Monday, 4 May 2015

water babies

They were in the pool everyday we were away, Thea charging in wearing just her underpants if her bathers were still drying on the balcony. They played with their uncle and their great uncle and their grandma, tossing balls and stacking pebbles until they were wrinkled as prunes. All except Quinn; he didn't get wet once.

Where the forest meets the sea

I have been reading the Grimm Brothers' fairytales to my boys this year, in all their original, gruesome splendour. We have dipped into the big, gold-leafed tome every night since I gave Darcy the book for his birthday in January, and are still only just over half way through. The stories are, of course, all set in a Europe that is long gone, but I think that my boys imagine them into the forests that they know, which must by now be peopled with wolves and giants, kings and princesses a plenty.

But if ever there was a fairytale forest closer to home, for us it must be the Daintree Rainforest. As far from the south-west corner of mainland Australia that we call home as it is physically possibly for us to travel, the Daintree has sparked a special longing in our collective imaginations since we first read Jeannie Baker's iconic book Where the Forest Meets the Sea when Lewis was a baby. Richly illustrated with her lush collages using materials from the rainforest, it is one of those books we have read over and over, and never tired of looking at. "One day we will go there," I would promise the children, thinking far into the future.

It was a dream I never imagined would come true quite so soon, but when Grant's very generous mum offered to fly our family to far north Queensland for a family reunion, we couldn't very well refuse. Getting there was a journey of somewhat epic proportions. A night drive to the farm, where we couldn't sleep for the bellowing of the cows, followed by another car trip to the airport and two flights across the centre of this wide brown land. A night in an anonymous hotel room and then a bus further north, until we were surrounded by forest and family once more. Except here the air was thick with humidity, a sheen of sweat moistened our faces, and the warm air clung to our bare limbs in place of winter woollens.

We wandered through rainforests and along tropical beaches and soaked up every sun-drenched, mosquito chewed minute. Thea paid no heed to the signs warning of crocodiles and jellyfish, and charged into the Coral Sea at the edge of the Daintree. I reasoned that my eyes could spot a croc in the cloudy water, and jellyfish were unlikely to inhabit the shallows, and wandered along beside her in the ankle deep waters off Cow Beach.

I passed my hand over my eyes as we drew farther away from our family, thinking the shape I saw ahead must be a rock or a mirage, and not the erect black figure of a fisherman stalking the shallows with his spear. But as we drew nearer he stopped to smile and say hello.

"Been catching anything?" I asked.
"I hit a stingray but it got off. And a shark, but that got away too. I'm after stingray. Are you a local?"
"No, we're from Western Australia."
"WA! That's the only state I've never visited."

We talked about the weather, then waved goodbye and he climbed into his dinghy and headed home. Lewis jogged down to join us and we followed a creek into the rainforest and gathered tiny frogs into our hands for Thea to touch and hold before they hopped away again.

After ten days it is safe to say that the kids had had their fill of rainforests, tropical beaches, boats and coral reefs. Home was calling us all, and we climbed back into our own beds with much gratitude. Winter sneaked across the south coast while we were away and now we find ourselves pulling the quilts around our chins in the storm tossed winter dark and wishing for sunshine and summer once more. My feet cannot seem to remember the heat, and the warm lap of the torpid tropical sea, however hard I try. It could have been a fairytale.