The Prospector

by Heather Blakey

It had been a relief to escape the monotony of her working world and now as she lay with her lunch in the Edinburgh gardens, the warm rays of the sun gently kissed her bare arms and penetrated her being. Before her eyes the branches of the elms spread to form a canopy and it seemed to her that diamonds of light glistened like stars in the night sky amid the tapestry of branches and leaves. The words 'know thyself' pirouetted amid the imaginal theatre, words, which recurred in her dreams and during these quiet moments of daydreaming when she permitted herself to enter the temple of Apollo for respite. Like a hospes this sanctuary comforts pilgrims and traveller's who seek it protection. Like a hospes the temple of Apollo is a place for healing. It is a place where people can express both grief and joy, celebrate life and death and find meaning. Today it provided a place for her to remember and gain strength from childhood memories.

Carefully she unpacked the small 'medicine bag', her companion on these excursions. Silently she stopped to look at the bag contents, gently fingering them as she laid them alongside her. Today the small bottle of golden specks caught her attention. A remnant from her childhood this bottle contained golden slithers that she had painstakingly scraped from the gold pan and bottled over forty years ago. The specks seemed brighter today, flickering and flashing in the sunlight as winged memories swarmed about her. The word prospector came, seemingly from nowhere, as if searching for someone to remember its meaning. “Prospectors look out for gold and explore regions” she wrote in the small notebook that was her constant companion. “Prospectors mine experimentally”.

Archie Hair was a prospector who loved the bush. She remembered that he had filled his days wandering through the Australian bush, placing small signs, clues for the treasure hunts he took people on. When she followed him along secret bush trails she had learned about prospecting. They were always on the look out. "Bob low. Look up" his quaint markers guided them. Every turn bought promise. From the ridge they had an extensive view across the landscape. Only a tiny trail of smoke dotted the spot where 'The Arches' lay. Mr. Hair always bought them back safely. He knew to carefully mark his trail. He knew every branch and gully. His prospecting gave her another view of life. Through him she learned to search and to be optimistic. He filled her heart with trust and a sense of adventure".

As she turned the old bottle over and over, looking for a fresh perspective a mental landscape spread out before her. Calmed by a sudden sense of Mr. Hair's presence she lay quietly in the curve of the old tree trunk, permitting herself to drift off and be with him once more. She remembered his treasure hunts affectionately and considered that the fairy mail slot in the adjacent tree was the perfect spot to leave a message. Archie would have taken advantage of a spot like this to hide one of his trinkets. With this thought she believed that she heard Archie's laughter tinkling in the distance but perhaps it was just wind chimes or, more likely the sounds of happy children drifting from the nearby school yard. Childhood memories had come uninvited, drifting towards her, a host of golden words surrounded her and, deftly snatching them she wrote with vigor for such luminous memories did not come every day.

“Archie Hair built the Arches alongside the Freestone Creek just out from Briagalong. He had retired from active farming to enjoy solitude and squander his days roaming through the bush. The quaint cottage that he built near the Blue Pool became known, affectionately, as 'The Arches' to the streams of people, from all walks of life, who came to spend a few restorative hours with the old couple” she wrote, but stopped.

This is hopeless she thought, wearily pouring the steaming contents of her thermos into her Bodem. It did neither Archie nor Edna justice to write a traditional narrative but she knew she had to introduce them. They had meant so much to her, been the grandparents she had never known. She wanted to capture their essence but the right words eluded her for the moment. So she wrote a new heading on her page.

‘The Prospector’

To gain inspiration she quietly she took a deep red stone from her bag and ever so gently caressed the facial features, the eyes, mouth, eroded by waters tumbling constantly over it. She was searching to find a fresh perspective and a new approach. She would be happy to be a stone and explore the cool, quiet corridors. Could an old spirit be trapped inside this stone that she found lying in the stony creek near Flowerdale? Could the spirit of this stone guide her?

Her mind was leaping from one idea to another, much as she had leapt with agility across the stepping stones in the Freestone Creek all those years ago. There was no point going back to the actual creek bed, as it no longer looked anything like the place she had once loved. No traces of the old people could be found anywhere. A picnic ground had long replaced the old house. There was no sign of the banksia roses that wound their way through the arch that once marked the entrance. She gently turned the stone over and over, fingering its chaffed body and as she did so she thought she saw a vapor rising.

Like a puppet she began to write. Words slipped silently on to the crisp white page and a story began to form.

‘A vapor rose out of the stone, rising slowly, speaking of things that were and are and will be. The stone remembered the Hair's, the old couple who lived by the Freestone Creek. "I will take you back there" the stone offered.

