Off the beaten track

May 23, 2017

March 2017

Every once in a while on this ragtag journey something happens to pull you off the beaten track and into the tangled swamplands.

This poor shark found on a lonely Queensland track after Cyclone Debbie knows what it feels like.

One minute you’re swimming happily through the stream of life nibbling at the grass, the next you’re fighting for air in a wild storm or a stifling vacuum.

People are pulled from crashed cars or burning buildings every day and suddenly their lives are sent on an entirely unplanned course.

They might have been on their way to a job interview or boiling an egg for breakfast — then they wake up in hospital and spend the rest of their lives wondering what happened.

Nothing so dramatic has ever happened to me — although I did once take the wrong south London train home from work and ended up in north London, which was quite unnerving, but ultimately exciting.

Nevertheless, fate did intervene twice in my ragtag journey this week and on both occasions I had no option but to change course, accept my fate and deal with an altered life.

The first involved bringing the cat in.

This is a nightly ritual involving an open front door, meowing loudly at the darkness and waiting for the cat to appear.

On Tuesday I opened the front door and meowed to be greeted by a snake that popped its head up over the doorstep.

We looked at each other for a second or two. I thought — shouldn’t you be in bed by now dammit?

Its raised head was streaked in silvery moonlight which would have been quite a thing of beauty if it weren’t a metre away from my bare feet and poised to strike.

I slammed the door shut, blinked and opened it again.

Perhaps that third glass of Gutzlem Spatburgunder was making itself felt.

But nope — the snake was still there. Its head was resting, but it was still there.

So I slowly closed the door and left the cat out all night.

I spent the night thinking about the blitzkrieg my cat was conducting on the last precious remnants of native Australian wildlife.

My doorstep was going to be piled with dead Leadbetter’s possums, regent honeyeaters, northern tinker frogs and hairy-nosed wombats.

But there was nothing. The doorstep was wonderfully free of dead rare animals.

The cat poured itself through the front door like a nonchalant beat poet after a secret all-night jazz party.

If it was smoking a cigarette through a jade holder I would not have blinked.

My world was now strangely different.

I had met a snake by moonlight and watched a cat drunk on freedom.

It probably was not quite the same as being pulled from a burning building, but I was now in different place than I was the night before.

The next day I was on a dog-walk in the bush when a big grey kangaroo bounded up off the river bank and my dogs yanked me sideways into a tangled swamp of black muck and bindi-eyes.

I was now off the beaten track and in the jungle. I’ve walked this track for 20 years but had never been here.

It was full of things I had never seen before — old beer cans, orange and black spiders, batteries and little blue flowers.

I let go of the dogs and they disappeared on the kangaroo trail. I picked a blue flower and put it in my pocket.

Eventually the dogs came back, filthy and elated. We went home and I sat on the verandah with a glass of Spatburgunder and looked at the little blue flower, plucked from its world of beer cans, spiders and batteries.

I felt we had something in common.

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