Every time I encounter a new landscape, I look for home.
Home for me is not on the map, but if you insisted I'd say it's in Oregon and Northern California. Deep forests flourishing in volcanic earth. A coast of coves and promontories. Islands and mountaintops looming in the mist.
When I'm somewhere else, I experience not just the absence of home, but an absence shaped like home. Mainland Australia strikes me as flat because home is mountainous, dry because home is wet, sparsely forested because home is lush, sedimentary because home is volcanic.
Just south of the mainland, though, is a place that is home in all these ways, and here the sensation of not-home must become richer, more nuanced. Tasmania is a volcanic island in the latitudes of Oregon and Northern California, and its rainforests, valleys, coastlines evoke those places so strongly that I must remind myself that I'm on the other side of the world, and that everything that looks so familiar is really completely alien.
This, for example, is a eucalyptus.
To a Californian, this simply has to be a coast redwood. It's like a redwood not just in the size and color, but also in texture: soft and almost clothlike to the touch. Look up, though, and it's definitely a eucalypt; the red-brown trunk transitions to grey and the straight lines give way to typical eucalypt curves. This 200-foot giant is a Eucalyptus obliqua, and Tasmania has whole forests of them.
But because "home" to me includes redwoods, the knowledge that this is a eucalypt doesn't quite banish redwoods from the scene. Instead, my mind fondles the riddling distance between these two familiar trees. By what mechanism do unrelated trees evolving on different continents end up with the same deep, soft, red-brown bark where they touch the earth? Is there some evolutionary advantage to having this bark texture at ground level when a tree gets to this size?
When I zoom out, the forest could still be Oregon ...
... except that every plant is different, and tannins give the river a coppery hue, and the slight bluish tint of the distant hill betrays an atmosphere laden with eucalypt oil.
Yesterday's trip to Hartz Mountains National Park, and the adjacent rainforest, was a sensous exploration of home-as-elsewhere. Whereas mainland Australia confronts me with dramatic difference, Tasmania is rich with similarity, which renders its differences more intimate, more sensuous.
Driving through the rainforest, for example, the trees frame the road in the familiar, enclosing way, with a row of ferns hugging the road at ground-level. But in Tasmania, the fern is the great billowing Dicksonia antarctica (click for pic). It makes the roadside look soft, as though I'm driving between rows of luxuriant giant pillows.
Sometimes a plant will look familiar but behave strangely. In the rainforest I notice a familiar-looking fern with a striking behavior: it branches at exact 120-degree angles, evenly spaced, to construct a web of perfect hexagons.
I'll come back to Tasmania for this intimate quality of its strangeness. Where the mainland is strange in big, confronting ways, Tasmania is strange like a touch where nobody ever touches, or a breeze from a new dimension.