Friday, 24 April 2015

secret: belonging

My stepmother took us walking up a creek at low tide: the water was wading depth, and sand mixed with black silt covered our feet, sucked us in and let us go with each step.

We were there to see crabs: tiny little blue bodies with orange claws. I had learned the proper names for these parts in school at some stage, but such knowledge had long since been eaten away by whiskey and time. 

I loved the water in that way I have of also being slightly afraid of it: it had always been this way for me, and so low tide seemed to be a safe and friendly time to set foot in the shallow water. We walked and walked up the muddy creekbed, where sharp oyster shells lay in wait for bared feet and clumsy steps. I didn't know this place, but my stepmother walked slowly but confidently up river and we followed her, trying to keep up while hoping she would lead the way.

I lost a thong to the mud, and stopped to stand a while in the shallow water, noting the way the bush and the hills around us made a frame for a very white collection of people scattered into their own trudging rhythms. 

I'm too alien for this: I wondered if the country itself was watching us and sniggering at our complete lack of toughness, skill, knowledge and even determination. Our bright shirts and pink-painted toenails did not lend themselves to discovery or recklessness. To be careful is safe; to be brave and intrepid is certainly too big an ask.

I thought about belonging to a place, and I knew I did not belong there. Walking through Australia's bush and coast and wading through its rivers, I know for sure I am a visitor. Earlier that week we had dragged ourselves up a hill to stand at the top of a waterfall. The bush bit me; I chose my steps carefully to placate the roots and stones that may easily have chosen to trip me over. I love bushwalking, but I will only ever borrow the scrub - it will never feel like mine.

It's a bigger thought for another time; how we learn to belong to places, how we make them ours, how we find our way around a country that we've claimed as our own. All I know is that those crabs ran as fast as they could away from our loud whiteness; they burrowed down into the silty sand in tiny spirals. They waited til we were gone. 

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