They stepped into the parallel world together, into the creek bed, cool water trickling over the multitude of stones, the sunlight twinkling on the water, lighting the stones, and highlighting their multicolored backs. Stepping carefully from stone to stone they made their way along the creek bed, edged by Eucalyptus and ferns.

In the distance a child was panning for gold. Intent with her search for golden specks she did not look up. Just ahead, in the Blue Pools her brothers were splashing happily. On they wandered. Further along the creek they found the path that led to the back of the house where Archie stood cutting strips of meat. A Kookaburra sat by his side, watching every movement its head cocked on one side, expectancy glistening in its eyes. But Archie did not speak. He seemed not to have noticed their arrival.

Beyond the distant hills a thin wisp of smoke zigzagged across the sky and drifted slowly southwards. A hush fell over the bush. Leaves hung motionless on the huge gum trees. The intense heat of the summer's sun had dried and shriveled them and young leaves drooped lifelessly in the heat. A small wallaby stopped briefly, head cocked. It was listening to the wind, its nostrils turned northwards. The smell of bushfire bought fear. If the north wind whipped up the fire could turn into a terrifying firestorm that would destroy everything in its path.

"The fire had started quietly after a lightening strike" the stone explained." The fire leapt playfully at first, zigzagging through a fern gully, slowed only by the dampness of the tree ferns. But then it ran up a Eucalyptus and joyfully scampered and crackled, exploding across its dried, crisp branches. No longer playful, the fire leapt triumphantly from tree to tree like a Roman candle. Then it ran down again to the tinder dry undergrowth further down the gully. The fire transformed. It noisily cracked, spat and hissed. Out of control and fanned by a gusty north wind it sent smoke mushrooming into the sky and burning ash across the bush. As the fire marched over the hills the heat took away the air and it sounded as though a hundred fiery, fighting dragons surrounded 'The Arches'. A wall of flames appeared on the ridge, belching high in the sky. The Arches were destroyed. The hills and gullies were shrouded in an eerie orange light and where the countryside had been green all was black. Mr. Hair had to be taken to the safety of his son's property when the fire came. He never returned to see the charred remains of the Arches, the trees stripped of their foliage and reduced to glowing stumps. He never saw the embers that glittered in the ashes of the ruined cottage...’

Briefly she paused to re-read the words, in awe of the stone's narrative that so explicitly revealed why there really was no point going in search of the Arches. Stones like this one have borne witness to all the important events she thought. We live chronologically, experiencing our lives as a succession of events, but it is not until we look back that we see the picture forming and begin to write our narrative. In the first instance we rehearse living through reading stories, using these stories to extend our experiences and to experiment. Stories give us categories that help us to evaluate our daily experiences. It seemed that the stone was guiding her pen. Her thoughts and words seemed to come from the stone itself.

Subdued by remembering the destruction of that simple cottage she sipped the coffee and sat slowly savoring a Yo-yo, the closest thing to a Kiss that she had been ever able to find. Mrs. Hair made the most beautiful Kisses. Her father had loved them. The sun caught hold of the bottle and the pureness of the old gold caught her eye. She tried to remember and capture the happy hours she spent with the Hairs yearning to give them the immortality they deserved. They had been such significant figures in her life. She wrote

"The child bent to pick up the small slimy rock. Turning it over, inspecting the yellow tinge she turns, excited, and calls out to the old man working nearby. He turned to examine the yellowing stone. "It is only lichen Heather". Disappointed she dropped it and continued her search for 'golden nuggets'. As she dipped in her fingers in the cool stream water fresh young words came flowing towards her.”

The Arches were magical she decided. In this sanctuary she felt completely safe. Within these walls she could tell her story. “Narrative helps us to make sense of our lives by telling our story either to other people or to ourselves” she thought. When something happens to us it is a normal impulse to tell someone about it. Framing events as a story helps us get things in perspective. If we cannot tell someone else, we tell it to ourselves, sometimes compulsively over and over, trying to make sense of it all. Story heals and palliates our pain. It is a part of the process of development.

As she wrote metaphors and symbols fought to gain her attention, memories swam past in schools. It was The Arches that she really wanted to write about. But her memory of them was fragmented and blurred. Once she had known every marker on the road that led to their place. The Austin A40 knew the way along the Dargo road almost as well as she did.

Trying again, desperate to capture a sense of this place she took up her pen, writing as though she were there once more.

