Winter trees by the Lake Ginninderra

Winter walks

Wandering by the lake
on a warm winter afternoon
the ground still reeking of dew
last night’s mist lost for good
taking one step after another
the sun burning my face
and shivering breeze
nuzzling my neck, ruffling hair
from its designated place
I saw
what I’d never seen
trees
as yesterday, they stood
leaves now browner,
falling faster
shedding
as though a snake its skin
showing off
whimsically their ashy limbs
once hidden behind gravy barks
sticking up oddly in angles
as a dead mosquito victim of spite
like chartered children
unwanted they stood
pale, shaken, deprived
still housing burgundy leaves
under their bosom,
the protective shell,
a new home on the ground
for those fallen from above
awaiting another home
down under this time
again
to rise high as green as ever
circling back
I retraced my steps homeward
just like nature


Photo: Winter trees by the Lake Ginninderra
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Artists are sad people

I’ve been living in Canberra for almost two months now. And for a long time, I had trouble believing that I now lived in a first-world country. The main reason is that I grew up in a place where sidewalks are unheard of and pedestrians are more close to the pyre than they are to having priority in the streets. I walked about a kilometre every day to work and every day I grazed whizzing motorcycles, trying hard not to jump at the horns blaring next to my ear.

I don’t mean to sound depressed.

But I was.

It‘s hard not to be. In a society like that, people don’t live—they subsist. Every day is a struggle to get through. There’s always something or another to worry about: bills, rent, school fees, office politics, weak knees, unidentifiable skin allergies, lack of health insurance, yada yada.

And as a blogger, I had so much to talk about. To complain. Things I wished would be better, public services that could’ve existed, footpaths that should’ve been paved, and scowls we could do without.

All these emotions and opinions fed my creativity.

In Canberra, however, I have none of the negative feelings I used to have. For the first time in my life, I don’t have pressing matters chocking my existence, barring my experience of life.

In other words, I have almost nothing to complain about.

That’s scary. Because without something or someone to whine about, I have no writing material. I’ve hit a hurdle, except that this isn’t the dreaded writer’s block.

This is happiness.

Although it’s what I’ve always wanted to achieve for myself, this also terrifies me. Now, unlike before, I don’t have a raging flame fuming my words. Instead, I have to find an impetus elsewhere. I have to work harder to come up with material because my life has nothing newsworthy about it.

Perfect isn’t always good, remember.

When I realised this a week ago, I was anxious at first. Now that life’s plenty of good things, I didn’t know how I‘d sustain as a writer without all the bad things to reflect upon.

Then I understood something big.

So what if all I did today was bussing to the city back? So what if I’m living an ordinary life?

I’m finally free. Free to imagine.

Sydney scenes

When I exited the aircraft, I was so excited to be visiting Sydney for the first time. After a month there, my brother mentioned it was starting to grow on him.

We both hated the idea of living in Sydney. Even before we’d even seen the city. Now, though, he seemed to have second thoughts, and I was eager to find out how I felt.

Long story short—I still don’t like the idea of living in Sydney.

I did like Sydney, however. Contradictory, I know. But as soon as I reached my hotel on Harbour Street, in the heart of the city (CBD), I texted my colleague to see if we could catch up. After all, I wasn’t touring Sydney—I was there to attend a conference, to stay locked up inside the infamous International Convention Centre from 8 am to 5 pm on a Thursday and Friday. I met my team mates at around 5 pm, and after a not-so-great coffee, I left to explore.

Vivid Sydney display
Vivid Sydney display

Not one to linger these wintry days, the sun had set off at around 5. But Sydney city is the Down Under version of the city that never sleeps. Lights glared from every corner, and instead of listening to my colleagues ranting (reasonably, albeit boringly) about office politics, I preferred to wander the streets.

Sydney Harbour during Vivid Sydney
Sydney Harbour during Vivid Sydney

That’s when I realised the sheer volume of people who called Sydney home. I wasn’t far from Chinatown and Koreatown so I ran into thousands of all flavours of Asians. And I don’t mean ran into in a figurative sense either. So many people wandered just as I did, except they were looking at their phones letting their well-practised feet and conditioned subconsciousness guide them through navigating the street signs.

Almost everyone followed street signs. And that made me so happy. But it was also frustrating when a lot of couples clung to each other while walking down the footpath. Dawdling behind them, I had a hard time overtaking them without bumping into another arm-locked couple.

