One Spring Vorn convinced me to rough it in the Dargo High Plains with him for three days. We each took back packs filled with minimum supplies; including a spare set of clothes, sleeping bags, a hoochie (a tarp for sleeping under), and army rations.
When Vorn’s father dropped us off at the foot of the Mountain, I remember seeing groves of lush, majestic trees lining the valley. They seemed to be at odds with the Australian bush that scattered the slopes above us and I was curious as to what they were. Vorn’s dad told me that they were century-old walnuts trees. I regarded them with interest and their age truly did appear to be etched in the rough bark of their trunks. Their gnarled branches reached outwards and downwards forming beautiful green canopies that would soon produce the delicious treasures that the Ancients believed to be “the nuts of the Gods”. We picked a poor excuse for a path and started our journey into the rugged terrain. The bush was marvelous dry but green, harsh but beautiful and the first leg of our journey was all up hill.
On our first night, we pitched our Hoochie, just a piece of tarp stretched low over two trees, and built a fire to boil water for our evening meal. The ham and pineapple freeze dried food we had bought from the Army Disposal shop tasted like vomit, so we disappointedly cooked some plain rice in its place. Exhausted from our five hour hike we slept soundly despite the rain pattering on our humble sanctuary, and it didn’t seem long before the sun signaled the voices of a chorus of birds and drew out the aromatic particles from the moist earth to release them into the air.
Our camp had been set near the Dargo River and Vorn decided to go for a bathe. I watched him peel off his clothes and wade boldly into the water and then prostrate himself in the middle of the river without hesitation or trepidation against the cold. I however, gingerly tiptoed over the uneven rocks towards him. As the freezing water reached my waist, I sucked my stomach in as if to avoid its icy fingers. I cupped my hands into the water and tipped it over my face and let it run through my hair. The water was so cold, unexpectedly cold, and I hurriedly concluded my sluice without the vigorous enjoyment that Vorn appeared to be experiencing.
Breakfast was rice again; we had given up on Army food. And afterward we lay in the morning sun while the steam rose from our drying tarp and the smell of eucalyptus streamed from the gum leaves clearing our noses and pervading our lungs. We felt wholesome and energized.
When we eventually stepped out our nesting glade and gazed upwards once again, ours eyes were met by a steep and jagged path. Much of it was covered in uneven rocks and I remember the fatigue in my legs as I resolutely dug my toes into its unforgiving pitch. Vorn walked a little way ahead but turned periodically to encourage me and we were able to keep a steady pace to reach our destination within a few hours. The rise opened out into a plateau and we were encountered by a panoramic view of clear blue sky, a skirt of tree tops running down the slopes and a deeper ring of green signifying the walnuts nestled in the valley below. Words were not necessary and we held each other in silence and wonder at the world we were lucky to be within.