“Just ahead she saw a log lying across the ground. As she step up onto she spotted a piece of torn material, tied to a branch. "This is the right direction" she spoke aloud, "but where are the others? They always go on ahead and leave me behind. It's not fair. They should have to wait. Mum told Brian he had to look after me today, but he's rushed ahead."

Just ahead a figure in brown flannels sits, waiting patiently. Smiling broadly, Mr. Hair greeted her warmly. "Look Heather! I have saved some of Mrs. Hairs kisses and my ginger ale for you. Your father and the boys have gone back to 'the Arches' but I waited for you. It is getting late".

The ginger beer tasted beautiful but she ate only one kiss, leaving the others by the tree for the Joey she had seen hopping past just a few minutes ago. "We really better head back now." Archie said as he returned from leaving fresh signs for the next group of treasure hunters, coming up from Briagalong during the week.

As they walked back down the slope, past the cascading banksia roses and into his quaint cottage she held his hand more tightly than usual. She didn't ever want to forget him or his strong hands. Mrs. Hair's eyes danced brightly as they walked into the tiny sitting room. A crocheted rug lay across her knees. Edna sat by the fire in an armchair talking to her mother. They loved to talk. "Archie, make a cup of tea for Dorothy, there's a good fellow. Dot and Colin are staying for tea - bring in some kisses and ginger ale for the children." "Oh goodie" she clapped and danced. She just loved staying with Mr. and Mrs. Hair for tea. Life felt particularly good when they stayed on with them in their quaint little house. As Archie boiled the kettle she skipped up the small staircase to the attic where he had plastered the walls and ceiling with cuttings from old magazines. It was her favorite room in their house; a tiny sanctuary far removed from her every day life.”

Satisfied that today she had drawn up old memories she sighed with relief and drained the last of the coffee. Sustained by warm memories, ready to face the world of her work. Her tiny sanctuary was safe. Those fires never destroyed it any more than time has wearied the ancient muse. I can return to the bower of bliss and the muse of my childhood whenever I wish she smiled self -satisfied. It all lies safely within 'the Arches', tucked safely within a corner my memory.

Furtively she grabbed the pen, ready to record a second visit to 'the Arches' to check that she really could so easily reach her bower of bliss.

“The moon was shining brightly, throwing a silvery trail for her to follow. Without waking anyone she gathered her things and, opening the door quietly so that no one would hear, slipped out. The moonlight danced on the bluestone illuminating a path. Like a searchlight it swayed guiding her as she passed the strangely fluorescent fences. Gardens sparkled, white iceberg roses glistening as she wandered towards the gardens and her favorite circle of trees.

Sprawled under the trees she let her finger guide a path through the map of the labyrinth that she had bought with her. "If I can just get to the centre I will find the Arches and be with them all once more" she murmured. The moon's light drenched the circle and she stopped to gaze in wonder at her majesty. The glorious rays of the moon that have lit the wonders of the world since the dawn of time is focused on this spot tonight. A rustle and the play began. Woodland spirits in flowing white gowns floated by in rowdy orgiastic revelry as Wagner's music heralded the letting loose of some primeval force. Each local spirit held silvery threads and as they danced, faster and faster it seemed that a silver arch emerged and from within that arch stepped all the familiar faces.

Everyone gathered. Her childhood self came and nestled alongside her and together they watched as the theatre began. The setting was in a small cottage that perched precariously alongside the Freestone Creek. Mrs. Hair sat with a pretty crocheted rug snugly tucked over her knees. A small fire filled the quaint room with subdued light. On a small table, covered with a pretty lace tablecloth that Mrs. Hair had made sat the good cups and saucers and a sugar bowl filled with cubed sugar. A delicate set of silver tongs lay on top. The teacups clinked softly as Mrs. Hair poured tea and passed the kisses all round. Mr. Hair bought in freshly brewed Ginger beer and everyone gathered to savor the much-awaited afternoon tea. "Anyone for a treasure hunt?" asked Mr. Hair as the last of the Ginger beer was drained from the children's glasses.

But this time she was content to stay behind, up in the tiny attic and lie examining the pictures Archie had used to paper the wall. Silently she gazed at the gaudy, bright lipstick smeared lips that seemed to stand out on the porcelain faces of the film stars he had collected and she imagined….”

She closed her notebook and lovingly stored her book and pen in the 'medicine bag' she kept for this express purpose. Stretching like a cat she rose, gathered her supplies and strode, revitalized and content, across the park towards the clutter of golden spires and the familiar routines of work. One day she would write a story about 'the Arches' but for today she was content to have gleaned these fragments, happy to have remembered.

Copyright 2001 Heather Blakey


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Heather Blakey asserts the right to be identified as the author of this work