Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Day 50: Bird Time

January 3, 2011

We’re indecisive, as can often happen, about what to do. The yearning to go home, lead a normal life again, pulls us west. The desire to travel, with all its perpetual change and few responsibilities, still goads us. Caught in the swirl of these mixed emotions, we head south to explore the Eyre Peninsula.

At the tip of the v-shaped peninsula are two hooks: each one declared a national park. To the east is Lincoln National Park, a popular holiday destination for Adelaidians for its boating, swimming and fishing potential. To the west is Coffin Bay National Park, described as a “wild and untamed” area of splendid natural beauty. A good drawcard for us.

We’ve now been three nights in the bush and returning to civilization is always jarring. Coffin Bay, a small bayside town at the entrance to the national park, is abuzz with holiday-makers. The many villas, motels and holiday homes that line the main road into town all advertise “no vacancy”. We intend to camp in the national park but the prospects of finding a spot are growing slim.

Surprisingly, the small campground at Yangie Bay is not yet full at mid-afternoon. After pitching camp, I take off on one of three walks that meander through the dunes and along the bay. After two-and-a-half kilometers I come upon a sign -- “The Walk Ends Here”. Undeterred, I follow tracks made by emus, kangaroos and humans further along the shoreline. The late afternoon light is shimmering on the shallow bay and water birds are everywhere. I told Johan I’d be back around six, but maybe it won’t hurt to sit for a short while.

Despite our resolve to make the journey the focus of this trip, we’re still frequently guilty of our habitual linear thinking, driving us to get somewhere, chock up the miles, go, go, go. Even when I walk, the forward momentum to reach a destination, complete a circuit or just get ample exercise keeps me from really settling into and fully experiencing a place. Now, as I sit on a flat rock, my binoculars pointed at oyster catchers, albatrosses and egrets, I feel a subtle shift away from ‘doing’ and into ‘being’.

I catch a young heron in my lenses. He’s only small but his slender grey body is attractive as it reaches up in a yoga-like stretch to a pencil-thin stature. Then suddenly he crumples, his long neck snaking into a curve, his football-shaped body like a missile ready for attack. His searing yellow eye focuses on some movement in the water. Waiting. Watching. Waiting.

But, false alarm. He stretches high again, shows off his trimness and looks around the bay with the casual indifference of an anonymous bystander. He struts along the shore, closer to where I sit captivated behind my glasses, then abruptly scrunches again, ready to strike a meal.

I don’t know how long I sit mesmerized by this sight, but eventually it occurs to me I’m in the same world as these birds inhabit, a world where time is measured by instinct rather than the perpetual drive to get things done. Yet the minute I realize it, I’m out of it, looking at my watch, worried about getting back to camp in time. The heron and his dinner dance move out of focus and I’m back in my busy mind, compelled to move on.

Beautiful coast near the tip of Eyre Peninsula, Coffin Bay National Park

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