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Quiet in Melbourne

I haven’t had a real conversation with anyone in days now, not since leaving Salt Lake City in the wee hours of the last day of last year. Tiptoeing down an icy driveway into the waiting airport transfer, shivering in my summer-in-the-southern-hemisphere jacket, I slipped out of the city in a contemplative quiet that has stayed with me into the hot, summer-vacation bustle of Melbourne, Australia.

Instead of engaging verbally with this new place, I’ve been focused inward, absorbing and cataloging the other sensations and sounds that fill the verbal void: the staticky clicking of dust on a record, the richness of “Abbey Road” on vinyl; the sharp odor of eucalyptus resin in the streets; a crimson and gold flash of parakeets in the trees; the crumble of black soil on freshly harvested beetroot. I’m staying at the home of friends whom I met in Colombia, four years ago. They’re off road-tripping; I’m collecting their mail and their ripe veggies. They left me a bike and a stack of maps, and I’ve been doing research in the mornings, and wandering in the afternoons. The days are long and hot, and there are at least three rivers that run through the metropolitan sprawl. That’s where I’ve been biking.

Savoring the solitude in the back garden.

Savoring the solitude in the back garden.

Not talking to people leaves space for disbelief: I’m still not quite sure that I’m in Australia. I hear accented voices and assume they’re speaking something foreign. The businesses, the left-hand traffic, the city-scape—they’re all so New Zealand. I haven’t seen a kangaroo or a koala or a kookaburra, nothing to fix me in place. I could almost be anywhere.

And so today I found myself in the Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, wandering, talking to the trees, greeting species like old friends. They remind me of other places, too. Araucaria, Chile. Strangler fig and walking palms, the Amazon. Kauri, ponga, flax, and cabbage trees, New Zealand. Agave and juniper, Utah. Nothofagus, Patagonia. The collection is extensive, the grounds beautiful. I wandered blissfully for hours, smelling, touching, silent. I love botanical gardens; they give me hope. I watched a fisherman squatting on a cement wall next to the Yarra River, where it wound through the garden. He had a simple reel, just a plastic spool with a length of fishing line, hook, and lure. He’d cast, then stand back and wave his arms and nod like he was encouraging someone to approach. I couldn’t hear him, but his lips moved. He was talking to the fish.

At some point I’ll start talking to people again. I’m looking into farm work and homestays, and my hosts will be back at the end of the week. I’m not deliberately avoiding conversation. I’m just living and traveling alone, and the habit of not talking is hard to break. For the moment I’m quite happy to listen to the wind, to music, to the trees. And if I get bored, there are always the fish!

3 comments to Quiet in Melbourne

  • Jill Duffield

    Susan- I so enjoyed reading this as I was in Melbourne last January and just loved, loved the city- the hustle and bustle, museums and galleries after all the remote living in NZ for a year. You took me back there.

    Not sure how you got here- the other day I was reading your Shackleton Exploration….how did you get from there to Salk lake and then Aussie…think I must have missed something.

    So far from New Durham. Your sense of self in your writing is boundless. What/where is next? Not back to our frigid northeast, I hope.

  • Lise B

    Sounds sublime. I can’t wait to read more.

  • Hi Susan.
    I admire your free spirit. Our daughter Laurie was so much like you after college and still is.
    What a wonderful gift your giving to others.
    God Bless.

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