Tigers Change Their Stripes in the Tarkine
I like running alone, being untied to anything that’s controversial, and prefer to save water for my pumpkins. Not because I don’t like people, nor causes, nor smelling like wet wool, but because I don’t trust myself to compromise.
You might say that a set of legs going back and forward without intervention, and a mouth chattering on about opinions, cognate from an internal sounding board that makes them operate at a particular speed, carried by a particular world view. And it’s all very personal, neither wrong or right, fast or slow. We all have our cadences, and reasons.
I run because I can, and always have, much like eating oats in the morning without realising I’ve made a choice. It’s all very pre-organic in the way it lacks labels and numbers, and simply is. Of course, as a thinking man I know all of this to be rubbish. Life is far more complex that a bucketful of habits overlapping each day, but it does get to a stage when all of a sudden, usually while drinking tea from the same mug, sitting in the same spot as yesterday, life feels awfully like a big vat of déjà vu. I fear this.
Beau in his role as sweep at the 2021 takayna Trail. Photo: Tim Cooper.
As a human riddled in bias and opinions and speeds that are dictated by the socially and culturally constructed world I inhabit, I know that my thinking is a product of my being made in a tangle factory with seven billion equally corkscrewed bits of twine. My own identity is thoroughly meshed together with every other thread of the world’s largest blanket. I’m not really sure how possible it is to untie my string, nor if it’s worthwhile. Opinions, like my foot speed, seem arbitrary in the grand scheme of things.
I suppose there is some uniqueness to the combination of my invisible mind and my fleshy flesh, in that the physical meat of me is biologically rare because mum and dad, and their mums and dads, cooked up the length of my femurs, how strong they might be, and if I care to use them to run, or sit, or kick. But for the most part, I am simply a mirror of other people, going about my business, convinced that there is as much uselessness to my everyday as there is overwhelming meaning. Which brings me to my point.
Going against my native self I recently decided to run with others, at their speed, for a cause. I also showered, soap and all.
Bird's-eye-view of the Que River, takayna/Tarkine. Photo: Rob Blakers.
Just like that, I was off to takayna/Tarkine.
I took on the role of ‘sweep’ at the takayna Trail, a 51-kilometre footrace through one of the oldest rainforests in the world. Cobbled together by the Bob Brown Foundation the event is in its third year, and is based largely around runners raising money, money to be spent lobbying the government to stop logging and mining within the cosmos of this staggeringly unique community of plants and animals.
As with never setting foot in takayna before, I’d never swept for a race. I’ve been to other temperate rainforests, and used poled devices with frizzy heads to bring together half-a-bag of pretzels that have exploded onto the floor, but it’s altogether different when you embody the brush by gathering up and a few dozen runners in some of the dampest, dark, wild bush in the country. At least, that’s the idea; help when things get a little scattered.
Low and behold nothing went wrong and all of a sudden, the race was run and reflection kicked in to do the heavy lifting, asking, "bloody hell, what just happened?!"
Much like the deep ravine of an armpit, takayna is a wonder of smells and fungus and ecological potential. Mystery and human intervention seem equally braided there, as if moss and blood paint me an abstract impression of this ancient, fiddled with tract of Tassie. But I always knew it would be this; remarkable, special, pungent, and worth experiencing through toil.
A takayna Trail 2021 runner makes her way through the ancient forest. Photo: Rob Blakers.
At high level, great meaning can easily be found in the spirited energy of the runners, which has a collective whiff about it, especially at the finish line or when bottled in a car when leaving the forest. And the ancient forest did make me stop in my tracks to ponder momentarily just how profoundly beautiful it was. But it was not until the day after the run, slowing down to the distractable and small-legged pace of my daughter, where takayna became normal, which was both surprising and important. It turns out, the speed and curiosity of my toddling daughter is the only way to actually see a place as complex as that.
The thing with a new person like May is that she had no idea the place was special, or rare, or endangered – it just was new, normal because everything is new to her. Running water, rocks, birdsong, things moving about in the understory… all incredibly consuming and interesting and wonderful. You don’t really see a forest in intimate detail when huffing and puffing, always going one direction, watching where you step, looking at the time.
Beau and Helen experiencing takayna/Tarkine with their 18-month-old daughter May. Photo: Jodi Evans.
Eating biscuits by a stream, I experienced for the first time in my life the concept of inter-generational justice; the idea of one generation doing the following generation a favour. Knowing about such a powerful idea is one thing, feeling it for the first time is momentous. May’s future world is why we were all running about the place in spandex lathered up in chafe cream. Runners all over the world, runners like those who came to Tassie to run through the bush, seem to have known this for a while, wearing down their bones like river rocks bumping along a stream bed.
Breakthrough for me was not experiencing the ridgelines and gullies, crossing the magnificent Que River, nor witnessing for the first time the grandeur and size of myrtle beech trees, but the fact that my daughter May was experiencing such a scene and thinking nothing of it. Much like air and water and oats in the morning, a place like takayna is awfully normal – wonderful, but normal, when you experience it through the slowness and squeaks of a kid. Sure, May’s 18 month-old memory had likely dissolved the sensory bomb given off by takayna by the time she was eating a Vegemite sandwich in the car, but I’m also not sure. Somewhere in me says that May will remember that walk into ancient forest because somehow, somewhere along the line, I was a dirty little kid standing by a river, getting fed slices of apple by my parents, and I don’t remember a thing about it. And yet there I was, repeating the act.
Low and behold takayna teaches a young man how to be an older man, changing his stripes with the crack of a biscuit and the babble of a stream.
Beau intends on being at the race next year with a fist full of money and a daughter one year older. Photo: Jodi Evans.
Banner image – 2021 takayna Trail. Photo: Kelly Slater.
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