For the last ten days, I've been happily settled at a friend's house in the country on the edge of Berrima, New South Wales, a tiny historic town a few hours drive southwest of Sydney. I've been working on a book project, mostly at a picnic table outside the small house where I'm staying.
It's been serene, except that, well, late February and early March are supposed to be summer. Aussies, oddly, reckon seasons as starting on the first of the month, so March 1 is the beginning of fall, but we're all on the same rolling ball, and the astronomical fact is that we're not at the equinox yet. So it bloody well ought to be summer, even if tendrils of red are starting to creep down certain exotic leaves. I didn't expect the blasting heat of an El Niño summer; this is a wet, grassy La Niña year. But still ...
Still, on clear days and cloudy ones, there's been a chilly breeze from the south. South means Antarctic here, of course, so the concepts "south" and "cold" are intertwined and feed off one another, making a south wind feel a bit colder than it technically is. For all I know, this persistent breeze may originate in the paddock across the road, but because that paddock is south of me, it comes wrapped in the pale blue aura of the Antarctic. Brr.
So, needing a sign, I'll take it. For better or worse, I'm leaving Australia in a few weeks, to take a six-month assignment back in Vancouver, Canada, where I lived in 2005-6. So I'll take the cold south wind as a little push in that direction.
Leaving Australia for Canada will feel, I expect, much like leaving Canada for Australia. For months it felt like the right thing to do, leading to an crescendo of certainty as things fell into place. Then, for the last weeks, it felt profoundly wrong. In the final days before I left Vancouver in 2006, every douglas fir and salal bush seemed to be questioning my judgment, and perhaps muttering vaguely of betrayal.
Now, after years of poking about in Australian landscapes, I expect the same critique. Can I live without the twelve-tone contemplations of the Australian magpie, the confounding abundance of eucalypt species, the radioactive cuteness of the koala, or the consoling serenity of the kangaroo's patient gaze? Yes, I can, but this sadness has accompanied all of my life's departures, and it's like an old friend now.