I’m sitting on the train that will take me from the hustle and bustle of Sydney to the blessed quiet of Ben Lomond over the course of eight creaking, swaying hours. I’ve got music on my iPad, my iPhone connects me to the world if I so desire, my Kindle boasts the complete works of Stephen King, and I’ve even got my laptop and about a thousand movies if I get bored.
Yet, in spite of all these modern conveniences and their convenient distractions, it’s out the window I find myself staring. The familiar glow of my Apple branded time-wasters is forgotten as I stare (longingly?) at the brilliant muddy green of the Brisbane Water and the march of Eucalyptus trees that stops at the very edge of the waters as if afraid to step into the doubtlessly cold river.
Sail boats skit across the water beneath a sky of brilliant blue, and the occasional glint of silver hints at the presence of million dollar homes with multi-million dollar views.
It’s a trip I’ve made at least two dozen times in my life, yet that view and what it represents never gets old. Even this close to Australia’s biggest city, the weight of this country’s eons old beauty strikes me and leaves me dumbfounded. It’s entrancing in the way impossibly puffy clouds are reflected in the water, and the way the dense greens and browns and dusky reds of the Australian bush hint at the ageless tenacity of this place that birthed me into the world.
I pause from my bare-faced admiration to check if my fellow passengers are seeing what I’m seeing. Are they as grateful for the banks of fantastically shaped clouds that hang over the horizon or the way the sun streaks the water with gold?
But most of them are staring straight down at their phones – their ears distracted by mp3 and their eyes glued to Facebook or YouTube or the procession of pretty faces on Tinder.
I look outside and I wonder what it might feel like to settle down on the grass and let the late winter sun lull me into a mid-morning nap. I imagine what it might have been like to grow up on these shores and spend my summers out on (or in) the water. I long to be a part of the scenery that rolls by unremarked, rather than an impassive observer to it all.
So often in travel, it’s the little things and our ability to appreciate them that bring us the most joy. Sure, the thrill of seeing, touching, and experiencing a landmark is thrilling – as are are the very tangible things such as eating exotic foods, meeting new people, and checking items off a list we’ve made – but, to my mind, it’s being able to stop and appreciate just how lucky we are that lies at the very heart of travel.
In built up, often frustrating China; it was in the way cherry blossoms dusted the too crowded streets around Xuanwu Lake in pink, and the rare occasions when the sun would push through the oppressive pall of smog and seemed to burn away the stink and noise of the city.
In South Korea, it was the wooded mountains that rose above and from the very heart of the heavily urbanised cities that cover most of the country. The mist-shrouded pine trees on a winter morning and the weekend exodus of city folk to the jagged stone and tangled undergrowth.
In the mountains I call home, it’s the seemingly infinite sprawl of stars against a backdrop of deep blue, unfathomable black, and enchanting purple – all of it strewn across the ghost that is the Milky Way.
There’s poetry in all things, and too often it’s easy to become caught up in the shiny distractions we’ve created for ourselves as a kind of barrier against silence and moments of reflection and appreciation.
Are we that afraid of realizing the size and scope of the world we live in and our own miniscule, almost non-existent place in it that we can’t bear to consider it? If so, we’re missing out.