Sunday, 6 November 2016

Stories from the West No.10 Finale - The Glory of Native Orchids

I am sitting here wondering how to finish off this series. So much more happened than I've recounted thus far but writing is the art of selection so some things will simply remain in my head or on my camera. I could load all 342 photos but that might be the end of a beautiful friendship - yours and mine (whoever you are).
     Now there's a little piece of weirdness - if I had published a book (which I will eventually), I would have no idea who read it or where they were from. This blog, on the other hand, tells me how many people came to visit, up to 120 of you, which is heartening, but unless you leave a comment I never know who you are. So that leaves about 105 mysterious readers. I do wonder who you are. In fact I'm surprised by how many of my close friends are not among you, including my wife and my children, so even those I assumed I'd know are not among you.
    But back to the story which is not a story at all at this point.
WA ended with a rush. Three nights in Albany and then a dash back to Perth. Albany was great. Dramatic bays and coastline; a fascinating old precinct and foreshore; whaling history at the preserved Cheyne's Whaling Station, the last operating whaling business in Australia only closing in the 70s. We camped behind the dunes of Middleton Beach on King George Sound. The wind blew. We lit a fire two nights in a row in the camp kitchen and met three young people from Taiwan one of whom I turned into a firebug with some careful tutoring. They each had names like Jason and Maureen but their real names bore little relation to these pretend names. Why don't we change our names to Chinese versions when we travel to their country? It's weird.
     We went to bed early and cuddled up close. Then the final day in Albany dawned and the wind had died. I joined the hardy regulars in the water at Middleton and my eyeballs froze. What pain. What exquisite pain. And then we said goodbye and headed north for the Stirling Ranges.
I haven't done my homework. I don't know who Stirling was but he has a string of steep slopes named in his honour. I call them slopes because even in Australian terms they hardly rate as mountains. We are such an old country with such ground down mountain ranges (the only continent with no active volcanoes) our highest ranges are akin to the foothills of the Himalayas or the French Alps. Still they can be steep and we ventured high enough up Mt Trio to get a good view of the plains to the north and of the steep path above us which, on that hot day (rare) we chose to enjoy the view and the lowland wildflowers.

The next morning we woke in our bush camp and joined the property owner John on a tour which never strayed more than 500 metres from our campsite but which contained an impressive range of native orchids none of which we would have seen without his help. I've never understood the fascination with these plants. Ugly little critters I've always felt. Show offs with a bit of the "Emperor has no clothes" to them. Stalky, stringy, showy but self consciously reluctant plants.
 I am happy to say that I changed my mind that morning at least in the company of these hidden beauties. They were much more discrete than the nursery variety. Small, shy, delicate survivors in a harsh landscape. I only retained the name of one of them, the rabbit ear (donkey ear) orchid, no bigger than my little finger nail - two fine antennae standing straight up, hiding under a fallen piece of timber. Very cute. Only one flower. Only one plant that we found. After that I felt like a huge lumbering carnivore stomping through the undergrowth possibly inadvertantly wiping out precious ancient flora.
     It felt like an appropriate way to finish off our wildflower chase and when we next were tempted to pull over and take yet another photo we both agreed 'nuh, let's hold the memories and move on. No point in exhausting our good fortune or overstaying our welcome. Maybe that's a story for another time.


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