This journey was originally intended to be a solo mission, to go as far south as I could and just ‘be’ amongst nature without the usual attractions and distractions in the hope of creating some time and space for healing. When I mentioned it to my father however, he promptly insisted that he and Mum come along to keep me company and with that, it became a family holiday! I’ve reframed my ‘mission statement’ to be more about spending precious time with my parents and feel very fortunate to be able to do so. With my compulsive tendency to assign meaning to things, I have to admit that there’s a very nice balance and symmetry to seeing the Southern Lights with my father after seeing the Northern Lights with my mother. Of course Mum will be there too but you get the point.
So once again, I dipped into the travel fund that my sisters and I contribute to for my parents, and booked their flights to Hobart. This morning we rendezvoused at Sydney Domestic Airport to take those flights. We left Sydney under a sparkling blue sky only to descend through clouds, very thick clouds, over Hobart. Although I ordinarily love a bit of cloud watching, they are the enemy of Aurora watching! By the time we landed, picked up our hire car and hit the road, they were letting loose quite a bit of rain too. We headed into Hobart with the opportunistic notion of popping into the Salamanca markets but the parking gods were not smiling on us and so we moved on without stopping.
We made a pit stop at Kingston to buy up food and alcohol supplies for the week before heading further south to Kettering to get the ferry across to Bruny Island. By the time we reached the island, the rain was pummeling down but even so, the views of the sun setting over the water were just spectacular.
Following the directions we’d been given, we headed to the south end of the island (which is surprisingly about 100kms top to tip) to find our home for the next 5 days in a little spot called Lunawanna. We were greeted by our Air B&B hosts – Pat, John and their dogs Zack, Ruby and Saphie. We quickly fell into conversation and dinner arrangements. They generously shared their food with us and we exhausted our weekly supply of wine… and then theirs!
John, a retired psychotherapist and social worker, has a fierce intellect, strongly held opinions and the gift of eloquent expression… as does my Dad. I wouldn’t call it a meeting of the minds given that their views on many issues seem diametrically opposed but it was something rare and wonderful to see Dad so engaged with an equal. My Dad and I have had many debates over the years – I seem to have inherited his way of holding and arguing stubbornly-held points of view (only you’ll usually find us at opposite ends of the same issues) and I’m not conceding any ground or claiming intellectual inferiority, I only mean to make the point that there is an implied authority in the parent/child relationship, whether it’s respected or not! In these debates, my relative youth and inexperience are invariably count against me. John, on the other hand brings to the discourse all but one of Dad’s years and so was playing with a more evenly stacked deck in that regard.
John and Pat are also the conveners of the local ukulele group on the island. A few bottles of wine in and the ukuleles came out! Luckily, they had a spare and I was treated to a personal lesson. Having learned (though a long way from having mastered) chords C, G7 and F, I was invited to strum along as they belted out hit after old-time-hit. Everyone was singing along in high spirits, including Dad who kept declaring it the best night ever.
By the time “You are my Sunshine” rolled around, I was having so much fun and was so engrossed in honing my new skills that I almost forgot the many times I sung it to Matthew… almost. In a private moment, I was wrenched back to remembering the wounds that this intended solo-mission was meant to heal, that indeed the sunshine has been taken away, leaving a cold, dark night.
Still, I can’t complain considering it is cold, dark nights that have lured me here, as close to the southern ends of the earth as I’ve ever been. After we drained the last of the port, bid our new friends good night and tucked a happy & content Dad into bed, Mum and I rugged up and went outside to see what we could see.
Our eyes were instantly drawn up to the canopy of stars above us, the likes of which neither of us had seen before. I knew that there were more stars in the Southern hemisphere but I have never seen them like this. It was breathtaking! There were almost more stars than dark space in between! It was inspiring and intimidating all at once. I used to feel insignificant looking up at the stars, I don’t anymore.
When we managed to lower our eyes to the horizon, we saw a faint glow… I recalled my photographic lessons from Iceland and applied all the right settings to my new toy and early birthday gift – a Canon 650D digital SLR – and shot away. The night was so black though that I couldn’t discern anything to focus on and so shot blind into that darkness with the intention of just picking up any tell-tale signs of aurora colours (the lights are more visible with a camera lens than our puny human eyes). Sure enough, there they were! A green and red glow. We waited and watched for them to become something more but they didn’t so around 3am, I called it a night and a very good one at that.
I’m not prepared to call in Mission Accomplished just yet though. I live in hope that this was just a sign of things to come.