Saturday, 28 January 2012

Fencing in the Wild

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I've ticked off one of my New Year's Resolutions. We've just come home from a week in wild weather at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island - one of the most beautiful wild places on earth. I went swimming in the surf every day, collected seaweed for my seaweed brew, and walked around North Gorge every morning.

North Gorge walk at Point Lookout is spectacular. I never ever walk it without seeing wildlife - pods of dolphins surfing in on waves, sea turtles, manta rays, humpbacks in whale season. When we were kids the walk was a goat track round the rocks, a narrow unfenced track with sheer drop-offs 40 metres down to ocean so blue you can see turtles swimming metres underwater.

I vividly remember going round the gorge once as a child - I must have been about nine or ten - in wild weather. Lashing rain, huge waves crashing against the rocks sending spray up even to the 40 metre height of the headland, sea turquoise mixed with gunmetal, the gorge full of mermaid foam.

Gradually, over the years, the walk has been tamed, first with steps in the rock, then fencing along parts, then broadwalks. This time, for the first time, most of the way is broadwalk. It is a beautifully built broadwalk, and I can see the point. I have walked it with my kids with my heart in my mouth. I have feared to take other people's kids, especially in wild weather. But there is a part of me that mourns the taming.

We humans have an appetite for thrill. On the way there we passed Dreamworld themepark at the Gold Coast,  advertising "The Tower of Terror" where "riders soar 100m into the atmosphere dangling for several seconds of stomach-churning weightlessness at its peak before plummeting back to earth". Dreamworld says the Tower of Terror mark 1 had over 8 million "panicked passengers."

It's an odd idea. A hugely expensive, constructed mechanism designed to create the thrill of fear, the illusion of danger without real danger. Artificial. Unreal. A lie.

I don't think that kind of exploitation of the taste for terror is healthy, but I do think there is something valuable that is lost - maybe necessarily, but sadly - in the broadwalk around North Gorge. That walk taught me, as a child, some valuable lessons, like some risks are not make-believe but permanent. Wild nature is spectacularly beautiful and can take you to profound places, but it doesn't take care of you.  I can do things that are risky and keep myself safe.  Fear is not a reason to stop, or a reason to go, but a reason to take care.

North Gorge offered the opportunity to look at real danger, to experience the thrill, but to have total control over the risk. Fishermen have been washed off the lower rocks, but I can't find a record of anyone actually slipping off the track. It's a lot more relaxing and meditative a walk these days, and still spectacularly beautiful. But thrill that is both real and confrontable is rare, and it's a bit sad to lose it.


Kim said...

We find this thinking to be very true with our own children, Linda. They have grown up on the farm, explored ....been dangerous....learnt .The result is they are very capable in the natural environment and we don't worry about them.
When other young visitors come though, we have to be very vigilant in their care , because many have grown up in a 'safe' world with signs telling them what to do and pathways like the one you are talking about.
There is something to be said about embracing the unknown ,feel that that is adventure.

knutty knitter said...

Tourism has a lot to answer for round here too. The wild has retreated from some of our favourite places. They are still beautiful but now feel more like botanical gardens.

The only plus is I can still go there even when I'm really old and/or frail.

viv in nz

Anonymous said...

I see a lot of taming of the wild places around here too. It's like being guarded by some entity that thinks they know what's best for you, instead of having your independence to learn and choose your own risk level. It makes me sad too.

brenda from ar

kymber said...

we live in a very "virgin" and wild area. it was a choice to come here. we love the wildness. and i really enjoyed this post. thank you.

SARINA said...

I knew a place just like it, some 27 years ago. Here in Britain we used to have such a place right down at the most westerly point of England, at Lands End in Cornwall. 27 years ago I used to walk over foot paths barefooted, with my baby daughter strapped to my back, often collecting wild mint that grew along those paths. When I went back there 5 years ago for a visit I was very sad to see everything cordened off by savety ropes, and the wild mint I used to pick was long gone. Now, tourists swarm everywhere and trample over those rocks and pathways without a concern for fauna or flora. It`s such a shame that society seems to dictate now what`s safe and what`s not. No room for your own explorations and learning curve anymore. I went home utterly disappionted. The beauty of nature was now taken over by unconcerned folk that had no eye for the wild life or the wild flowers that grew there years ago. Litter is now found amongst the rocks and the memories of those years ago when I walked there in peace with nature have been tainted forever.

LindaG said...

I think it is sad whenever we lose wildness.
There is too much of other people telling us what is good and right for us.
Thanks for sharing your post with us.

Lana said...

Sadly, two daughter's of a man whom my husband went to highschool with were walking long an wild stretch of river bank in NC a number of years ago and both slipped and drowned. It is a tragedy that is hard to forget. I agree with you wholeheartedly but things like this happen nearly every year in our area of mountain rivers and waterfalls.