I wish I could bottle the sound of the Australian bush for you.
Layers of throaty frog voices singing to the moon paint the darkness, replacing the chorus of birdsong that hemmed in the other end of the day. I’m tucked into my bed beneath a gauzy mosquito net in a mud brick cottage. There are cracks between the tops of the wall and the tin roof. The doors don’t quite close. The children reported (one after another, all four) that a large black lizard made his way in this afternoon and took up residence under my bed. So long as he has legs, and was not the red-bellied black snake Tony saw lounging a few yards away this afternoon, I’m okay with sharing the space.
We spent the day working alongside Robert and Jess, pulling weeds, planting lemon grass and dill seeds, walking in the bush, cooking, washing up, laughing, and telling stories. Sitting on the porch having tea, mid morning, I looked up at and asked Robert, “Did my Dad make you that?” Pointing to a walking stick with a face sticking out of an urn by the front door.
“Yes, he did. The one next to it I bought in Spain, on the same trip we met your parents forty years ago… the other one I purchased in Crete when we were walking.”
It’s strange to me to be as far as humanly possible from home and yet to be surrounded by little pieces of my family: A photograph hangs next to the front door of my Dad and Robert standing beneath an umbrella, in front of an orange tent in North Africa a good five years before I was born. A piece of my mother’s stained glass hangs in the round window. The walking stick. Robert spent all afternoon hunting for a knife my Dad made for him that’s an important part of his kit.
Jessie knocked on our door early this morning and we headed off along the well worn trail into the bush, following the track she takes every day for her morning walk. She pointed out wildflowers to me. We heard a kangaroo thump in the underbrush. I did something with my hands and she smiled, “Every so often you do something that reminds me so much of your mother, you have her mannerisms.” I smiled. There’s no higher compliment she could pay me. I aspire to my mother’s mannerisms.
The children have raced back and forth around the house and up and down the big hill on skateboards all day, turning up only when they need feeding. “Jessie reminds me of Grammy,” Ez mused this afternoon. “Perhaps because they’re such good friends,” I offered. “That must be it,” he agreed, before whizzing off again.
Rob and Jess are a testimony to the longevity of friendships formed on the road, and my “case in point” for the value of picking up hitchhikers. “See that number plate on the wall,” Jess pointed out after dinner, “That’s the license plate from the VW bug we had in Africa when we picked up your folks.” I smiled, and wondered who our children will visit forty years on that we picked up in some godforsaken corner of the world.
I choked up a bit when I saw my Daddy’s handiwork, with a sad face and a long nose, staring at me from the handle of Robert’s walking stick. I’ve resisted the urge more than once to run my finger along the edge of the blue glass that I know my mother’s hands cut and soldered on a far away island. I’ve listened for the sound of their laughter in the pressed tin of the number plate, knowing that it must have heard and held their young voices long ago and far away, and I’ve realized that I’m more than a little bit homesick. We’ve been away over a year and a half this time, and I miss my Mama. Cutting broccoli this evening as the sun dipped low in Jessie’s garden I wished with all of my heart that my parents could be here with us, laughing over wine glasses as their grandkids played in the garden. I’m so glad to know that in a few short months we’ll be home. I’m ready for my island. I’m ready for my Dad’s stories (even the ones that have been told a million times) and I’m ready to dig into the beginnings of plans for what’s “next” in our journey, even if we aren’t quite ready to build a house just yet. There must be something about getting as far away from home as possible that reminds a girl where she’s from, and where she’s going. There are many miles between here and there, many adventures to be had and I wouldn’t trade a one, nonetheless, it’s good to be headed for home.
Tonight we’re tucked into a cabin where my parents have slept and my babies are breathing hard in the darkness, dreaming of the kangaroos we saw this afternoon and the wallabies they’re hoping for tomorrow. The Man is working, as ever, pulling our sustenance out of the ether. Our friends are tucked into their homespun house, and the snake, well, I sincerely hope he’s coiled up in a hole somewhere on the other side of the dam and not around the post of my bed.