections of fragile island dune systems, mine the sand for grains of zircon, and then attempt to put it all back again. It's a hack job, really. We spent one morning touring the mining sites and rehabilitation areas, and generally being spoon-fed propaganda by the company ecologist. Then we met up with an aboriginal native of the island, who gave us their side of these issues, which was basically: Please Leave Our Island Alone Before You Make it Fall Into the Sea. Striking to experience this contrast of perspectives firsthand. What was especially interesting was the way in which our aboriginal guide framed his peoples' environmental views - he began with the mythic casting of the island and the people's origin and spiritual relationship, and used this as the basis of his argument for preservation. People are always asking me why I'm studying religion; this is one of the reasons. Birds of a feather.

Travel is maybe the better half of my education, and an amazing balance has begun to develop between Bookbag and Backpack. It's been an incredible... two months? Wow. Please keep me up to date with all the twists and turns of your own trajectories, I love hearing from you all. Wish you were here. Meanwhile the script scrolls on, serial movie in unpredictable installments...

Always, with Love, A

09.08.2002

Australia/New Zealand: Ch.2 | Ch.3 | Ch.4 | Ch.5 | Ch.6 | Ch.7 | Ch.8 | Ch.9

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