Spots of Time

January 14, 2003

Nature Calls

I was drunk. I couldn't walk in a straight line, giggles escaped the dopy grin on my face, and I'd taken to spinning - just because. The thing was, I hadn't had a drop of alcohol all day - or the day before either. I was drunk on nature. Standing on the beach at the base of the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road in Southern Victoria, I was intoxicated by majestic cliffs, crashing waves and a slowly setting sun.

My inspiration for this particular adventure was Alain de Botton, the author of "The Art of Travel." Not a guidebook, nor a travel narrative, "The Art of Travel" focuses on concepts of why we travel - what compells us to pack our bags, say goodbye to loved ones and leave what we know behind. Whether it be desire for the exotic, simple curiosity, or a quest for the sublime, Botton, using a variety of poets, philosophers and artists as "guides" - digs deep to determine what brings us there in the first place. Earlier in the week I'd come upon a section of his book touting the benefits of nature as the elixir for the stresses of city life. The chapter was founded on the philosophy and writings of the poet William Wordsworth. Wordsworth felt that cities were corrupting forces - not just on man's body, but on his soul, inspiring feelings of envy, greed, desire and status. He believed that sufficient time in the country could help man to fight these destructive forces. Though his poetry was initially rejected as fluff, his popularity slowly grew with fans eventually reciting his poems of flowers and meadows by heart.

Though I had never read Wordsworth, this section struck a cord with me, and repeatedly flashed through my head throughout the next few days. Desperately in need of some kind of change and realizing I'd spent all my time in Australia in cities, I booked a upcoming "Great Ocean Road" day trip. The tour promised rainforests, exotic animals, sandy beaches, towering cliffs and an escape from city life. It was just what Wordsworth (and I) thought I needed.

By mid-afternoon we arrived at the Twelve Apostles, a series of towering rock formations that time and the elements had separated from the mainland. Earlier in the day we'd seen koalas and kangaroos, hiked through a rainforest and generally let the weight of the city slip from our shoulders. Looking out from the mainland at the sublime beauty before me, I felt my stress vanish. The problems I had been experiencing didn't seem so difficult anymore. In fact, I was having trouble remembering exactly what had been troubling me in the first place. Not that I spent time trying - I was too busy breathing in the ocean air, taking pictures of rock formations with names like The Razorback and Lock Arc Gorge, and later, skipping and dancing in the waves on Gibson Beach as the sun slowly settled in for the night.

On the ride home I stared out the window and replayed the day in my head, a smile creeping up on my lips. Though de Botton questioned the benefits that limited contact with nature would have on ones psychological outlook, Wordsworth argued that exposure to these scenes of natural beauty could be cemented in memory as "spots of time" we could recall at future necessary moments - putting things back into perspective. De Botton later admitted his own experience with one of these "spots of time" - a tranquil scene of oak tress appearing to him in a moment of stress and anxiety on the streets of London, and calming him, at least temporarily.

The day after arriving back to Melbourne, the stress of the city was again catching up to me. Though I was mostly able to recall memories of my trip, I worried that I hadn't retained a specific spot of time - one that would stay with me for when I really needed it. But then, cleaning the sand out of my backpack, I found two rolls of film I'd snapped during the trip. Modern technology offered me a leg up on Wordsworth - the ability to capture the visual aspect of my spots of time. Instead of relying solely on my mind, whose credibility was frequently in question, I would have a tool to jog my memory. Then, when the stresses of city life got to me, I could flip through my photo album and put things into perspective. I get the pictures back tomorrow - I can't wait to get back to nature.