It was a fairly spontaneous decision, made on a whim with a friend, to get out of town for a couple of days and go somewhere where it really felt like winter.
Living in a subtropical climate means you don’t really experience winter – it just cools down for a couple of months. But there’s a place about three hours drive south of where I live that does get cold. It’s known for apples and wine and its natural environment of huge granite boulders.
Living in a subtropical climate also means you don’t tend to see snow. I’ve travelled to cold places before, hoping to see the white fluffy stuff in person but the warm weather seems to follow me. The place I was going was known to occasionally get snow – once every 20 years occasionally.
So I wasn’t expecting any snow on my cold climate getaway. I was happy to go and sit in front of a log fire for a couple of days. Perhaps do a bit of bushwalking. No mobile, no wifi, surrounded by wineries. Bliss.
They were forecasting cold weather for the region so I did borrow some thermals and cold-weather gear – “just in case it actually gets cold!” I dug out wet weather boots and found my beanie in the back of a drawer. But, seriously, I didn’t think I’d need it (see log fire and winery above).
On the way we stopped at the nearby town to pickup some food and the locals were talking about getting home before the snow. Yeah right.
We made our way to our cabin in the woods, arriving at dusk as the last rays of the sun peaked through the wattles, tea trees and gums. It was beautiful. The weather was cool. We discovered that there was indeed no mobile reception or wifi but we had wine and there was a log fire with an amply-stocked woodpile. We looked at some local maps and made tentative plans for some bushwalking the next day. Sweet.
The fire burned all night but it was still cold indoors. I could hear rain on the roof through the night, and something that sounded heavier. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I wistfully thought, “I wonder if that’s snow” but thought it was just possums …
I got up before dawn the next morning and looked outside to see how far off sunrise might be.
I saw white. Everywhere. It had snowed. And not just a fine misting. Not just sleet. But real snow. My first snow.
I was beside myself. I pulled on thermals and multiple layers of clothes and went out to explore. I had to touch it. It looked and felt like the ice-shavings desserts I used to make as a child. Crunchy. Soft. Cold. I grabbed a handful and made a snowball. And threw it.
I walked out beyond the shelter of the cabin – crunching footprints up and down the track – and enter another world.
I follow the animal prints in the snow – recognising the kangaroo trail but uncertain what other small critters had been scurrying along this path before me. I look around and am mesmerised by the colour – all white and black – and am stunned at just how different it is to the greens and browns I’d seen the day before. The usually upright tea trees are almost horizontal under the weight of the snow. There are perfectly-formed, branch-length, ice-stacks on every available surface. My mind struggles with the incongruity of snow on gum tree leaves. The snow on the wattle blooms, so bizarre.
I take a few photos then my phone goes dead. I continue walking. Observing every little detail.
I feel dampness on my face and think, “It’s raining. I’d better get back inside” but when I look on my sleeve, I see snowflakes. Tiny snowflakes. It’s not raining, it’s snowing.
I discover fairly quickly that snow is wet and cold and so high-tail it back to the cabin to the warmth of the fire and a cup of tea. But once there, I find I can’t just sit inside. I have to take my tea outside – and have it warm my hands as I sit in meditation. Open-eyed – in wonder. Following my breath – in my body and, as fog, drifting toward the snow-crusted trees. Listening – to silence. Beautiful silence.
Two cups of tea later, I hear voices in the distance. A car horn tooting. Dog barking. A chainsaw.
Not long after, the snow-topped, bubble-car of the lodge manager swings in the drive. Dog barking in the front seat.
“Oh good you’re up!” she exclaims. “Isn’t this amazing?!”
She is SO excited.
“I just need to get some photos of snow on the cabin.” And she starts snapping away with her phone.
It’s been 31 years since the last settled snow. This is a big event.
She lets me know that trees are down on the roads so to take care if we’re driving. And then she’s off. And I’m left with the snow.
I still want to touch it. I make a mini snowman, Queensland-style, with banana hat. Even after this very brief snow encounter, my hands are freezing. Numb. I go back inside and warm them in front of the fire – wondering if this is what frostbite feels like. I make more tea.
I return outside and sit with my tea; watch the snow. I have no concept of time except in cups-of-tea I have drunk. I’m up to three.
I hear movement inside the cabin. My travelling companion, who I’ve been itching to wake for hours, is up. I watch as she approaches the door and her face lights up, “It snowed!”
I’m surprised that she is actually excited by the snow. As someone who’s lived and travelled in cold climates, I’d assumed this would be a non-event for her. But she’s just as thrilled as I am. The unexpectedness and strangeness of snow in an Australian bush setting is just as novel for her. She wastes no time beanie-ing up and we are soon crunching down the bush track.
We wander through the snow-laden gums, marvelling at the delicateness of the flakes, the beauty of the light, the strangeness of the snow on the palm tree, the optimism of the roos in their quest for food in the snow-covered paddock. It’s beautiful. It’s surreal. It is truly magical.
We could not have planned this if we tried.
I’m overcome by the perfection of the moment and, by the impermanence of it all – that the fog and clouds may clear at any time, the still-hot Australian sun will shine through and this will all be gone. The greens and the browns will return.
And for 24 hours, I truly savour each moment. With nowhere else to be and nothing else to do, I could just be. In this winter wonderland.
The greens and the browns did return. The next morning, the sun shone through. My snowman melted down to a scattering of twigs. The roos got their grassy paddock back.
I return home to phone messages and wifi and even a “what you’re missing on Facebook” message (which I NEVER receive).
I remember that before I went away I was a tad angst-ridden about my work situation. I find I’m much more serene about it – whatever happens will happen. I receive a phone call from a friend letting me know that a mutual friend has died. I’m saddened, but sanguine. I look at my Inbox and consider the over 300 messages waiting for my attention. I delete most of them.
Life is truly wondrous and, like the snow on the wattle, everything is impermanent.
Photos taken at Girraween Environmental Lodge and Girraween National Park, Queensland, Australia 17/18 July 2015.