I Ran Away to China, Part 2

Reading my diary entries from my time in China, there are some themes that become evident.

One is trust. From my first few days I found this quote, “Trusting people has so far paid dividends… “. I wrote this on my way from the eastern seaboard to the western-most city without my phone, without any Mandarin, alone, on my first jaunt abroad… I had no issues. Through the month’s-worth of writing that followed that statement I found repeated references to a belief that everyone is fundamentally good; that people should be given the chance to help; that smiling and being respectful of someone will see you receive smiles and respect. That supporting and caring for others results in good karma. Because of bad things happening in my life before I left, I arrived in China questioning this faith. I left with it resurrected.

I also had a clear, contiguous intention to “create” while away; to read, write and draw. And, more broadly, to create new neurological pathways – to have to think in ways that living in Australia has subsidised me of. I left for China “(with) the intention of recording everything (in writing or by illustration)”, but I lost that urge. I thought that my time there was going to be an incredibly productive block of time – that I was going to dedicate a lot of time to art. I did not. Early-on, “I realise that I carry a lot of stress because of the pressure I place on myself to record and ‘produce’.” Thus, I questioned myself, “… what is my writing actually worth?” And then decided, “I would like less to be thinking about what I have been doing and will be doing than what I am doing… The point is not that I record all of this, it is that I live it.” My tone transitions gradually as I flick the pages, from worrisome to grateful; and in the middle-part of my journey I simply write, “Every day has its story.”

Time, on an immediate scale and in a lifetime’s context, is another prominent theme in my entries. I found a schedule of my days at the temple. If I hadn’t joined morning prayer, I was walking to the river by 6. Bedtime was 9. The day consisted of three training blocks. They were mental, remedial and physical. We ate three good meals in a day. We had four hours of personal time per day. “How busy and slow this life (could) be”, amazed me. I also found it “extraordinary how quickly people can come together when they share one thing as powerful as travel.” I learnt that “it is deceptive how much you can get done whilst truly taking your time.” These comments on the pacing of days are throughout my diary and relate to my very non-Buddhist obsession with western ‘productivity’. While in China, I challenged that ‘head down and work hard for your future’ ethic with a “head down, work hard for now and the future, and look around sometimes, too”. China upended my extremely money-orientated view of the world.

For now, that’s all that I’ve extracted from my diary entries from China that I think could be of benefit to myself, my friend that asked me this question, or you. I think these couple of pages answer the question of how the trip has developed me. I’ll leave you with a quote from June 29.

“I thought, while I walked, that the hike is a good metaphor for life and striving to achieve. The path is tough, the temptation is to take shortcuts and get distracted. Distraction will only satisfy you for so long and may result in fatal strides off the path. Shortcuts diminish achievement and associated satisfaction. The journey is beautiful and dangerous. Take in your surrounds, but do not settle for them.”

It doesn’t flow well, but it holds good principles and a tone of cautious encouragement that I flew back home with on my shoulder.

A month is only a short time, but it is also a long time, and I am grateful for it.

I Ran Away to China

What sort of life skills/self-discovery do you think you have gained from your trip to China? – friend, April 2020.

China changed my life.

Two of the three times that I’ve moved house I’ve packed everything and then gone overseas before securing a new place to stay. China was the first of those experiences and it taught me a lot. I left around the middle of June – June 14th from memory – and returned on about the 17th of July 2018.

The first thing it taught me was that running away isn’t the solution to anything; leaving the bad means leaving the good, and I believe that there’s a lot of value in retaining a connection to one’s childhood. I deserted democracy, capitalism, Catholicism, the English language, my family. I found communism, Buddhism, Taoism, the Mandarin language, foreign friends. It didn’t take me long to realise that I wanted to go back to Australia, to take aspects of lifestyle and bits of knowledge back with me, but to definitely go back to my roots; I did not want to be transplanted to where I was or, in all likelihood, any other place other than Australia. I realised a love of my home country and people that I hadn’t felt due to overwhelming amounts of frustration and despair in the preceding months.

The second thing I learnt was that silence is, by default to some, terrifying, and I am included in that some. If you’re not equipped to silence your mind and then thrust into a situation where the world is silent, it’s tormenting. With no meditative experiences to fall back on, a charisma that typically feeds off other people’s energy and my phone switched off, one week in a temple truly challenged me. I realised that I didn’t need silence and disconnect any longer than a week and decided to move on – from the temple and from digital isolation. This was learning in practice. I didn’t run away from the temple despite the fact that abandonment was encouraged. I stayed-out my week, wrote, thought, trained hard, and planned my next moves… I wasn’t running away from a situation I didn’t like.

