I felt like running away on the weekend. Packing my bag and bundling my baby under my arm and driving off into the forest to some rustic cabin where there was no television, no pile of marking and no nappies to wash. Where I could listen to the rain and not feel hemmed in by so many little bodies cooped up inside. But hopping in the car and abandoning my family seemed a bit unkind, so I went for a walk instead. I left the boys watching Star Wars (again) while Grant marked and washed the nappies, trussed Thea onto my back and headed out the door.
I didn't have a destination in mind, so we wandered up the road a little way to where the bitumen peters out into a little forest track that runs between the paddocks. I look out across those paddocks everyday from our front verandah, and at the derelict old cottage that stands between the trees and the grass. A friend had told me she thought the local fox had its den up there, so I decided to go and investigate.
It must have been a warm and cosy family home once, but the windows were all smashed years ago and the back steps have slumped into the kikuyu grass that is gradually engulfing the verandah. Bits of the ceiling have fallen in and the walls are all covered in graffiti. The remains of a fire still stand in the grate across an old piece of roofing iron someone has dragged in from outside. I paused for a moment in the kitchen and tried to imagine my way into the mind of the woman who must have cooked so many family meals looking out across those same green fields, before the squatters and idle youths claimed the space for their own. Someone must have loved that place once, for the most enormous camellias still grow in its garden. I slid down the back steps on my bottom to pick a big bunch and set off across the paddocks, leaving half at a friend's back door.
When I got home and told the boys where I had been they wanted to see it for themselves straight away, so back we went to explore some more. They climbed through the giant wattle that is about to burst into bloom and swung on the old Hills Hoist. Picking our way back through the paddock we found the fox trail and tracked it back to its den below some fallen trees. We might go back with torches one night and see if we can spot it. We walked to the bottom dam and found a dead cow swollen and bloated amongst the reeds. And then the rain swept in and we ran home to the screams of our hydrophobic three-year-old.
Once we were back safely under our own roof and our hair toweled dry, we baked apple pie and made hot chocolate and rugged up under winter layers as the rain drummed down. And just for a moment it was like I had found my little cabin in the forest - with the television switched off, the marking pushed to one side and the nappies rotating in the machine just off stage.