Boripat Lebel was born and raised in Thailand, attended high school in Perth, graduated from the Australian National University, Canberra, and is presently back in Chiang Mai. He blogs at boripatebel.com.
Image: © Francisca Lebel, 2012
When I was fourteen I migrated from Thailand to Western Australia to continue my schooling in an English-speaking environment. During this time, I lived with my grandparents in the hills of Perth – the hinterland of the city.
My grandparents’ house sits on a large plot surrounded by kangaroo tails, kangaroo paws and papery wildflowers. Across the street is a reserve: a small-scale national park, populated with tall jarrah trees and banksia flowers, among other prickly native plant species.
The reserve is a special place for our family. It is where my grandparents take their daily exercise, where my father grew up birdwatching, and where I enjoyed walks in the late, balmy afternoons. To my grandparents, it is a living herbarium; to my father, a backyard zoo; to me, an escapist’s paradise.
There are a few tracks that you can take: a short, medium, long or winding path. My preference is the medium trek – enough to call the effort an exercise, but not so much as to produce heavy perspiration. The medium path is about 30 minutes, give or take, depending on your pace and footwear. Don’t wear sandals. Sandals will add 10 minutes to your trip, as every now and then you will have to stop and take off a shoe to empty out a gumnut that’s found its way in.
Sometimes on my walks in the reserve I would take my chunky portable radio with me to listen to the top 40 countdown, but mostly I just liked to listen to the forest and keep a watch out for its inhabitants: mesmerizing spiders, enigmatic blue-tongues, jumpy wallabies, and black cockatoos screeching loudly from the treetops. According to my grandparents, there might also have been an emu once. They say they came across the contents of its digestion during a walk many years ago.
A dozen fond memories and interesting discoveries come to my mind when I think about the reserve. There was this one time when my younger sister stayed with us during a summer break. We went exploring in the reserve together, taking with us snacks that our grandmother had made: crackers with peanut butter and honey, plus two bottles of chilled lemonade. We took our humble picnic to a large pale log, a favorite landmark and a nice spot to sit, where we snacked and enjoyed the natural tranquility that the reserve offered. That is, until 20 or so black cockatoos settled above us and started squawking their hearts out.
Thus energised with carbohydrates, we decided to adventure boldly into the forest, leaving the path behind us as if we were proper explorers not at all afraid of getting lost in the woods. We didn’t end up venturing too far into the forest, though, because we came across a tree hollow and decided to stop to have a look – because it was a tree hollow, and that is always worth a look.
Peeking inside, nothing seemed out of the ordinary upon first inspection. Then, our gaze landed on nails affixed to one side of the tree. Apparently, someone had been there and hammered a dozen large nails into it. It was a creepy find, but also a cool one. We were very proud of the discovery, though later on, when we retold the story, our grandparents only nodded and attributed it to a vagabond; someone who, like the mysterious emu, had passed through the grounds of the reserve once upon a time.
Now I’m back in Chiang Mai, Thailand, living at my parents’ house in a gated community. It’s a nice neighborhood to stroll through, although you walk on pavements instead of ground, pass by handsome gardens instead of natural flora, and find yourself under security cameras instead of the canopy of a forest. And while there are touristy national parks in Thailand to hike up and around in, there are no reserve systems like there are in Western Australia; where one can cross the street and immediately find oneself amongst perfect wilderness.
Oftentimes, I reminisce about my walks in the reserve, especially when I’m strolling through my present neighborhood. A languor creeps over me when I’m wandering past the trimmed scenery in the suburban quietude. It makes me feel like something is missing.
I never thought I’d miss the sound of screeching cockatoos in the late afternoon.
© Boripat Lebel, 2018