This leads me to my third learning; planning ‘on the fly’ is good sometimes. I was raised to a schedule, taught that planning ahead is the best thing to do – know where you’ll be and with who a week from now, that kind of thing – and it is a really good thing to do. But there are times when you shouldn’t plan. I was running away from the ‘structures that held me’, I needed fluidity on my horizon and in my landscape (in more foreseeable future and in my now). My time in China taught me that taking things a day or a week at a time can reduce stress immensely. Worrying about the now often leads to me better-applying myself to tasks than worrying about the future does. I have a theory called hypocalypse that builds off of this, maybe I’ll write about it sometime.

Just reflecting off the top of my head I can’t think of anything else that I’ve learnt from that journey. I’m going to find my journal entries from then and see if I have more to add to this answer. I’m sure that there’s more that I learnt and have applied to my life in the past. I’m sure that there are connections between that time in my life and now. There may even be some stories I wish to share. I expect I’ll write a Part Two.

Spring Gully Dam, March 31

It’s taken just five days, from me starting this journal until now, to have some rather big realisations… about my learning style, my motivations, and my current lifestyle.

  • I enjoy learning in a group setting but I prefer reinforcing learnings privately, away from classmates that I feel judged by. Practicing practical skills alone give me a sense of security around the way I like to do things and reminds me of two major things: that there is no ‘right’ way of doing anything, and when I’m not overwhelmed with the feeling of fear; either held toward assessment, the environment or my peers, I do love nature.
  • I do want to be studying outdoor education right now, and I do want to be a secondary teacher. I have connected with the bush that surrounds Bendigo in these last five days. It’s a feeling of linkage that has never come to me exploring the environment before.
  • I’m excited by the prospect of exploring as much of our country as possible by means of adventure, appreciating its components and varied ecosystems. I’m only studying bushwalking and cross-country skiing, but I want to climb, I want to kayak, I want to mountain bike and canoe. I want to bike tour, trail run and cave. I want to drive expanses of this country and get myself into magical nooks of appreciation, building a strong sense of Country, identity and grounds for teaching as I go.
  • I might consider myself moody, an unreliable employee, inconsistent at tasks, a sporadic communicator, any number of things relating to my solidness as a human. What is consistent about me though, objectively, is who I surround myself with, or who surrounds me when I don’t reach out to them. I may not think a lot of myself a lot of the time, but the people around me are amazing, and so whether I am a refraction of them or they are a refraction of me, I have more qualities or aspects of my life to feel proud, happy and confident of than I allow myself to.

Basically, in the last five days, I’ve discovered that this ‘online’ learning environment suits me better than the environment afforded at the classrooms and lecture hall of the Outdoor Education Department at La Trobe. I’ve realised that fear has gotten in the way of a lot of enjoyment and professional and personal development thus far in my degree. I’ve rediscovered my yearn to wander and explore; my nature strip, the local Parks and Australia as a whole. I have questioned my self-worth with an eye to alleviating myself of the burden of negative core beliefs.

The walk along the aqueduct was gorgeous, sunlight filtering through the trees. It was the perfect mix of shade and sun. I saw the most stunning, stunning Red-Bellied Black, hunting in a section of the aqueduct that is dry. He was beautiful. I swear we cannot replicate the colours that nature produces. I suspect he was looking for lizards. There were dozens of skinks that skitted away from me throughout the three-hour round journey.

At the dam, I collected moss samples in film canisters, from an especially green patch of bush on the lowside of the dam. I think that there’s a small underground creek running beneath it year-round, a crack in the dam wall that is gravity-fed water which finds its way downhill by seeping further and further from whence it came. These specimens will be the first for my moss terrarium.

I brainstormed my Bush focus area and Interps presentation theme well, but my ideas haven’t sorted themselves out enough yet to be fleshed-out here. Things that I’m considering are: Box-Ironbark forest, bodies of water in Box-Ironbark forest, Mt Alexander by comparison to Box-Ironbark forest, vegetation of the Box-Ironbark forest, basic ecology of either setting, presentation by means of a story book and storytelling, presentation by means of an original card or board game.

Kennington Reservoir, March 29

Today, it rained. Briefly, but it was greatly appreciated. You could tell the birds loved it from the chorus they kicked up as soon as it began. When it stopped after half an hour or so, I walked to Kennington Reservoir to hear the birds. I could hear them but I couldn’t see them – I could see the waterbirds, but the fliers and fleeters stayed way up in the canopy, singing and swooping with glee.

