Alicia S. Cook

                                                                        
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An account from a time I went walking and thought about things. 





Portland to Mallee


A walk was needed.

I saw a wallaby with a white dot on its tail in the enchanted forest. 

A snake coiled in the sun at the edge of the narrow, grassy path assessed me through a slowly blinking eye. 

I watched the moon rise and listened to the birds and the ocean, and all the rustles of the leaves in the wind. 

I walked farther than I planned and much farther than I expected. 

This could be the first time I’ve encountered an expectation that has turned out to be exceeded by reality.

I would say I sat there alone on the eve of my birthday, but that would discredit the natural world that was my host. 

I felt tangled setting out, but the many fingers of the ecosystem made light work of all the knots I had tied around myself.





28.10.2023

I began to loosen. 

I tried to avoid looking at my phone for it does me no good. I wanted only to be there with the sun on my neck and the ants crawling over my skin. Their tiny bites land sharp, reminding me I inhabit a living body. 

I read a poem recently that went something like:


To love is to wake every morning and help you to be free, whatever that happens to mean in the moment.



Walking out here is how I give myself freedom from the endlessly churning cycles I’ve become a part of.

The cliff edge is dramatic and at times the path wanders so close I feel as if I could step out onto the ocean. 

If I thought the steely blue could hold my weight, if I knew for certain that I wouldn’t sink to the depths of the anglerfish, I might just keep walking.

Still, the ocean, flat as glass at this time of the morning, the sun barely grazing its surface, will continue to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. 

This stretch of coast is home to clusters of wind turbines that cast lumbering shadows that pass over you like a ceiling fan when you get close enough. 

I’ve always loved them and out here, planted on the line between the unknowable ocean and the land we tread, they are like the thumbprint of mankind smudged on the horizon. 


Maybe to love a wind turbine isn’t easy*. 
(*Borrowed from Edward Abbey.)

But maybe the daring act to try can ease the tension of being in a body.


The objective, I suppose is to give something to the world instead of continuing to take from it. 

Like the turbine I was built over many years of trial and error and now am planted firmly, ever in motion yet unwavering in my acceptance of what I am.

I only hope the elegance of my design eventually makes up for the clumsiness of my footing. 

Strength is no longer something I seek, but softness…

humility,

these I hope to grow. 





Every long walk becomes a metaphor


In Texas I chased a blood moon through the desert and although I never was able to see it, the sky was tinged red and the potency of it seeped into interactions with my walking companion. 


The landscape we wandered through was dramatized with maroon shadows and as the moon rose over the desert, the disguises we had made out of pretty words faltered under the moonlight.


I daydreamed the whole way through that trip, a misguided effort to avoid feeling my reality. If I had to list the things I regret in life, one would be how I didn’t speak the truth at that time. It eventually drove me mad and I can’t help but think that if I had only bared myself to the desert, that my sanity and sense of self in the succeeding months would have been spared. 


Most walks I have been on before and since this experience are very different in so far as they serve as a means for me to confront my feelings and what is causing them. But on this walk the cause was trudging alongside me and we were both avoiding the awkwardness of it. 


It could be true that I prefer to walk alone.  



But then again, 



to walk with another and to accept their flaws as fully as I have accepted my own, might be a thing to strive for. 


Today is my 32nd birthday and on this leg of the walk I was up against a 40 knot headwind, whose army was a battalion of tiny shell fragments whipping and blasting my skin. 


Keeping my head down against the sand blast I made slow yet determined progress along the shoreline. A shipping container emerged out of the sand ahead, unmistakable by the red paint of its shell which had already begun to flake off and expose the metal below, so at a certain distance it looked as though it had grown out of the rock shelf it had come to rest on. 


I remember quickening my pace when I saw it, sure that it would be an ideal refuge from the wind but when I arrived I saw that all the doors and protective elements of the container had been removed. Along its exterior, past visitors had etched their names and professions of love into the paint.

I  looked over all the messages and tired to remember if I had ever carved the name of a lover onto a public surface. 


The walk became harder after that. One theory is that the container had served as a kind of buffer against the wind but it is equally likely that the sand had begun to whittle away at my resolve. 


Tiny granules, once shells, once fish, once stone, rushed past me. 


An unknowable amount of particles from things once whole came at me in fierce torrents. 


The wind bellowed over and through me. 


At one point I stopped to bellow back and let rip the loudest ‘fuck you’ of my life. 


The wind, the cheeky wind, whisked my hat off my head sent it tumbling back down the beach. 


