Outback

Though I enjoyed my time in Darwin, I never shook the idea that my being there was somehow strange. My body seemed to understand what my mind could not, like restless shoulders in a sweater worn backwards.

Leaving Darwin

Leaving Darwin

Now that I’m gone, I think I know why. Darwin is a frontier town – it begins where bush land ends. The people I met there came not to start journeys but to end them. They were settling down, or perhaps just settling.

And like all great ends of the line, the city gives its arrivals exactly what they want – a place to get stupendously drunk.

Tourists come like autumn leaves, cartwheeling between pubs in brilliant colour. After the bell sounds last call, when the lights come up and the brooms come out, you’ll find them with the rest of the season’s casualties, face down in the gutter.

Revelry is no sin, but it wasn’t mine to share. My passion is different. It gives me butterflies and echoes like a first love in every cell worth feeling. Sometimes it stops in my throat, scares me to death, afraid that its vast aching wonders will sweep over me, drowned and delirious.

Wallaby near Hayes Creek

Wallaby near Hayes Creek

And for some reason I need to ride a bicycle to find it. So I do.

After Darwin I cycled through forests of shocking green, under cockatoos and kookaburras laughing in time.

Further south, the ground gave way to stunted scrub and air so dry you’d swear the grasshoppers would turn to dust.

The road followed rail to the bulging horizon, blasting through red rock and bridging foul rivers. Wallabies sprang through the mornings while dingoes left tracks, too smart to be seen.

On the fourth day I neared Katherine, where I’ll leave the Stuart Highway and turn west onto the Victoria.

The road to Western Australia

The road to Western Australia

Lining the approach were tracts of native grasses fed by the departed monsoons. In a few weeks they will be flattened by wind or fire, but now they stand taller than man, lush and obstinate.

I left my bike to walk beside them, sliding their stalks along my fingertips. The husks opened, allowing their seeds to nestle in the hair of my arm.

I just stood there connected, waiting for the warmth of another scattering wind.

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