Today, I went climbing with friends. We strolled into the mountain bike park set on Mt Alexander in Harcourt North. The Park is called La Larr Ba Gauwa, meaning ‘stones and mountain’ in Dja Dja Wurrung language. The walk was gentle, our gear heavy but the road well-graded.
Leaving the access road behind the closed gate we’d parked at, we stepped through grey, dry grass. Shin-high and higher. Brackish stuff, too, stuff that audibly snapped as we trudged through it.
The boulders we approached we’re blazoned green with a species of lichen that I know is synonymous with the granite in the area. The tors were small at first, heads popping out of the soft, fibrous soil. They built quickly though. We left that brackish assembly of what I would colloquially call ‘grasses’, and as the gradient kicked we stepped into a loose compost of bark, ten centimetres deep in places. This is where the tors poked out from beneath the ground’s surface, where the trees became tall and consistently present. And, the tors built quickly into towering slabs that faced downhill, still buried for the most-part on their high side.
As I watched my friends climb, I was distracted by the temperatures and textures I was in contact with. I was sitting, for the most-part, in shade, on a flattish boulder. The granite was tactile. The composition of the rock didn’t run away from me like the grit on the boulders at Dog Rocks (this is another climbing area, south in the saddle of Mount Alexander Regional Park, that we climbed at last week). Where we were, the lichen covers more than fifty percent of the surface area of some of the rocks. Old patches leave what I can best describe as an illusion of negative space. The granite where these patches were – I don’t know how long ago – are now a pristine light grey. Stark, is the contrast in tones between the once-covered and the not covered granite. An urban comparison would be the difference between a bleached surface in a long-uncleaned bathroom and a surface right by it that remained in its old state. This is not to say that I think the lichen I saw is dirty; just that it, plus exposed rock, plus the rock that it has ‘recently’ exposed make for a beautiful confusion; a mottled complexion, of granite. The time that has gone into this rock environment is amazing.
The two other things that I observed of the granite were: a tinting of some areas; they were orange, and a ‘weft’ of moss that clung to a rock face on maybe a forty-five-degree angle. ‘Weft’ is a term that was introduced to me by Mosses of dry forests in south eastern Australia. It describes a ropey mat of moss, or other plant that is growing horizontally, which hangs off a tree or rock. For example, moss species Dawsonia longiseta cannot form a weft because it colonises as scattered indivuduals. Hypnum cupressiforme on the other hand grows cumulatively outwards (rather than singularly upwards). I didn’t try to identify the moss species. Investigating the orange colouring I saw, online for a good half an hour just now, I don’t think I can speculate or state anything about it. It may have been more prominent on protected faces, that’s all I’ll say for now.
We took pause, watching a Wedge-tailed Eagle levitate overhead. We heard two birds calling. The calls were high and lengthy. We supposed that they were from that eagle and another that joined it after a few minutes. They flew together but separate, gradually getting closer until they came within a few metres of one another and then glided on in closer tandem than before. One was larger than the other, a dark brown, missing a few feathers. The smaller that joined it was almost black and its coat appear pristine. I heard somewhere that juvenile Wedgies are darker. They watched us, came within thirty metres, constantly circling, rarely beating their wings.
My thoughts and follow-up questions from today:
- The lichen was so durable, it seemed unimpacted by my footfall… how?
- There were some damp spots within the combinations of rocks. Clearly water runs through them when enough rain falls. Is this because there are unground creeks in Mt Alex? Because the water that falls follows the rock surfaces it hits? Because the rainfall finds its way by cracks in the rock, and by gradient, to these larger pockets that can receive from multiple tributaries and carry their collective flow?
- The trees that grow on Mt Alexander aren’t, at least exclusively, the three species that occupy Box-Ironbark forest. What are they? (The ones I saw weren’t straight-trunked like Grey Box, they looked – without looking – like Red Box, but larger than those in Bendigo.) I can check the EVC of the area for this one.
- What are the differences between juvenile and mature Wedge-tailed Eagles?
- How does a ‘wedge(-shaped) tail’ differ from other eagles’, falcons, harriers, kites, etc.?
- Why is the rock orange???