Yuletide Living the dream
Perception is a funny thing. When we make an observation we integrate it into our belief system, comprising all our experiences, our dreams and fears without ever really knowing the whole story. It’s our way of making sense of the world, but we are often so quick to judge and frequently mistaken.
I know it’s an oxymoron but when I bought my bus I didn’t want to travel even though I knew I would have to drive somewhere eventually. My intention was to find some land to rent where I could park and set up camp; a quiet place where the climate was mild. After so many unsettled years, I was really needing to incorporate some structure and routine into my daily life and put my health first. I was also longing to start painting again even though I knew working in such a small space was going to be a challenge. But plans don’t always unfold as we would like and after six months of temporary parking spots I was on the move again.
Shortly before Christmas my bus developed an alarmingly loud clanging noise from the murky metal depths of the under carriage. My loose plan for the holiday period had been to continue driving south until I found some cooler temperatures or some big shady trees; which ever came first. I was in Brunswick Heads when the noise began and I knew my chances of finding a mechanic with any inclination or equipment to work on a 7m bus so close to Christmas were as good as zero; and so it came to be that I stopped exactly where I was, at the end of a residential street not far from a bush reserve dotted with white gums and paper bark trees that buffered the lower arm of the Brunswick river.
My relationship with my bus during this time was rocky. For the past six months the roof had been leaking water from entry points that I couldn’t locate. I knew water was seeping into the ceiling cavity and dampening the insulation because I could smell mould when the sun heated the roof. I had lost count of the times I had clambered around on the roof with a tube of silicone trying to fill every possible hole, thinking that for sure I had fixed the issue only to find things only got worse every time it rained. Now the weather was oppressively hot and it rained most days. With 360 degree windows and no air conditioning my bus was like a mobile hothouse. Opening the windows only made the smell worse as the ceiling cavity acted as a wind tunnel for any breeze and circulated the mouldy air. I knew how unhealthy living with mould was. My safe space was no longer safe, my intention of finding a peaceful place to call home had eluded me. I was really tired and completely fed up. I felt stuck and I couldn’t begin to pretend to match the enthusiasm that some people had when they walked past my bus with looks of envy, commenting about how lucky I was to be living the dream.
One morning I met a lady on her daily walk to the river. When she asked if I had plans for Christmas, I casually brushed off the day as being of no importance, because that’s what people do who know they will be spending it alone. She was in the middle of a divorce and was hosting a family lunch with her children and soon to be ex husband in the hope of somehow lessening any long term damage her children may acquire from the separation. She planned to find some time in the afternoon to go to the river for a swim with a friend and re gain any lost composure and she suggested I join them. Grateful for this invitation I accepted her offer.
Christmas day was hot but overcast with hardly a breath of wind. Storm clouds appeared to sit motionless in the already grey sky. When we got to the river she glided straight in like a Norman Lindsay siren, her friend followed suit and then motioned for me to follow. I hesitated when I realised that the swim was not just a dip but a voyage with the tide that would take us all the way to the ocean and we would then walk back to her car that she had parked close to town in preparation of the venture. As per usual, I was totally underprepared, I didn’t even have any bathers, I was just planning a quick dip in my mismatching bra and undies. Trying to anticipate the logistics at the end of the swim, I decided it was best to go fully clothed, so in I waded in my dress, hat and sunglasses, leaving my thongs on the river bank trusting that they would still be there when I returned. The water was reflecting a lush moss green which indicative of an outward going tide, as opposed to muddy brown on the incoming tide. As soon as I was in the water the current began to carry me eastwards, reminding me that there is always constant motion even when it feels like everything has come to a standstill. My perception of feeling stuck was just that, a perception, it wasn’t really true.
There was such peace on the river, it was as though the rest of the world couldn’t touch me. And now when I recall that time, it is the river I remember and not the exhaustion and anguish surrounding my mouldy bus. It is the green of the water and the grey of the sky, the smell of the eucalypts and the rain closing in. What I remember is the Yuletide when I was living the dream.
*Yuletide is a pagan term, an old Middle English word representing the winter solstice. Aligning closely with the celebration of Christmas the word yule became synonymous with the festive season. Tide simple translates as time.