The day after my last long walk (“Do you see what I see?”), I went for another.
A little over 16 kilometres.
This time, unlike the last, my gaze was not downcast. As with my spirit, my head was up.
And here following are some of the things that drew my eye.
(again, apologies for the old, not-“smart” camera phone image quality).
It was a warm day, and after about 6 kilometres I paused at a public reserve area to refill my water bottle.
There I spotted a cricket ball nestling down in the grass.
I sat down to rest and stretch for a while. As I enjoyed the feeling of old, roughened leather in my hands,
memories of childhood came flooding back.
Like so many Aussie lads, I was addicted to cricket as a youngster. Fast bowling was my specialty.
As I looked out across the reserve, my mind inadvertently recalled the imagery of long forgotten major triumphs
— and sadnesses — of my sporting youth.
I remembered how, in Year 6, a new and very sports-oriented school principal was appointed to head my primary school.
He promptly raised the emphasis on organised sports activities, including, for the first time in my experience, inter-school competition.
The particular images I recalled as I gazed out over the reserve, were memories of my own participation in two such inter-school competitions. And in so remembering, I was sharply reminded of the perils, and injustices, arising from the notions of popularity, peer pressure, and celebrity. Yes, even at primary school grade.
I recalled how another young lad, along with myself, spearheaded the school cricket team’s fast bowling attack. The other lad, however, was rather more gifted than I; he could bat as well. Unsurprisingly then, he was anointed team captain.
Being more charismatic to boot, he was the school’s unquestioned Mr Popular.
The memory of our first ever inter-school cricket match came painfully to mind. An “away” match. I was reminded how our team bowled first, and I was “on form”, ripping through the top and middle orders, taking figures of something like 6 for 10. The team captain collected 3 wickets, and chasing a tiny total, we won at a gentle canter.
He was voted man of the match.
Then I remembered our first inter-school soccer match. In a somewhat embarrassing 9-0 overall drubbing, I scored the first 5 goals for our team, demoralising the other. The team captain — yes, the same lad who captained the cricket team — then followed up with the final 4 goals.
Those final 4 goals appeared to be all that anyone remembered when the final whistle blew. Because once again, the team captain was popularly voted man of the match. And this time, being a “home” game, he was mobbed by backslapping teammates and enthusiastic home audience. I wandered from the pitch alone, wondering at the injustice of it all.
Then I was blessed to recall something entirely more pleasant, and really, quite beautiful. Indeed, a little tear came to my eye as I remembered it. Seriously.
After the soccer match, at the end of the school day while waiting for the bus, and yes, feeling a little down, one of the girls in my year came to me with a personal gift. She had made, and colourfully decorated, her own Man of the Match award, fashioned from cardboard. Shyly, she handed it to me, along with the declaration that she thought I should have been named man of the match, before scurrying away.
Such a beautiful memory. What a sweet, kind, lovely heart she possessed.
True it is, that “unless you turn around and become as little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven”.
As I rolled the cricket ball around in my hands, I experimented with what I could remember of the different grip techniques. And I tried to recall what was the special grip I had always used, and practiced countless times, in trying for
my special “unplayable” delivery.
If you know nothing of cricket, then this will of course mean little to you. Suffice to say, my special delivery was a ball which would — on incredibly rare occasion — swing away from a right-handed batsman, but on striking the pitch would then
seam back in the opposite direction, towards the stumps.
I remembered fondly a moment of unalloyed sporting triumph, which came on moving to a new school in Year 8. On one of the first occasions of playing sports, two teachers divided the boys into opposing teams, which they would captain for a cricket match.
When the teacher on the opposing team — a very large man — came to the wicket to bat at No. 3, the ball was thrown to me. If I recall correctly, I had perhaps boasted somewhat of being a decent fast bowler. I guess there were those who must have been keen to see what the new boy could do.
Naturally then, when I ran in to bowl to the imposing figure at the other end of the pitch, I was determined to try to get my special “killer” delivery to come off. And remarkably, in that first over, on about the third attempt, it did.
The batsman stepped forward to the pitch of the ball, following the outswing, and played a confident drive to off … only to hear the death rattle of his stumps behind him, as the ball neatly jagged back, through the gap between bat and pad.
Quietly delighted within — not at having dismissed the batsman, but at having actually pulled off that delivery — but not wishing to outwardly display anything but “cool”, I strolled nonchalantly down the wicket, only to rapidly become more than a little startled and bemused as, quite unexpectedly, new school teammates — and even the teacher captaining our side — rushed me with excited vigour and enthusiasm, as though I were some conquering hero.
Perhaps noticing the puzzled expression on my face — like, “What’s the fuss?” — the teacher informed me that the man I had just completely bamboozled was a Grade cricketer, who had never been dismissed in all his years teaching at that school.
I had cleaned him up in my first over.
I never took his wicket again. Ah, bittersweet nostalgia!
Rested and refreshed, I returned to the present as I donned my Frillneck hat and Julbo Sherpa sunnies, before walking on.
About a kilometre or so further, I came upon some horses grazing in the paddocks adjacent the quiet country road. Noticing me approaching, they came to the fence to greet me, doubtless hoping for a treat. The sight, the smell, the touch of a horse … truly, there is something unquestionable grand, noble, earthy, and magical about it all.
It was a truly wonderful, glorious day, with hardly a cloud in the sky. A little further along, I snapped these photos with my old phone. Alas, their quality is woefully inadequate to capture the beauty of the vista across the fields and towards the mountains, beneath stunning skies, but perhaps you will gain some small sense of it.
Barely 500 metres further, however, I was startled to suddenly spot a large red-bellied black snake in the grass no more than 5 metres ahead of me. I moved off the grass verge and onto the road, keeping my distance, and observed it for a short while.
Sadly, of late I have noticed a number of adult, and baby red-bellies, who have suffered the fate of encountering whizzing motorists; it is springtime here in Australia. Happily, this one decided to abandon any thought of sunning itself on the warming asphalt, and instead slithered off into the surrounding shrubbery.
Perhaps it was my day to rescue creatures from the perils of careless and inattentive motorists. For no more than 100 metres further along, a long-necked turtle was quietly lumbering up the road, right in the wheel tracks. Indeed, so near was it, that I spotted it while watching the red-bellied black, which prompted my moving on to its rescue, and in so doing, perhaps being the cause of startling the snake into going for cover.
Naturally, I picked this fellow up and — mindfully holding him at far arms length, to avoid being splashed by the inevitable pungent stream of retaliatory urine — gently placed him well off the road.
It was some kilometres further before anything else caught my eye sufficiently to prompt my pausing to take a photograph. And then, such attractions came rapidly. All within 100 metres, in fact. Perhaps I just suddenly became more acutely observant —
My final resting place on the day’s journey was the little old local cemetery. I find it is a lovely quiet place to turn in, and take a break from one’s exertions.
I could not help but notice — and ponder — the inscriptions on these two headstones.
Beautiful. Don’t you think?