A chaos of delight

“The delight one experiences at such times bewilders the mind, if the eye attempts to follow the flight of a gaudy butter-fly, it is arrested by some strange tree or fruit; if watching an insect one forgets it in the stranger flower it is crawling over, if turning to admire the splendour of the scenery, the individual character of the foreground fixes the attention. The mind is a chaos of delight, out of which a world of future and more quiet pleasure will arise.”

This quote, about being in a rainforest, comes from a diary entry by Charles Darwin for the 28th of February, 1832, which he wrote during his formative, round-the-world adventure on the HMS Beagle, the voyage that of course birthed his Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. I came across it in a book I’m reading at the moment, and it made me think of a walk we did recently. No great theory emanated from our walk, as far as I’m aware, not even a half-decent notion or even a useful suggestion (although the old one about bringing salt with you when you go for a walk in the forest in the rain is always worth heeding), but it was a grand walk nonetheless.

A wet leaf, one of several I saw in the forest during our walk

My investigations reveal that Darwin was in Brazil at the time he wrote that particular diary entry: Salvador, to be precise. Well, we weren’t as far away from home as the gentleman from Shrewsbury was. Springbrook National Park is about one hour’s drive south of us, inland a little from the southern end of the Gold Coast, right on the border with New South Wales, a border that has since been locked-down. It’s part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area which makes it even more intriguing because of course Gondwana, according to the internet, was an ancient supercontinent that broke up about 180 million years ago, yielding the landmasses of Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula. That’s a lot of trees.

I think this is Tamarramai Falls but, you know, it’s very hard to tell from the map with all that canopy cover.

At the end of a short rainy season that saw the fires that had Australia cropping up on the news all around the world well and truly damped out, the waterfalls up in Springbrook were bound to be spectacular. The first chance we had we drove down through the rain and turned off the coast road, ascending up and onto the Lamington/Springbrook plateau.

I’ve always thought that one’s reaction to rain came down to how hard done by one feels. That’s why, for instance, no-one is going to get annoyed at a soft day in Ireland, even in July, whereas if one finds oneself on a beach in Greece in July ducking for cover, well, one has a right to feel quite hard done by indeed. Especially if it’s one of those beaches where it costs two euros just to be able to sit down on one of the loungers put there by the disco-playing beach bar ‘running’ that particular stretch of coastline, a practice mercifully still alien to Aussie beach culture. So in a rainforest one can object to the rain about as much as one can to the collection of large woody perennial plants. And anyway, if you’re from Ireland, like some of us are, there’s something unbelievably exotic and mysterious about a rainforest. The word alone conjures up all sorts of Amazonian, Tarzany images in the mind. Something to be explored, but also to be wary of.

At the top of the falls. On a clear day you can see forever. Not today.

Having said all that, by the time we got up onto the plateau the downpour was a little too exotic for our suburban tastes so we hunkered down in a cafe called Rosella’s and played Connect 4 and chess over a couple of fortifying flat whites. A rosella, by the way, is a type of parrot. We didn’t end up seeing any today – if there were any around they and their bright red plumage weren’t visible through the weather. In fact, other than the leech that affixed itself to my calf later on, I don’t think I saw a single other creature of nature (luckily, we had some pink, middle-class salt with us so I was able to rid myself easily enough of that one solitary creature I’d seen.)

Within a few minutes of actually starting the walk we were, of course, pretty much soaked through. The other members of the expedition party tend to be quite paranoid about leeches, to the point of bringing up the subject about once every four minutes, and so they must have found it horrifying to see plenty of other people walking around in the pouring rain in the most inadequate of footwear, almost as if they were members of a scientific team, deliberately exposing themselves to bloodsuckers the better to study them. This is how real science is done, I thought: while the rest of us are scurrying for cover, these latter-day Darwins and Wallaces are pushing into the Heart of Darkness in their flip-flops and boardies.

“Allez! Jump!” The Twin Falls themselves

Further along, at the foot of the eponymous Twin Falls themselves, people were jumping into the pool, seemingly scoffing at (if they even knew about) the official advice about the park’s endangered and vulnerable frog species. We didn’t blame them though – it looked good crack, and it certainly took guts to just jump in there. Why should the amphibians have all the fun?

Looking back on the few photos I took, I only wish now that I’d taken more but the truth is that it was not something I could do without jeopardising the electronics of my phone of my camera with the rain. In any case, a rainforest is a strangely unphotogenic location. For one thing, it’s dark. For another thing, it’s virtually monochrome. For yet another thing, most things look the same. The deluge even made all the people look the same, except for the French crazies we saw jumping into the pool. The most you can hope for, other than waterfalls and Franco-nutters, is wildlife, and like I say, they were all sensibly in their hidey-holes. It’s a wonder Darwin say anything at all, but then his powers of observation were legendary.

In a place that once sold Yowieburgers (the Yowie being the Lamington plateau’s contribution to the annals of cryptozoology) we had lunch after our walk and tried to dry off. It all seems so long ago as I write this, what with all the restaurants closed now, and in fact all camping areas in the parks closed too as of late March. The kids are home from school, and I’m working from home. That Sunday I’d just wanted us all to get out as a family and make some memories before Tina went off for her officer training in Sale, Victoria for four months. And now that our plans to fly down to Melbourne to visit her over Easter have had to be scrapped, I’m doubly glad we did.

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