SEVEN years ago we bought a few acres an hour north of Melbourne. Hill country. Granite and old, gnarled gums. The land came with two horses. There was nothing much else on it, except a caravan and a dam. We would drive up and the horses would come and greet us. One quick, young and white. The other an ancient and swaybacked chestnut dun. She would poke her head through the caravan door and watch us. Eventually she died and was buried under a huge yellow box with a casing of bark like a feathered cloak. We gave the young one away.
It was different without the horses, but since they left the flies have gone, the grass has grown and saplings are sprouting. Blackwoods and peppermints. Candlebarks. And the kangaroos have come back.
Everything about the land is hard. Extremes of weather, trees falling across the track or flattening a fence. I cut the grass with my city mower, feeling ridiculous. I should have a rideon but that means power and a shed, and a 4m road of crushed rock that will scar the land.
We’ve thought of selling the land. But we can’t. When we go up there, we both change. Back in the city, we talk about it. A few years ago we agreed we no longer own the land. It owns us. It has us in its thrall.
When we go up to the land, something strange happens. You might say nothing happens. Nothing one could easily observe.
We walk over its surface and notice little things. A branch snapped on a sapling. By what? Animal tracks, scats, feathers. That area of flattened golden grass above the dam. The kangaroos have been resting there. Eastern greys. Seeing us they freeze, still as statues. And then bound off. Yesterday there were about 30, all sizes, flying down the ridge. How magnificent!
Later we light a campfire and sit in the gathering dusk. Doing nothing. Watching the glowing coals. Being quiet and attentive. We can’t help it. The land demands our attention.
Passenger jets pass overhead so high they make no sound. No distraction. We start to notice little things. A kookaburra waiting in a bough. Small treecreepers with their pretty belllike calls as they hop athletically, vertically up the gums. How do they cling so easily? Blue wrens and fantails. A flash of red signalling tiny pardalotes. A flock of even smaller thornbills that seem no bigger than butterflies.
The stars come out and then micro bats. Soon it will be the time for honeygliders and phascogales. Frogs and foxes.
We don’t say much but often share a glance. ‘‘Look! Did you see that?’’ Pointing. Astounded yet again. Astonished. What is this strange feeling? To be astounded. It’s like a sudden awakening. It goes as quickly as it comes, leaving a residue of wonder.
The land talks to us. Surprising us in little ways. The land is alive. Wonderfully alive. And we drive home somehow more alive. Ready to immerse ourselves in the noise and demands of city living, but carrying something special.
Those kangaroos. How unlikely they are. That echidna. How amazing. And all those stars. You hardly see any stars in the city. We head home carrying with us that sense of wonder. That such extraordinary things should exist and flourish in our world. A sense of the magic of it all. That’s what the land gives us. Again and again.
Back home in the city, we are often blind. So busy, we lose sight of the most important thing. To see life, the world, really is a miracle.