I chased after it for a moment, but quickly realised I would never catch up and so watched it bounce along the sand to join the shipping container. 


It’s my birthday and maybe that makes it the perfect day to watch a hat transform into dust, and to remember that with every passing year, week, minute, I become closer to my own transformation. 




A man named Dan



Dan approached me in the sandstorm. 


I think he wanted to help me but I didn’t need it, and that tension formed the foundation of our interaction. 

After we had exchanged names he walked ahead to act as a shield against the sand blast but conversation was impossible like that, so we gradually we migrated to walk side by side.


In a storm like that the air comes at you so fast it overwhelms you. All that air dries out your mouth and you begin to salivate in compensation, which manifests as white foam around the corners of your lips. I can still see the two of us bent and staggering along the shore, hurling niceties sideways through the storm, our mouths foaming and eyes squinting. 


Dan shouted that he was a buddhist. He also told me he is wog from Christies beach so he never could find his way to vegetarianism, a truth he seemed in conflict about. 


He told me that 34 was the age he had started to find himself and I guess assumed that’s what I must have been doing. I never got the chance to tell him that I know where I am, it’s the question of where I’m going that seems to cause me trouble. 


Around that age, Dan told me, he started working at a weigh bridge for a pesticide plant and as the job gave him a lot of down time, he started to read. 


“I’d never read books before,” he hollered at me. “Never once thought about self-help or philosophy but suddenly the ideas in these books gripped me and I started to ask questions about who I was, about what I wanted.”


All the while Dan had been telling me about his life we had battled our way off the beach and had begun carving into the mountains towards my camp. And in between his self-reflections he would ask me if I needed help carrying my bag or getting up a tricky part of track. 


For reasons I never quite understood, Dan wasn’t wearing shoes. Once we had battled our way off the beach and begun carving up into the mountains he had to stop every so often to pick prickles out of his feet. He was a man of large build, with a bald head that gleamed red under the sun. Watching him hop delicately over loose rocks made up a little for his insistence that he accompany me to camp, which I found overbearing and annoying. 


It is impossible to tell someone that they can’t walk in a particular direction so all I could do was politely decline his offers to carry my pack while making the distinction between us very clear. 

I was unwilling to engage too deeply in conversation with him, a sentiment that was made stronger when he dropped behind and said ‘I gotta take a slush.’


I took a step forward and there in the centre of the track a young tiger snake uncoiled and turned its glassy eyes onto mine. 


I paused and watched its body gleam under the sun, enamoured by the grace of its twists and turns in the sand. 


Dan stomped back up to meet me and out of instinct I threw my arm out across the track just in time for him to crash into it. 


“Oh he’s getting angry!” Dan said as the snake raised its head. 


He started towards it which further roused the serpent and it uncoiled fully, its attention fixed on Dan. 


I put my arm out again and said quietly “just wait a moment.”


We stood silently and watched the snake waver towards us. A gentle breeze rustled along the track, and perhaps it it whispered something to our scaled observer because the snake turned with the wind and disappeared into the brush. 


After that the walk felt different. It was as if the snake had forced us to reveal who we really were and that had somehow unified us. 


When we reached the walkers shelter I shrugged off my pack with a loud exhale. 


“I can’t read you,” Dan said across the wide wooden table we had taken seats around. 


I went to respond but he cut across me with a string of confessions about his assumptions of women, of men and what he thought he needed to be. 

The part where he revealed that deep down he was searching for acceptance was where he reached me. 

He wanted to appeal to a partner but didn’t know how, other than fitting into the masculine trope of being a protector. Dan said he felt pressured to be a bad boy, but that wasn’t who he was. “I’m a gentle guy,” he said. “I like books, I like being soft.” 

He didn’t make eye contact with me the entire time he spoke until the very end when he looked up and said, 


“What do you think?”


I thought for a moment about what to say. Dan’s attitude towards me had annoyed me since the moment we met but I felt for him. He just wanted what we all want, to be loved for who he is and like many of us felt some level of shame around that. 


I told him that I couldn’t speak for all women, but for me, I don’t look for a protector because that’s not what I need. I don’t want to be smothered by a partner and I hate to be fussed over. The strength I hope to find in another comes from knowing and accepting the self, from willingness to create a foundation of honesty and stability with me. I said that I thought the best thing he could do to find a partner would be to be himself, and that he would eventually find someone who loved him for his sensitivity.


He looked at me funny for a moment and said he didn’t think I was a normal woman. 