As I walked, I tried to casually identify the trees, looking at things like bark, trunk structure, colouring and leaf shape. I think I saw Red Box and Grey Box. I got distracted by the ground. Why didn’t I bring my hand lens?? The moss on the ground was looking plump and green from six feet above.

I got down on my knees and photographed some patches. I’m going to review those photos now with my reference Mosses of the dry forest in south eastern Australia:

  • Didymodon torquatus “embedded in the soil”, spirally, starfish-looking, bright green wet
  • Grimmia pulvinate on a sedimentary rock, very ‘hairy’-looking, olive-leaf green wet
  • Triquetrella papillata on a granite rock, similar stem structure to Braunia imberbis and Hedwigia ciliata, similar translucence to Leptodontium paradoxum, seaweedy look
  • Syntrichia papillosa in a ‘tuft’ amongst ground cover, really curly edges; “concave”, the leaves “narrow abruptly to a stout hairpoint”, looks soggy and a bit brown wet
  • Sematophyllum homomallum near the base of a tree, bronzzzzze!

My thoughts and follow-up questions on today:

  • What shape are Grey Box leaves? I’ve known this but I need to embed it in my memory. The leaves I saw today were ovular.
  • What resources, other than Cassia Read and Bernard Slattery’s text, can I use to develop my knowledge of moss beyond a basic ability to identify?
  • I’m going to grow a bed of moss.
  • What IS that lichen I saw at La Laar Ba Gauwa? It was mixed in with the moss at the reservoir.

La Larr Ba Gauwa Park, March 28

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???

One Tree Hill, March 27

Today, I went for a walk in Greater Bendigo National Park. It was the first day of my Bush focus area.

I learnt that three trees make the forest that is Box-Ironbark. The forest, therefore, could be described as a triculture; as opposed, for example, to the monoculture of River Red Gums that line the banks of the Murray River.

  • Red Box has a fluid trunk that likes to meander. Its bark is bareish at the ends of its limbs. Its leaves are very blue and very round, like that of a juvenile Grey Box (not the similar looking when developed Black Box).
  • Grey Box typically stands in a ‘y’ shape, with slender, sickle, green leaves. Its bark is very grey – very not Red Box, very not Ironbark.
  • Red Ironbark (s.sp. tricarpa), is black like a burnt trunk… but it’s not, it just is. Its bark is black and as the ‘Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forest’ describe it, “deeply furrowed”.

The two shrubs I was able to identify by eye were Kangaroo Thorn and Cherry Ballart. Mistletoe is present but not disturbingly dominant, and there’s one moss – I suspect a variety of Hypnum cupressiforme (lacunosum?) or Sematophyllum homomallum, that is most visible from our height.

Beneath the patchy covering of dust, the soil is sun-baked – impenetrable without an implement. Rocks look shades of yellow, orange, red and maroon. One of the many faces of these rocks tend to be flat, where the others are jagged or bumpy.

Fingernail and finger-thick strata are both exposed, the latter in quarries man dug.

Quartz litters the ground in many places. We picked a piece up that coexisted with a navy-blue rock, their shared seam so precisely divisive. The change in texture felt when dragging our finger across a whole face was puzzling and satisfying.

We heard a lot more birds than we saw. I identified none, just enjoyed their calls.

My thoughts and follow-up questions on today:

  • What more makes a Red Box a Red Box, a Grey Box a Grey Box and a Red Ironbark a Red Ironbark? I heard somewhere that there are two subspecies of Red Ironbark, is this true?
  • What other shrubs can I find in Box-Ironbark forest? My friend showed me a short list she has highlighted in her Costermans. I should revisit it and find the specimens listed.
  • What IS that obvious moss? I should get my hand lens out from wherever it has forsakenly been stored, take a spray bottle and my field guide, and ID the little buggers.
  • I need to revisit what we were shown in First Year about the geology, geography and geomorphology of the Greater Bendigo Region. The textures, consistencies and colours beneath my feet are an ununderstood beauty that I am always in contact with.
  • Birds take time. The beauty of birds is realised when you get a proper look at them. We watched a coddle of Musk Lorikeets feed on a bottlebrush species by the roadside as we finished our walk back in town. Within two metres these ‘common’ birds were stunning.
  • The bush is relaxing, calming, questioning what you’re worried about.
  • Box-Ironbark forest is stunted, but it is remnant vegetation of sorts, and it is my neighbour. It is my sky and my sea, and I should learn it like a sailor.