geometrically straight lines connect perfectly rectangular pools. They must be irrigation pools or watering holes. Their not-naturalness is shocking imposed on the curving, undulating landscape.
Leaving Cairns we swooped out over the Coral Sea. The mountains slope down into the water. They’re so green and the water is so blue. Out from shore the Great Barrier Reef shows up brown under the water, and the water puddles around it in green aprons. Rory and Nora and I gasp as we come up just high enough to see the sun rising over the cumulus clouds, turning them silvery and orange. I reach for my camera. I can’t stop smiling.
There’s something special about an early morning flight. Any early morning endeavour, really. At dinner last night Rory had a laundry list of things he hated about travel; he said he’s wanted to go since we got to Australia. He hates the heat and he hates the changes and he doesn’t even want to go to Asia. He wanted only to go home. But, this morning, as we walked out of the airport, into the muggy dawn, we were all three squealing and squeezing hands and eager to be on the move. For a moment it looked like we would be climbing metal stairs to board a plane with massive propellers tucked under the wings. I nearly swooned with pleasure. Alas, we climbed up onto a regular plane, albeit one old enough that it has ashtrays on the outside of the lavatories. Imagine. Anyway, we were a quiver with the mystery and allure of boarding a plane headed into the remote Outback. I for one would like to banish gateways connecting gates to airplanes in smooth, aseptic banality. I vote for a return to walking out into the weather and climbing metal stairs. You know you’re going somewhere.
Our flight left Cairns this morning at 6:30 am, which meant all last night was dedicated to the tasks of leaving one place for another. Clothes, freshly laundered, were sorted into piles and rolled, squeezed into our packing cubes and wedged into the suitcase. Food had to be sorted: canned food shoe-horned into the smaller suitcase, unopened rice thins and cereal bars tucked into a snack bag for the plane. I set aside enough food for breakfast in the airport: two soy yogurts, what’s left of the cereal and opened soy milk, leftover corn on the cob. We still have mangos, given to us by friends we made in Yungaburra. They wrote messages to us on the skins and wrapped them up like presents in newspaper. We’ve been waiting for them to ripen. I couldn’t leave them behind, so in the bag they went. I tossed in a few carrots each. All the rest of the food got left behind. After Rory and Nora fell asleep, already dressed in the clothes they’ll wear on the plane, I did last minute things, charging iPods while we had plugs, topping up the battery on the cellphone. Boring, tedious tasks that, if undone, add to the tedium of travel. I went through all the backpacks one more time, throwing out scraps of paper and leaving behind anything we could spare- a couple of books, a plastic spatula, a huge serving spoon left over from camping in New Zealand. I got backpacks zipped, suitcases lined up, and fell asleep with my cell phone in my hand, the alarm on it set to go off at 3:30am.
I probably checked the time on my phone ten times before I finally just went ahead and got up at 3:15. When I went to put away the computer I realized that I have had a good wireless connection from the room. How had I not figured that out in five nights there? I checked my email, wrote to Brandon, and still had plenty of time to get in a call to Jill. Not a bad way to start the day. I woke Rory up talking, and soon after that Nora opened her eyes. We were downstairs, lined up and ready to go, at 4:15am, fifteen minutes before the shuttle was due to pick us up.
Out the window the Outback of my imagination has taken over. Giant lakes spread out under us, but they can’t be water, because in the middle there’s a real lake, or pond, that is full of water. What can the other be? Sand? Dirt? It stretches as far as I can see out the window, and with no clouds at 34,000 feet, that’s a good distance. A ribbon of trees runs through it. I love to travel on the ground. This summer’s trip across country was dreamy. Nora and I plotted our progress on a map, after each drive coloring the road in with a blue marker. We could see our line stretching toward the Pacific, then turning north into Canada, then making our way back to Georgia. It’s a not-so-secret goal of mine to go around the world on the surface, to see it, to appreciate the bigness and the space of it. So, I’ve been pretty bummed out that we’re doing so much flying in Australia. Here’s a continent similar in size to the continental US, and I hate to miss it. But, today, from way up here, I feel better about it. Partly because I look down at the Outback and fancy driving across it on my own with two kids. Can you imagine a breakdown out there? But more than that, I would hate to miss the view from up here. The bushes dotting the dry creek beds, curling and writhing across the redness, look like dots and swirls that make up the Aboboriginal artwork. The land is the huge; maybe it’s right to see it from on high. We’re almost to Uluru. I can’t wait.