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14 May 2014

Last Wednesday we drove up to Barrington Tops, a magnificent wilderness that sits above us. I feel its presence at the farm, its big winds, its cold air.

Turning right instead of left at the Scone Road, we drove first over Copeland Tops, where grass trees lined the road and bellbirds called over the chatter in the car. We emerged into a grassy valley, a plain almost, where a bird of prey sat on a fence post, untroubled by the car slowing to admire it, turning, slowly spreading out the full curve of its wings, lifting and flying away when it felt like it. Its face rounder than an eagle’s it may have been a hawk, fearless in this near-empty space. I always see this area as I first saw it, dusty yellowed grasses extending to the hills, ridiculously charming rivers – streams really, shallow water running over grey rocks through a canopy of trees. Although it is green today, it retains that colour-faded expansiveness.

After a sharp turn in the road – a dirt road now, going slower over the ruts – we start to climb. Our Canadian friends marvel at the treeferns – their size, their shape – and the bush becomes exotic to my eyes.

We stop to walk the Honeysuckle track into the Antarctic Beech forest. The air is cold, lightly-iced. We grab our extra jumpers and scarves and wish for gloves. We start to walk the track, noisy with exclamations, when we’re stilled by the sight of a lyrebird, scratching in the thick forest floor. She’s large, brown, her tail hanging behind. Like the hawk on the plain she appears to ignore us, but turns her back and moves slowly away, scratching as she walks into a deeper part of the forest. We find scratchings all along the rich dark soil of the track down the hill past the massive Antarctic Beeches. We see trees of enormous girth with saplings rising from their rootbase, one side covered in bright green moss that stops at an abrupt line, giving way to bare trunk; we see trees that have crashed down, crushing everything beneath them and making gaps in the canopy, leaving jagged spikes of wood where they split and long deeply mossy trunks that disappear into the undergrowth. Treeferns too have fallen over and grown up to the light again from where they fell, so bohemian with their velvet trunks supine, their new fronds finding whatever angle suits. Orchids, ferns, creepers, vines – everything twines and pushes and reaches, in endless manifestations of deep green. The ground is cushioned, muffled by leaf litter, red and yellow beech leaves, rich red brown rotted leaves and bark below.

It’s drier on the uphill slope. Bright green gives way to greyer green and lighter brown. We notice that the beeches have high branches that form right-angles, giving them a sort of saluting, hallelujah effect. The whole is bathed in cold, slightly hazy moisture that makes every view impressionistic, knocking off the corners and merging the colours.

As we walk up out of the forest, the sun comes out. The air is yellow, with the hope of warmth. From close by comes the sharp call of the lyrebird, a beautiful song sung in crisp bells.