Oliver Fryett took the chance to spend an unusual couple of days in the takayna / Tarkine and decided that, no matter what the circumstances, it’s always best to say an emphatic ‘Yes!’ to time in nature.
Wind whistles through the cracked window, attempting to ward off the ever-present threat of motion sickness. None of the passengers, however, dares slide it open further, even as the road begins to wind its way around the feet of mountains and plunges into valleys.
Although the bus’s thermostat stubbornly hovers around 16°c, the air has a chilly edge to it. Its last landfall was the southern tip of Argentina or the icy deserts of Antarctica. The journey across the vast Southern Ocean, as part of the Roaring Forties, is complete and it howls over Tasmania’s western coastline. Rolling across the rainforests of the takayna / Tarkine, it carries the smells of the bush into the twenty-two-seater chugging along the Murchison Highway.
I take a moment to inhale deeply, my chest filling with the refreshing wild air. In particular, the moist earthy scents call for my attention. Although not unique to the West Coast, the smell of both impending and passing rain is one that is forever linked to the area. For me, there is a personal fascination with the phenomena, one that I share with CSIRO scientists of the 1970s.
Wilderness, Meet Science
Isabel Bear and Richard Thomas, while working at the CSIRO’s Division of Mineral Chemistry, discovered the underlying cause of the aroma. An oil, stored within rocks, is released when moisture enters the pores of the material.
They named this oil petrichor, from the Greek words petra, or stone, and ichor, which refers to the blood of the gods. Once released, this ‘blood of the stone’ is flung into the air by the falling heavens and spread by the winds. The smell, particularly prominent after an extended dry period, borrows the oil’s name. Pause and absorb your surroundings as the next front passes through and you will no doubt notice changes in the air.
The West Coast’s average annual rainfall sits about 2400ml, and as you travel through the region, especially during summer, the higher humidity is a noticeable feature. Due to these conditions, petrichor lingers throughout the year, mixing with the forest vegetation. This compounded smell, the cool touch of the air, the vibrant array of greens, the way that fog hangs low over rivers of glass and the surf crashes against the rugged coast, strikes a chord with me.
Here, on a bus full of hyped-up seventeen-year-olds travelling through a remote, wild and generally wet region, a familiar feeling rises within. Like an old friend re-emerging, it first moves cautiously before becoming more bold and insistent. A friend invoked by the wilderness. Like coming home.
Make It Count
The next few days are spent walking along trails (check out Montezuma Falls, seriously), kayaking and swimming in Lake Roseberry and along the Pieman River from Corrina. Those few days didn’t come about as any of my usual adventures would either. Normally trips require a substantial amount of planning and organising, of both supplies and people. Work schedules, family birthdays and at times, flat out laziness, get in the way. We have all experienced the pain of a plan cancelled at the last minute or one which never truly gains legs.
This is why when a 2-day gap in between work shifts coincided with an Outdoor Education camp run by my old school I was quick to jump aboard. Sure, there was a degree of scepticism around helping run activities with a group of unruly teenagers, but this was overruled by the opportunity to get away.
In the end, the scepticism was unwarranted anyway. Although only recently removed from school myself, the camp reminded me what adult life often misses; mucking around with a group of people, gaining some experience whilst having a laugh. The students’ enjoyment when cooking their own meals on a camp stove was as pure as you can get.
In some Greek myths, ichor is said to retain the properties of ambrosia and nectar, the food and drink of the gods. One of these properties is that of healing, which cannot simply be a coincidence. This sentiment is backed up by science; humans’ affection for petrichor is believed to be retained from our ancestors, who relied on rain for survival. In addition, several studies also suggest that spending time outside reduces stress and recharges energy levels.
So from Western science we know that rain and access to nature are important to our health, and even more fundamentally, our very survival. Combine this with the teachings of Aboriginal cultures, many of which hold that people are part of the land, intertwined in its fabric, and a possible conclusion arises. Perhaps petrichor’s healing power comes from the collision of water, with its life-sustaining properties, and the earth, which is an extension of ourselves. In the same way that trees grow in the right environment, we rejuvenate ourselves in nature where the connection to this cycle is felt the strongest.
Personally, I have gained a snippet of knowledge from these experiences, which is what I will leave you with; do not miss an opportunity to get into the wilderness, even when it’s presented through new and unlikely means or happening in your own backyard.
Feature photo by @henry_brydon
Let’s protect what sustains us…