“Make sure you dry your patties well, you don’t want them to get chapped.” I hear Grandpa say to the ghost of my childhood as he offers a pink towel to place my little girl fists into to be dried. After a couple days of Indonesian Visa administrative work and some blog writing, we spent the afternoon checking out what the boat marina is like, dipping our toes in the ocean, and watching a sunset from the beach. It's a nice place for thinking.
My memories of Grandpa Kenny are of one of my first best friends. He seemed to exist to help me have fun. He’d hand me a hammer and nails and let me build something in his garage; we’d make a game of crushing aluminum cans, then he’d give me all the money he received from the recycling company for his collection. He'd tie sand bags to weigh down the swing-set in the back yard, then push me as high as I could go. He’d play softball with me; we’d ride rollercoasters together; and when he still worked, he’d bring me home a quarter in his lunch box without fail. After he retired, he insistently stocked his refrigerator with every variety of soda pop and popsicle a child could think to wish for; we’d watch Star Trek, Jeopardy, and Dallas together.
He’d let me make his coffee, but I had to follow exacting instructions. One heaping teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of a cup with a saucer, topped with piping hot Folgers. No substitutions of any component would be allowed. He’d take a sip, smack his mouth together then let out a long, whispered “aaahhhhhhh” if I’d achieved success. He loved that I played the piano, but waited and waited for me to turn from classical music toward jazz and rag time. He’s still waiting, but it’s on my list to obtain some formal jazz training before I die. For him, my piano is named Ella after Ella Fitzgerald. He could whistle better than any human I have met, before or since, and yet when I would whistle he would say to me “whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad end!” As a child, I never realized the cautionary meaning of this phrase; it seemed like a cheerful rhyme to me so I kept whistling.
There is also legend of my Grandfather as a human I never knew - days spent traveling as a wanderer, a bit enamored by the drink. The stories from this time were never told, but existed as a mist in the air, something I knew vaguely to be there but couldn’t quite grasp. As the legend goes, he met my grandmother, gave up the drink, and stuck around for the remainder of his life. As I watch his ghost try to play the didgeridoo, I realize I do have wanderer in my DNA with a bend toward joyful carousing and a sharp mind for the particulars. While my root-building tendencies naturally followed me for the first two years and 18,000 miles of this trip, it’s nice to see this guy materialize here in Australia. I suddenly know the spirit within myself I should call upon to balance my natural tendency to stay put.
As the week wears on, controlled burns begin in the Bush. For thousands of years, Aborigines would burn parts of the forest for the purpose of hunting. As they roamed, they would burn the dry grasses in this season to clear the forest floor, making it easier to cover territory. These humans were a necessary part of the ecosystem, ensuring the forest floor never grew so deep that it could form enough kindling to fuel a major forest fire.
These controlled burns continue today, leaving the sky filled with an aromatic smoke that colors the sunset blood red and deep orange.
The bird watching is amusing, too. With each bird seeming rather stylish with mohawks, beards, colors, or face paint.
We learn large kangaroos do not live in the Up Top, so the miniaturized version - a wallaby - will have to satisfy our curiosity for now. We set out on our hunt to find that while perfectly camouflaged, they are not hard to find. These critters come out at dusk and graze in the grassy fields by the beach. They also have a tendency to dart out in traffic. They are difficult to take photos of, though, as upon one crunch of a crisp leaf underfoot, the whole pack simultaneously looks up and stares at you, trying to determine if their number is up. Frozen, the pack seems to dare each other to be the first to move. “Someone has to go first!” They seem to say, “Well, it’s not me… Not me, either… I don’t know, if we stay here, we will all get eaten!…Nah, that’s just a nice lady tourist with a camera… that’s what Fred said before… I can’t take it! I’m outta here!” As the first bounds off, a handful also panic and follow suit. Some, decide I really am just a tourist with a camera and turn back to eating grass until I take one more step toward them, then they bound off, too.
On our second to last night in Darwin, we spend the evening at the beach enjoying drum circles, fire twirlers, fire eaters, and another gorgeous sunset. The Ghost of Grandpa Kenny disappears for a stint, then reappears as the sky darkens. "Where have you been?" I ask.
"Learning to throw a boomerang," he says. "Mick's teaching me."
Grandpa leads us through the food and souvenier tents of the night market to the spot where “Mick” from “Mick’s Whips” is singing classics like “Whip it, Whip it Good” in a monotone drone while demonstrating key outback survival skills including everyone’s favorite: fire cracking whips. (Check out Oddgodfrey's Facebook feed to watch a full video of this extravaganza! The video is too large to load here.) Grandpa Kenny gets a good chuckle out of this, wanders off for a moment, then returns with a whip slung around his neck. "Can't leave without one of these!"
“Think we’ll get our Indonesian Visa tomorrow?” I ask Andrew as we head back to the car. He sighs with homesickness for our roaming abode and concern for the bleeding budget. “One can only hope.”