He packed his compass, torch, sketchbook and his new tin of coloured pencils. I packed everything else. We waved goodbye to his Dad and his brothers and set off together into the bush at the edge of town, taking the trail up the side of the mountain where the red, yellow and orange fungi burst like sunshine from the dank, damp forest floor. We stopped to draw on a rock, then clambered through the trees and over massive granite boulders to the farmland that divides the forest from the beach. The black cows watched us as we crossed the paddock and back into the woodland, dodging the cow pats amongst the banksias and grasstrees before we climbed another stile and found ourselves in the coastal heath, purple and pink wildflowers dotting the dunes. We spotted some friends as we skirted the beach, Lewis reading his compass as we walked "west, west, west."
I stopped to look at every toadstool, ant nest and caterpillar that caught his eye, and lifted him aloft to search for treasure at the end of the rainbow that plunged into the sea as showers swept the coast. "I like being with you most of all Mum," he said to me, "without my brothers making noise and getting into trouble, or any jobs for you to do." There have been hours alone together here and there - a trip to the movies or a ride into town - but he has had to share me with a demanding younger brother ever since Darcy was born when he was just two. We started planning this hike more than a year ago when he wistfully watched me packing for a hike with Quinn, who was then still a babe in arms suckling all night long. We settled on seven as the milestone to reach. Quinn would by then be two; old enough for a night away from me. And Lewis' legs would be long and strong enough to walk the 12km to the nearest hut on the long distance walking trail that traverses our town.
The sun was sinking by the time we trudged up the hill to where the hut sat nestled beneath the towering granite monoliths. We were the only walkers on the trail and had the shelter to ourselves. Lewis laid out our mattresses and sleeping bags on the wooden platform while I cooked his favourite meal - tuna muck - for dinner. After a quick game of spotlight (which proved a bit scary alone in the bush with me hiding in the dark) we climbed into bed and read by torchlight, eating thick slices of leftover birthday cake and talking about what would be happening back home while we lay there watching the clouds flit past the moon.
He had hot chocolate and leftover muck for breakfast then gathered his pencils to walk back up the hill and draw beneath the biggest rock of all. We shared the sketchbook; I drew the stunted casuarina trees dotted around the boulders; he drew a chest of golden treasure. Two whales cruised past, rolling over and over, their flippers waving lazily to us high on the hill and their bellies flashing white against the grey sea. I lifted Lewis up to get a better view and we watched as they blew great plumes of spray from their blowholes. It was time to leave, but I promised we would return. He understands now what it is about being alone out in the bush that feeds my soul. "There is no house to clean, nothing I have to be doing," I explained. "You feel free," he said simply. He did not want to come home - would have liked for our time out there together to never end. It is all there still, waiting on our doorstep. And now he is seven it is ours to explore.