And I won’t even start about the low-burning cigarette butts every other person clung to. It wasn’t that cold. At least not for me—not after Canberra anyway.

But it was all great fun. I stopped by for a hot chocolate and walked over to the Opera House. May-June is a great time to visit this studded bay area because Vivid Sydney is on show. The whole locality lights up, laser shows beam about, special over-priced cruise tours dig gold, and along with the many significant buildings in the neighbourhood, the Opera House takes on a stunning veil of animated display.

The closer I got to the building, the faster I seemed to walk. It happens to me all the time. Excitement and eagerness make me trot without a regard for my knees or my not-good-for-walking Converse. But what the hell, I thought to myself. You don’t always get to see the Opera House for the first time. There’ll always be reasons no to do something—rain, cold, wind, stiff shoes, bad hair days, tired feet, or work night. But nothing beats the sense of accomplishment that comes with pushing through nevertheless. That keeps the spark alive for a traveller.

Nestling in that spark, I returned to my room, ready for work the following day.

Next day—

Work was average, and I wasn’t happy with my contribution. But the spark still triggered me to take a ferry unto Manly. And I saw the Opera House again from a whole different perspective. After all, what’s the point of life if you let work interfere with it?

Keep walking

Sunset by Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra

Despite the darkness

even in a world of spite

you’ll find your respite

A walk in the forest

During the one month that I’ve lived in Canberra, and for many before I moved, I’ve watched—with growing envy—the city’s locals share glorious pictures of the National Arboretum.

On photos it seemed such a vast area of green nothingness brimming with so much liveliness. Trees smothered brown and yellow during sunsets, mist hanging over unknown mountains, sneaky sunrises playing games of colour in the sky—every picture piqued my curiosity and intensified my urge to be there, live it, and relive it.

Except, I found out soon, the National Arboretum is unreachable by public transport. Although, somewhere in my subconsciousness, I knew I couldn’t just take the bus up there—the many jaw-drop moments I’d seen in photos revealed towering altitudes. Still, it came as a disappointment.

But rejection only makes us want something even more. And when we do get it, at last, we’ll savour it for the rest of our lives.

I will, the Arboretum.

View from the National Arboretum, Canberra
View from the National Arboretum, Canberra

Thanks to a bored brother and a good friend’s decent car, we cruised uphill with my eyes open bright and soul screaming wide. As we went higher and higher, I felt lighter. Trees have that impact on me.

When we stopped and stepped out, I grabbed my jacket to shield myself from the icy breeze. It was the first day of winter and though the sun shone bright, coldness pressed against my skin, tingling my t-shirt, and teasing my boldness to go thermal-less. It wasn’t nail biting, but just enough for me to appreciate the weather without developing a raging hatred towards winter. Nature knows how much to offer and when.

National Arboretum, Canberra
National Arboretum, Canberra

While the cold remained subtle, the views were more pronounced. As far as my eye could reach, I saw nothing but trees—steps upon steps of luscious greenery that refuse to die even in winter. From way above, I was looking down at massive branches appearing to be nothing more than bushes. Ah, Bush Capital indeed.

Amidst the sea of wood, I spotted, like deer in a jungle, benches and footpaths inviting humans to stray away from their handphones and into the amassing wilderness ahead. It wasn’t just a remedy for screen eyes, but rather an invitation to experience the vision of this great green city. With neat guidelines, pathways, and dedicated clearings to enjoy the view from, the Arboretum is the ideal environment for people to take a moment alone with nature without contaminating it with their innate humaneness.

Pine forest at the National Arboretum, Canberra
Pine forest at the National Arboretum, Canberra

As we walked down the path—a path—we came by a large row of pine trees extending to a forest behind them. While the sun prepared to step back for the day, a faint glow erupted from within and beyond the forest, emitting a clarion call for the crazy.

We heard it and heeded it. It’s enchanting to walk into a forest that’s both dense and airy at the same time. It was light enough to see through the trees, but also mysterious and unmoving. The deeper we went, the further we wanted to go. Pine trees always give each other enough space to grow and expand. Like the best of friends. And although they’re upright on a slope, they’re so well rooted that they don’t sway in threatening ways. We could walk quite far into the pine forest and still glimpse the last of the sunset through the branches.

Sunset over the National Arboretum, Canberra
Sunset over the National Arboretum, Canberra

Sitting idle at home two days later, I realised the Arboretum is more than a collection of trees in natural habitat. It’s a trove of magical views, mystic thoughts, and ground breaking moments—a much endearing, must visit.