South African cucumber; given to us by Linda’s friend.
The small blue Rav4 lightly grappled with the slick dirt as we climbed up the steep drive way. We were on our way to see a man named Gordon. Linda had explained this to me moments earlier. Linda owns the Gateway Retreat, where I will be staying until April 29th. “I hate these unpaved drive ways” Linda tells me. I nod. It isn’t exactly typical driving terrain, and when the Rav 4 was purchased, I get the impression that it wasn’t with steep terrain in mind. We pass a parked car. “That’s my friends car. We’re on the right road.” I nod and take in the scenery as we continue to climb the side of the mountain. As we went up I paid no attention to the inclined grade. Just weeks ago I had been driving Quintin’s 4wd utility vehicle or UT, pronounced “yoot”, around the hills of Maidenwell. The forestry began to become thicker as we climbed. I noticed that somewhere on the way up it had mixed into a vast spectrum of different types. I’m not used to seeing such flora. “Gordon is revitalizing an old rain forest”, Linda says. We begin to enter some mist. We park the Rav4 and approach Gordon’s self built home to have smoko, tea, with him and several of Linda’s friends that have been waiting for us. Within minutes of meeting Linda, I have met a group of her friends, shared tea and conversation with them, and then began preparing to leave Gordon’s altogether. The business portion of the visit had been taken care of earlier. I had arrived just in time for smoko.
Before leaving the house on the hill top I had found myself becoming absent from the conversation. I didn’t really know anyone and it was hard for me to invest any earnest conversation without becoming distracted by the surrounding forest. The house was one of those that jettison out from the side of the hillside. We were about 3/4 as high as the trees closest to the side of the house. It had started raining earlier when Linda had picked me up. Now it was a drizzle, perhaps not even a drizzle, but the water was noticeably dripping from the infinite leaves in the forest. The sound was unmistakable and soothing. The mist rolled thickly down the hill before fading into nothing just before enveloping the house. The first sound I had picked out was the trickle of the water as it dropped from leaf to leaf. With so many leaves around it is quite distinct. Rain forest, I kept telling myself. This had to feel like one. I looked out to the tree tops that dropped lower and lower as my eyes cast their focus further out. Not many trees beyond and it was an open expanse that offered more trees further off into the distance. Birds were in far off places. I didn’t see them but the unmistakable sound of half a dozen filled the air. It was peaceful. The birds did not seem to jar the continued uninterrupted silence of the forest. Instead they complimented it like the light noise of a xylophone might in the background of a musical. If the rain-forest were a main course, the birds singing would be the complimentary blend of spices, taking a wholesome delight and making it seemingly perfect. By the time of our leave I had asked Gordon about a bird that had begun to notice. Now let me first say that I have never enjoyed the sound of a bird before. I haven’t developed that form of appreciation for them. To me, birds break the peace. They break up the sounds of the trees that I enjoy. Not just that either. Have you ever listened to the ocean waves rush in on the wood posts of a dock only to have the sounds shattered by the shrieks of seagulls flapping about? Bird sounds aren’t naturally pleasing to me. Most of the time I simply find them to be too much. Plus, they wake me up. This bird was, however, different. I had not heard a bird like this before. Off in the distance I listened to its quick sound that was similar to water was dropped into water in an echo causing chamber. The echoed sound morphed into a sound not unlike wind in a tube and then immediately followed by a quick succession of three ticks. The part that struck me was the echo throughout the hill. Rain-forest. I sat there focused on the backdrop of water tapping the leaves and looked out on the wet forest. The occasional call of the bird unique bird continued to echo down the hillside. I have never heard such a collage of sounds. Gordon replied to my question of the bird. It is a whip bird, and a male was calling to a female. The ticks weren’t the same bird after all but the reply of the female bird.
Later we reached the Gateway Retreat. Where Kooloombah was dry horse country, and Tricia’s house was coastal property, the Gateway Retreat differentiates itself as it is settled in an old rain-forest. The rain-forest has long been gone, but one of the projects of Gateway Retreat is to help in its revitalization.
Before the day would end I would enter a metal gate that would take me into the large compound. The property is beautifully kept, reminding me of Club Med quality that I had visited in Mexico long ago. Luscious trees and plants all in perfect arrangement and magnificently kept. We pulled up to the cottage. “Manuel will show you around” and Linda was off to her home on the property. Manuel is a young German student who is leaving the grounds on Monday. He has been here a week and I follow his lead up the pathway to the cottage door.
The cottage blew me away. It is fully furnished, and something that I imagine anyone would easily pay $300 a night to stay in. Leather sofas, hardwood floors, flat screen, fireplace, fully stocked kitchen, two bathrooms (one with a stand up shower), fully furnished bedrooms, porch, and a back patio with a mini-fountain that lights at night. I spent the next 20 minutes looking around in a sort of disbelief. I had been taken by surprise at the sight it all.
Several hours later I was joining Linda and Manuel in the Rav4. We were going to eat dinner with several of Linda’s friends where I was to enjoy some continuous Aussie conversation sitting on a wrap-around porch in the suburbs. After an exquisite dinner we moved onto a belt-bursting cheese cake. “You have The Cheesecake Factory in the States, don’t you?” I had been asked. I agreed that we do. They have The Cheesecake Shoppe in Australia I learn. After dessert we have coffee and then a treat, homemade liquor made by one of the guests. As we sip the smooth 40-proof butterscotch schnapps we go into a lengthy discussion on the process, which has seemingly been perfected by the spirits provider. Before the end of the evening the schnapps respectably finds its way into the glass of all who are attending, including my coffee. Just before midnight Manuel and I enter the cottage and say our farewells as we turn in for the night. I’m reading The Island of Dr. Moreau now and I do so just before turning off the light. I rest my head on yet another strange bed and close my eyes.