This post was originally written in February 2022 for Hemispheric News; subscribe at the Patreon site One Prime Plus to receive this monthly newsletter and other benefits that are linked to the Hemispheric Views podcast.
Those who follow me on Micro.blog may recognise the photo above, which I posted there recently, stating that the combination of canopy and sky reminded me of Jurassic Park. It was in fact taken in Nyrang Park (pronounced nai-rang), which is a beautiful natural reserve near our home in Wollongong.
Nestled behind suburban backyards, many people who drive by don’t even notice that it’s there, even with numerous eucalypts that tower over the houses that front the road. It’s easy to zoom past the entrance.
After the positive reaction that my Jurassic photo received on Micro.blog, I scrolled back through the Places function in my iCloud Photo Library, looking specifically at all the photos that I had taken in the park. What occurred to me, as I perused my collection, was this: Nyrang Park has become my sanctuary. It was Natasha who first showed me the park years ago, before we moved in together, as it is near her family’s home. At that point, I had no idea just how significant a role this park would play in my daily life.
Fast-forwarding to more recent times, when the COVID-19 pandemic started and we were all sent to work at home, I knew that I would need to continue my lunchtime walking habit to preserve my physical and mental health. It’s easy to remain inside all day if you’re busy—particularly if you’re in your home with your own stuff and creature comforts. Nyrang Park became my regular walking place, through which I still frequent today, as I meander through the paths under the trees, spotting and listening to galahs, magpies, cockatoos and kookaburras, or even listening to a podcast as I observe the canopy and flowing creek. Passing through, I regularly stop to take in a scene, sometimes snapping it with my iPhone or even making the effort to take my Canon DSLR along sometimes. Whether it’s an early morning walk, a lunchtime stroll or a way to clear my head after work, the walk is always beautiful; occasionally I’ll visit the park multiple times in the day, just to enjoy the differences in light and colour. Here are further photo examples.
On the point of listening to podcasts when I visit Nyrang Park, I’ve thought a lot about the role of technology as we walk through natural spaces. In this case, I’m wearing technology in the form of my AirPods Pro and controlling the podcast playback through Overcast on my Apple Watch. Depending on my mood, I may choose to augment the experience of my walk with audio through transparency mode, still hearing the running water and singing (or screeching) birds as I listen to my podcasts, or I may forgo audio entirely, seeking to escape technology and any potential distraction or notifications.
On the rarest of occasions, however, I’ve managed to fuse the experience of nature and technology into something meaningful and memorable. One time late in 2020, on a Friday afternoon when Natasha was out with her colleagues, I visited the park to wind down and put the working week behind myself. As I followed the central path and crossed over the creek into Nyrang Park’s clearing, I was struck by how vivid the sky was, with light, fluffy clouds sweeping gently overhead. I felt the need to stay for a while and enjoy the clarity and peacefulness of the moment. It was at that moment that I remembered that I had added a new album to my library: Ólafur Arnald’s Some Kind of Peace. Given his style of music and the album’s title, I thought that it would fit the scene.
I proceeded to lie down right in the middle of the clearing, put in my earphones and start the album. From beginning to end, I remained on the ground, looking directly up at the sky as the clouds shifted gradually (seemingly to the music). It was the perfect combination of natural movement and personal technology, completely blocking out the existence of everyone and everything else on the planet for 40 minutes. This was enhanced by both noise cancellation and the fact that I couldn’t see anything other than the tops of eucalypts in my periperal vision. Time slowed down and I thought about the mass of the atmosphere between myself and the vast openness of space, the feeling of the grass beneath and around my body and how the colour of the sky shifted as the Sun began to set.
While that afternoon is stuck firmly in my mind, I have many other positive memories in the park since the birth of my son, Mac. During my parental leave, for example, Natasha and I would walk him in his pram or in a carrier through the park every day, exposing him to the sounds of the birds and the feeling of the natural light. (You can’t just keep a baby inside all the time!) It was a great way to stretch our legs and mitigate potential lockdown cabin fever. One day, we even discovered that a tomato vine had started growing next to the path at the park’s entrance, so upon each visit, we would pick some cherry tomatoes and I would enjoy their explosive juiciness as I strolled with my new family.
Now that he’s slightly older, Mac sits up in his stroller and Natasha points out the water dragons that dot the park, seeking sunshine, and he waves at them. My mum and sister even join us for walks there and Natasha’s parents enjoy time with Mac in a park that’s just around the corner—one that they’d never visited before. When life becomes busy, sometimes a new person or events kickstarts the the discovery of something new. I hope that in years to come, Mac will start to form his own positive memories of and associations with the place, whether with us or on his own.