Life and landscape lay in a deep sediment of mutually penetrating memory.
I grew up just a short walk from Mt Taylor. Back before it had been encircled by suburbia. Back when a day climbing to the top with my mates was an adventure into wildness. Back when we could imagine it was all ours to be discovered.
If the original Ngunnawal people of the area had a name for this landmark it has been lost to time. It was given its European name in remembrance of James Taylor, a squatter who lived in the area in the early 1800’s.
Early on, there was consensus amongst geographic societies in the UK and the US that a mountain was any geographical feature standing higher than 1,000 feet above sea level. Today the definition is far more uncertain, although most people would not have too much difficulty picking out a mountain from a mole hill.
Mountains usually sit in bunched geological scrums, immense ranges pushed up into spirit from their genetic fault lines. Mountains propose gravity, they tip up in steep acclivity with challenging terrain and exclamation peaks. Hills on the other hand, present more gentle slopes with high points offering an easy inverted breve. Hills have a far more overall longhand roundness to their form.
So it is. Mt Taylor is a hill in landscape but a mountain in memory.
Memory: that time we found a baby brown snake in a gully whilst fossicking for pink-tailed legless lizards. Just a handful of centimetres long and interesting enough to spend some time studying as she went about her snakey business… before (after much discussion) wrangling it with a branch to take home in the small leather saddlebag on my bike. To our great disappointment, by the time we had made the bumpy ride home the snake was gone. And to my great luck. A baby brown snake can be no less venomous than an adult. Fully grown, it is considered by many the most dangerous snake in the world
Memory: of sitting on a rocky outcrop just shy of the summit. Breathing hard after scrambling up the loose gravel, straight-up-it track. Pulling my brand new Walkie-Talkie birthday present from my belt. Ariel out… glinting in the sun. Pointing this way, then that way.
“Breaker, Breaker… this is Ian. I say again….this is IAN. Does anybody copy? Does anybody copy?”
Broadcasting… well surely to the Americas, or to Africa, or perhaps even to some secret spy vessel on mission in Antarctic waters. Straining against the static to make out the response.
It was faint, and difficult to make out. Sounded like Russian, no?
Childhood moments sharp as blades and anchored as adventure into the crystals of the granite rocks, and the yellow of the wattle, and the blissful ignorance of the optimistic 500 metre range of my radio.
Memory: approaching Mt Taylor on a warm spring morning. Thick birdsong on the breeze coming from the Eucalyptus and Acacia further up. My friends and I spread out wide and waist deep (sometimes shoulder deep) in a vast field of dry bush grasses. Walking slow amongst unsure footing and impending danger. The small copse of oak up to our left that was home to a missile.
Black and white. A large magpie that would swoop down from its branch, rolling out to one of us on a silver wire made taught with protective instinct.
It was the only Magpie we had seen that would launch an attack from the front. This was a big deal. It would often make contact, snapping its beak or grabbing at hair (or testicles I swear!) with its claws. Nerves and manhood would be tested.
For us the game was to see who could stalk closest to the trees without getting swooped. Sometimes you could see the attack coming, other times it was surprise. Seldom was there escape. The Magpie was fearless and mean and I suspect others had done far worse than stalk her.
Mt Taylor. A landmark. A waypoint. Volcanic ejections of Ignimbrite and Rhyodacite that tumbled and stacked from the underground star some 420 million years ago before cooling and waiting with immense, unfathomable, unnoticed patience for my friends and I to claim her as ours.
Today: Mt Taylor is a nature reserve. There are 85 species of bird that call her home as well as an endangered species of small purple-pea.
If you are lucky you might spot an Echidna.
That straight-up-it track (originally called the Richmond Fellowship track) we used to climb was closed sometime around 2007 after being deemed too dangerous. It has been replaced by a zig zagging trail of packed clay, gravel and compacted safety. Now it has become a popular walking and running trail to the top. There is another trail up the south side (and less used, wilder, rougher path up the west). There are seats and information boards. Kids and kangaroos are sure to be seen.
The mountain and I have both changed a lot since my childhood. I still climb it regularly, but never again have I sat on the summit and looked out across the Antarctic. Or talked to the Russians. I know I never will.
I have been swooped once or twice climbing the paths in spring.
But never again has wildness thrown itself to me from that now overgrown copse of oak.
Somehow I sense that both the mountain and I feel the melancholy of the absence.
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