I know a couple who walk in the Macedon Ranges. They drive out from Melbourne for the day, and their idea of walking is to cover territory. 18 kms, 20 kms, in all weathers. They arrive back at our place for a cuppa, glowing. I listen to their talk about the distance covered, in what time, with that bemused attitude the old have in the face of the energy of the young.
They used to invite me, but I declined. I don’t want to walk that fast, and there’s always work that needs doing around the property. The one time I did say yes, some years ago, we went up a stony, exposed slope so fast that I found myself unaccountably out of breath, my heart running very fast. This was the tachycardia I had been scrupulously ignoring, that came and went and came again until I and half a dozen medicos settled the matter in an operating theatre. Alright, I had very little to do with it, though they couldn’t have done it without me!
Anyway, I’d written off that kind of walking as ‘not my thing’, and my friends had given up inviting me. Then one Saturday recently, she was busy and he still wanted to walk, and out of obligation really I said yes, plus there was a promise of a short walk, just 12 kms. We drove up past Mt Macedon village, turned right into a steep cleft in the range, and parked beside what the map told us was the Macedon Ranges Walking Trail. Tight steps winding up, a slope as stony and exposed as the last time I was here, and winter’s chilling wind.
This time, my pulse lifted and levelled to a satisfactory work rate. Up the slope, onto a broad hilltop of small trees and grasses, then to a good dirt road. The blood and oxygen flowed, with air so sweet and cool! With the benefit of a little altitude, I found my breathing rhythm and my stride. Trees rose on every side, and the track wound on ahead. Then it came to me, or truer to say, I walked my way into it: ‘Ah, this, this is why you come here!’ My companion nodded, beaming - ‘But of course!’
We walked. The sun came out, lighting up the hillside, then retreated behind cloud. The trees and understorey adjusted themselves in the most subtle ways to changes in slope and aspect. We traversed a living land. Eventually, we came to the picnicked parts, rounded the lake and headed back down the same track, different taken this way and as fresh as the upward journey. Thigh muscles complained but held good down the final steep slope to the car, and then to sausage rolls at the Trading Post. Magnificent!
The next day, I was digging through digital folders, tidying up, and came an interview with John Berger. After his success with ‘Ways of Seeing’, Berger turned his back on London and the art scene and settled in the mountains of the Haute Savoie in France. A passionate intellectual, he lived and worked alongside the peasants there for the rest of his life. Of that place, he said: “This landscape was part of my energy, my body, my satisfaction and discomfort. I loved it not because it was a view – but because I participated in it.”
Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare