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Friday, July 21, 2017

Snowy Mountains High - The Mid Winter Beacon Of Light

When he first came to the mountains his life was far away
On the road and hanging by a song
But the string's already broken and he doesn't really care
It keeps changing fast and it don't last for long
But the Snowy Mountains makes him high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Snow Mountains high.... (Thredbo)
(With reference to John Denver)

Nothing quite turns me on like a great solitary car trip with great music and fresh country air. I have been driving through country Australia since I was a late teen but perhaps the years when I did the most kilometres were at University whilst I pursued a degree in agricultural economics. They were heady days of either deep winters and frozen fingers or of moleskin trousers and screaming down the highway listening to Paul Simon, hot winds and dry sweat.

The other morning as I drove towards the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales I remembered fondly those same drives and how much they had evolved. Back in those days you had to make fresh CD's regularly so that they wouldn't skip and the book in which you held all your CD's was as important as your luggage, stowed usually in the front passenger seat. There was one such journey on the Narrandera road near Wagga Wagga in the peak of summer, cockatoos congregating on the side of the road, hot dry air blasting through the window onto sunburnt forearms and the bouncing rhythm of Graceland blaring on the speakers.

The Mississippi Delta was shining 
Like a National guitar 
I am following the river 
Down the highway 
Through the cradle of the civil war 
I'm going to Graceland 
In Memphis Tennessee 
I'm going to Graceland 
Poor boys and pilgrims with families 
And we are going to Graceland 
My traveling companion is nine years old 
He is the child of my first marriage 
But I've reason to believe 
We both will be received 
In Graceland

And it was this very same song that I listened to, twenty years later, as I shot down the highway heading towards Thredbo this week, excited by the prospect of skiing fresh powder that had just fallen the night before. 

There is something so unique about our Snowy Mountains and I have never really been quite able to explain what that is. In part I would suggest that it is the Alpine Ash eucalyptus trees which I believe are not found in any other Alpine region. They have a manner in which they are suspended that is hauntingly beautiful and when they are laden with snow they remind me of Japanese wood block prints, as though their graduated trunk and ornate shapes of branches and leaves could only be interpreted and understood by a Japanese artisan's deft incisions of his bespoke carving tools. It could also be the drama of the landscape that leads into those mountains that form the Kosciuszko National Park. Prior to entering the mountains the landscape is sort of like a high plain of undulating land which seems to be dotted with large granite boulders and trees which look somewhat haunted, looking more like the marking of a burial site than something which offers life. It is a forbidding landscape almost all year round.

These moments, especially when I am on my own, offer up some of the most peaceful and joyful moments of solitude that I have found. It's in fact one of the reasons I romanticise about the country so much. I am certain that living there my problems would not go away - but to leave the city and go for a drive in the country invariably decompresses me. 

This time as I drove in I had found a new song to listen to and it was fast becoming a song which might define this winter for myself. I had, one night a few weeks back, watched Martin Scorcese's documentary 'The Waltz' on Netflix. And one performance stuck out a great deal. It was Joni Mitchell's 'Coyote' which had instantly grabbed me and for a week or two it has a significant grip on me.

Now, twenty years later as I drove down the highway, my phone was cabled to my aux slot, bluetooth enabled and streaming 4g data from my Spotify on an excessively large data plan. How heady. How times had changed. And this is what I heard:

No regrets Coyote
We just come from such different sets of circumstance
I'm up all night in the studios
And you're up early on your ranch
You'll be brushing out a brood mare's tail
While the sun is ascending
And I'll just be getting home with my reel to reel
There's no comprehending
Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes
And the lips you can get
And still feel so alone
And still feel related
Like stations in some relay
You're not a hit and run driver, no, no
Racing away
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

It was like a solid meal for the soul. 

If you haven't listened to Joni Mitchell or Paul Simon for a while, if you haven't taken a drive through the country or put some skis on and tore down the mountain side, I highly recommend all of the above. You will decompress and I promise you your soul will be reinvigorated.

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