I shrugged and offered him a dried pear which he declined before he said goodbye and headed back up the track to the beach. 




Death by cat



By the afternoon of the third day, my feet had found their rhythm and in the absence of concentrating on where each step needed to fall, my thoughts drifted into curious terrain. 


A cruel convention the mind uses to fill in the holes bored into it by unending mental barrenness is playing on repeat only one or two lines of that one song that you heard that one time.  


It’s usually something incredibly banal like ‘afternoon delight’ by the Starland Vocal Band, or something wildly obscure in a foreign language so you don’t even know the words and are just shouting sounds as you walk. 


(Te pertenezco solo a ti by Margarita is a fine example of both.)


On this occasion, a song written by someone on whom I have crush spilled out of me in jagged verse, its showtune bounce at odds with the coastal scrub I scrambled through. 

Nothing for it in situations like these but to belt it out, even if doing so draws the real reason that particular song has risen to the surface a little closer. 


While there were no cartoon birds that appeared to acapella my soul to true love, and I did confuse a battalion of kangaroos (if you’ve seen them stationed along the crest of a hill watching you pass, you’ll know what I mean), it got me thinking that maybe making a fool of yourself is just as good an expression of love as any. 


I have been stupid as surely as I have inspired stupidity and I think I might prefer it to the alternative, which is analysing every move to the point where any kind of forward movement becomes impossible. 


The section of trail this line of thought carried me to was etched onto the floor of a petrified forest. When I first heard I would be walking through this space, I immediately pictured the skeletons of ancient trees, stark white against the blue of the sky their branches frozen forever in the moment time stopped working for them. 


My second thought was a sparsely vegetated forest of shrieking trees but the reality is neither. 


The terrain gradually changed from rust coloured dirt spotted with grey and white shrubs, and the occasional patch of grass into a rocky expanse where once flourishing trees has been whittled down by wind and salt spray. 


A strong wind tumbled past me as I stepped carefully around crumbling sheaths of rock and it all seemed so still, so final, that it was hard to embrace that the processes responsible for reducing a forest to dust were still in motion. 


An easier idea to wrap myself around is that these same processes are quietly working away at my own fate, removing the need for me to decide on my death. With all the other responsibilities we must tend to, I am grateful for this because I can focus on living while the dying is taken care of by chance and/or consequence.



And the mind wanders…



If one day history wrote of me the final page could end with me being eaten by a cat. It’s not unlikely because I live with a cat now, and she often watches wide eyed as I hoist myself up after a fall from a sudden nerve spasm. Sometimes I wonder what she’d do if I never got up, and if I was as old as I hope to live to, it could be that falling and never getting back up is what would do me in. 



It’s not an original scenario, lonely women living in fear of being eaten by a domestic animal has featured in many a romantic comedy. 



In this case however, if I happened to have the same cat I have now, it would be a very slow demise because she has no teeth. I imagine her gnawing tirelessly with her gums, maybe even pausing to wonder at times if she could complete the task. I’m sure, being my cat, summit fever would grip her and she would have to see it through to the end. Well, my end. 




Thanks, brain. 






A pact with the Ocean


It struck me as I looked out over the ocean, that endless blue expanse that stretches 3000 kilometers all the way to Antartica, that the world is uncontainable and the wind and the waves will just keep on going. So will the sun and the butterflies and all the creatures I’d witnessed living out their own stories over the past four days. 


I knew this already but sometimes the knowing of something fades into the background, especially when life gets noisy. 


Lately the drama of romance has been following me around like a hungry dog and since I have a mild fear of dogs, it has caused me some anxiety. It’s interesting how something you seek can also be at the root of a phobia. I would one day like to have a dog, once I have been able to commit to one place, and yet to walk past a barking dog sends shivers up my spine. 


I thought about this a lot during the walk and I tried to let the landscape explain to me what it was I needed to be able to actually love. But looking at this ocean, feeling myself as a solitary unit with feet firmly on the smooth rock of the cliff I stood on, I felt relieved. 


Accepting that I am not ready yet to be anything other than what I am right now and that change will come when it does, was a relief. To look at myself honestly and know that despite my mistakes, I have and deserve love but that love exists in many more forms than the films tell us. It was a relief to realise that although I may make missteps, I am honest with who I am and that gives me a sense of freedom. 


So, I made an agreement with the southern ocean at Cape Bridgewater and the wind bore witness. 


I promised to wake up each morning and help myself be free, whatever that means in the moment.