Bring the adventure home
It was a cool and cloudy Sunday afternoon, a keen wind buffeting the glass doors leading out into my patio garden. That morning I had bought some seedlings from the local farmers market and resurrected a mini glasshouse from Ikea to keep them protected. I was also hoping this would provide a little suntrap to finish a generous crop of green and yellow tomatoes coming my way. Who knows, perhaps in a couple of months I’d finally have some red tomatoes, along with fresh kale and snow peas to go with the roast chicken giving off wholesome, comforting aromas from the oven. Perhaps.
It is virtually impossible to foresee what life will be like in a couple of months. Will I still be able to go to the farmers market to pick up seedlings? Will I want to if I could? Even today – the first Sunday in April – I felt slightly on edge in the presence of other people, criss-crossing haphazardly, trying to negotiate tables of produce, easily falling back into the habits of human interaction, before a sudden snap of consciousness kicks in. Oh, yes, we need to keep apart. An arbitrary 1.5 metres they say.
Don’t handle that loaf of bread for me thank you. Please don’t make me pay in cash. Stop fondling all of those carrots dear! You’re touching your nose and don’t even know it. Should you have brought your three kids along with you? I mean, I know you and they are probably tearing their hair out, but is it essential? It’s easy for me to say. Are seedlings essential? Is any of this really essential? This is a ticking time bomb. Or maybe not. Who knows? A couple of months is a long time. Virtually impossible to foresee.
A small part of me (or maybe even something bigger) was determined to get my hand on some of those seedlings. Reserve for the future. Just in case. I missed out on the great toilet tissue scramble (four rolls left and counting) and had only limited success with garden supplies. A couple of weeks ago I managed to pick up a kale plant, and it is now going great guns. I wanted more of that, and not just for doomsday reserves. I had taken a little joy in gardening, as limited as my patch of earth is. Clearing and weeding and turning over the soil. Picking the fruits of summer, mostly in the form of green and yellow tomatoes and red chilli. Optimistically sowing salad seeds and planting garlic cloves and transplanting what limited seedlings I could get my hands on. Some are destined to fail, but some will bring delight.
As the era of COVID-19 slowly sinks in, gardening has been one of those small things that some of us remember exists. Much like walking, which has always been a feature of my life. Today, the park close to my home is becoming an intimate friend, but so too reacquaintance with other parts around Canberra that I can easily and safely reach. New discoveries even. New friends.
It seems flippant in the face of such profound impact on life, but one of the aspects of this changing world that has been nagging at me is the idea that we – as humans – should be using this time to better ourselves, to achieve something that we had previously put off. Learn Spanish. Bake artisan sourdough. Study the botany of Australia. Discover a new planet. When in reality most of us would be quite content to stay in our PJs and watch the box set of the The West Wing and long for Martin Sheen to be in charge over there right now. It also assumes we have the time and resources to do these things. Not everyone is twiddling their thumbs in suburban comfort.
The furthest I have got so far in tackling this expectation of self-improvement is reading a few more chapters of an 800-page Murakami epic and buying a dartboard from Target to master the ancient craft of Jim Bowen. I have, thankfully, also been continuing to work, which is keeping The West Wing at bay for the time being. I suppose if I add the newfound gardening, however light on, and – of course – the walking, and you begin to get a picture of my days. Which are starting to feel a little on repeat.
Usually something comes along to break this cycle – a trip to the coast, a work engagement in a regional town, a return to Devon for a cream tea or three. Even dinner or a drink with friends. I can go and seek variety, actively disrupt the status quo, experience different things, discovering new sights and pleasures and inspiration. Finding adventure.
But what happens when you can no longer reach out for adventure, at least to the same degree? How do you bring the adventure home? This was the question thrumming through my brain during those couple of hours of nothingness that falls between afternoon tea and Sunday dinner.
A seed germinates
As things stand there is a relative fortuitousness at being in Canberra Australia at this point in time. Things are a lot better than elsewhere. Calm, under control even. For now.
I can still get a takeaway coffee, though admittedly engaging in a self-imposed and convoluted arrangement, transferring the takeaway cup to one of my own using different hands and a wipe of sanitiser. For the most part, fresh food is plentiful and choices of where and how you can get it abound. The weather is mild, occasional rainy mornings interrupting the run of perfect sun-filled autumn days. Colours are changing, slowly and sedately. Autumn blooms flourish with the recent rains. Nature is looking and feeling happier than it has in many years.
Out in this paradoxical utopia, walking is allowed and naturally provides a focal point to the days. This is something that we can still do, so long as we are no more than two and we maintain that 1.5 metre distance from others. There are so many open spaces here that it doesn’t have to be the same park or the same patch of trees lining a quiet street turning gold. Heck, there are hundreds of kilometres of trails waiting to be trodden, waiting to be discovered. Waiting, perhaps, to be the canvas for your own homespun adventure.
I was vaguely aware that many of the tracks traversing the hills and nature parks on the fringes of suburbia had been linked together to form the Canberra Centenary Trail. I’ve seen the little symbol on many a post I have walked by in various reserves. Indeed, I’ve probably completed a fair few kilometres of the trail over the years. Unwittingly, unintentionally, without any sense of purpose or order.
This came to my mind in that lull between afternoon tea and Sunday dinner, as I contemplated how I might be able to bring the adventure home. How I could potentially do something that may at least feel like I am achieving something. Not changing the world exactly but a goal, a purpose, an activity to both focus the mind and distract from the present. A something that can still be done. For now.
The next hour or so involved the painfully slow download of a set of maps outlining different sections of the Canberra Centenary Trail. In summary, it’s a 145 kilometre loop walk that is structured across seven stages. I had no intention of doing such lengthy stages over such a short period. But I determined that I would set a goal to do it all and in some kind of logical order. Largely in an anticlockwise direction as if turning back time. Unless the future gets in the way.
Such parameters meant that planning was proving a convoluted affair. It became clear that one of the biggest issues I would face would be logistical: going from A to B and then getting back to A again since I would not be continuing onto C and D and E but instead returning to B on a different day and then endeavouring to get to C before going back to B and so on. All this without – in Coronaland – relying on people for car sharing and probably trying to avoid any buses that might happen to appear nearby.
I deduced that bicycle propulsion could provide a solution in parts, allowing me to drop the car off at the intended finish point, cycle to the start, walk to the finish and then drive back and pick up the bike afterwards. Or vice versa. Naturally this would work mainly for flatter, accessible areas. Then I figured some sections could be extended into a loop walk, with a bit of additional creativity and effort. Alas, not all; the more remote stretches would require an in-and-out approach, a there and back again trudge which is never a cause to party. The implication of all this is that I would be walking – and cycling – far more than 145 kilometres.
The other big challenge would of course be things that I had no control over. The uncertainty of the weeks and months ahead. Would I even be allowed outside, albeit solo and remaining in my specific territory? Would nature reserves and trails be closed down? Would I get sick with one thing or another? Would other circumstances conspire against me, leading me to finally amble into Tuggeranong Town Centre in 2026? Woulds. Things that are out of my hands, that can only be navigated at the time. For now, the path was clear. Ish.
With Sunday dinner now reaching its culmination in the oven I parked the maps and scrawls in my notepad and most of the thoughts in my head. It can be revisited again, perhaps next weekend or when things inevitably become quieter with work. Eight in the morning the next day I bought some new walking shoes online. And by that afternoon, I was striding out in my old ones, under gorgeous autumn skies, destined for the Canberra Centenary Trail along Isaacs Ridge.
Why put off until tomorrow the adventure that you can still start today?