One Hundred Twenty-Two Steps to the Floor of the Rainforest: the sign read at the beginning of the narrow track.
My husband looked at his cell phone. “Are you sure about this? There’s no reception up here, so I doubt if there is any at the bottom.”
“I’ll be fine. We can stop and rest as many times as I need. We have all day. Look! There’s a rope handrail. Honest, I’ll be fine.”
“OK,” he sighed. “I’ll go first. If you fall, I’ll save you.”
“My hero!” I laughed and tightened the laces on my walking shoes and adjusted my leg brace.
The descent was steeper than I thought and the steps carved into the dry crusted earth, twisting over exposed tree roots and around broad tree trunks and small boulders. Using the rope to steady myself, I made my way down the slopping path. My encouraging husband restrained his usual pace and stayed close.
Deeper into the bush, it became shady and cooler. The steps dropped away at sharp angles and I noticed the overhead canopy had thickened. An old stump that had split lengthwise made an ideal resting place near vine entangled trees. The silence was intriguing.
“Can you hear that?” I whispered.
“Hear what? It’s so quite here.”
We continued silently, stopping once to let me catch my breath beside a trickle of a waterfall. We stepped onto the forest floor where a sign gave information regarding a bushman who once lived in the area. I wiped the sign to read the remainder of the text. “Wow! Imagine living here. It’s so peaceful.”
“Don’t touch the leaves of the red nettle tree—they sting,” Norm warned, reading a small rusted sign by a mysterious tree with an enormous red trunk.
My curiosity about the bushman increased when I observed a wooden structure beyond the red nettle tree. The fireplace and chimney were entwined with thick vines. Three walls remained standing, although I wondered if it originally had a fourth wall—or a door. Located near another path, the hut’s open section faced a dried-up waterfall and stream. A memorial plaque erected above a crude water tub detailed the life and death of this bushman of the wilderness.
Norm wandered around the immediate area, taking snapshots. “Wait here. I’ll see where the other path goes.”
“OK,” I replied, studying the hut in more detail.
Sitting on one of the two tree stump seats, I leaned back against the simple wooden table and closed my eyes. The sweet bird calls resounded through the bush as I breathed in the clean, crisp air. I wonder what it was like to live here.
The sound of whistling and running water interrupted my thoughts. On the path where Norm had left minutes before, a young bushman entered the small clearing. He ceased whistling, removed his weather-beaten hat with a row of corks hanging from the brim, and stood staring at me. “G’day Ma’am. Um’, where’d you come from?”
Without taking my eyes off the bushman, I stood and pointed to the other path. “Where did you come from?” I finally managed.
“Ma’am, this is me ‘ome. I ... um ... was goin’ to make a pot of tea. Would ya’ care to join me?”
“Yes, thank you. Sorry, I didn’t think anyone lived here anymore, Mr ... er ...”
“John Wilson, Ma’am.” He dipped his head before replacing his hat.
He filled an old billycan with water from the waterfall, which had suddenly begun to flow freely. Weird. I watched in a dazed silence as he placed the billycan on an open fire.
“How long have you lived here, John?”
“Oh, since early 1890, I sp’ose; I came down ‘ere lookin’ for me ‘orse and fell in love with the place. I nev’r did find me ‘orse, though. I go back in tar Vacy evr’y three months or so to get me some supplies.”
John placed tin cups on the table and poured in the hot tea. We talked about the town of Vacy and his home under the canopy. The afternoon air seemed to tug at my eyelids. Crossing my arms on the table, I listened with interest to his friendly talk.
“Hey, wake up sleepy head. We have to start the climb if we want to get back before dinner.” Norm’s voice drifted down the path. “I got some good photos for your journal about John Wilson. Are you OK? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
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