Nature’s trick of the eye
500 Words: One Moment, This Year
On the eastern slopes of the Bold Granite Range, the Yowaka River rises. Between Pambula and Eden, the Princes Highway crosses the river and it is at this point that we often take the road on the right-hand side and pull up on the banks of this inspiring waterway.During the last school holidays, we drove to the river just before lunch. Armed with rods and tackle boxes, notebooks and pens, nets and old runners we looked forward to a few hours of river time. A hastily packed esky came along for the ride and doubled as a seat for small bottoms.It’s restful at the river. Time slows down. You can hear yourself think. And we can each do our own thing, separate yet together.Everyone got busy and I wondered if, long ago on the banks of this serpentine river, a platypus built its home and swam along the water’s edge where I dawdled now with my children – my daughter dragging her orange butterfly net through the speckled water, my sons casting pink squidgies into deeper water, hoping for at least one bite.As the idle zephyr picked up and became a stronger breeze, the clunketty clunk of truck tyres over the bridge downstream mingled with the lapping river ripples and the distinct kerplunk of cast sinkers smacking water. On the opposite bank, reeds as high as a man’s thigh bent, tall and knowing, a paint swatch of the colour green ranging from olive to khaki, from lime to emerald. I watched the displays of colour and the activities of my children as I daydreamed about the platypus and its life on the river.After a while, over at the water’s edge, an elongated head bobbed higher then lower, snaking like a miniature Loch Ness Monster. In that moment, with my mind thinking about the platypus and my hopes raised in anticipation of sleek brown fur, leathery duck bill, clever webbed feet and broad paddle tail, I was sure this reclusive creature was making an appearance just for me. I was becoming excited at the prospect of witnessing my first platypus in the wild. I strained to get a good look at the unfolding scene – there was no way I was going to miss a second of this!Instead, I made out a sleek wet cormorant and not a fascinating monotreme.In that moment, I felt utter disappointment, total disbelief. The river had let me down – it had failed to deliver the river-dwelling platypus I had willed to be there.The cormorant, of course, had no idea that it had dashed my hopes of sighting my first platypus and it continued dipping and diving in the cool water of the river. Life went on.Above my head, eucalypt leaves rustled and spun, while the limbs of ancient gums caressed each other and moaned, long and low.The wind strengthened, the loving boughs crooned to each other in less hushed tones, their foreplay becoming more frenzied. Then a creaking, splintery and determined, suggested a climax of breaking branches and that perhaps it was time to move my imagination, my children and my old blue folding chair further down the riverbank into safer space.