Reflection and Reconnection Among the Treetops
The car climbed through the winding road, up into the Dandenong Mountain Ranges, leaving Upper Ferntree Gully (UFG) a blur in the distance. In the short four years we had been away, it seemed even the kitsch of the UFG strip mall had not escaped the hipster touch. Where you could once enjoy a hearty, homemade asparagus and corn pie for a reasonable price, you now had overpriced salads so pretty in their presentation, with barely enough green to feed a field mouse. I couldn’t believe it when I noticed that not even my childhood yoga studio was spared, now converted into a bohemian gathering point, with patrons sipping away at their deconstructed lattes. Was this the face of change? Peacocks as pets and rainbow coffee? I contemplated as to when we would reach peak hipster.
A smile came to my face though, dissipating any further negative thoughts when I looked across the seat to see my childhood friend and partner-in-crime of countless adventures. Prior to our return to Australia, we had not seen each other for over five years and much had changed in both our lives, but at the core of it all, I felt that familiar warmth, humour, unconditional acceptance and love that I had always known in Ayisha.
In the backseat of the car the three of us were all but intertwined and I couldn’t help but allow a cherished memory wash over me. We were all on the cusp of our fifth year on this planet playing a make-believe game of unicorns and princesses, complete with a sword-wielding heroine and a cyborg cat thrown in for good measure. We shared our mini gingerbread snacks, laughs, and secrets and in that one afternoon, we became the trio: My brother, Ayisha and I. I’ll give you a second to gush over how cute we were back in the day.
What followed these pictures were seven years of constant friendship and four more that transcended oceans, valleys, mountains and seas. After all, true friends stay together through words, through distance and through time.
We wound our way up a final set of turns, passing an array of yellow signs, warning drivers of the local resident kangaroos. Another smile lit up my face as I realised this was the only country in the world where you would see a sign like that. The car slowed to a stop, coming to rest at the top of a secluded hill. We had arrived.
Deep inside the heart of Mt. Dandenong lies an intricate web of delicious Gluten Free Pizzerias and Vegan Ice-creameries. However, one township stands apart in terms of untapped nature: Glen Harrow, the ferny sanctuary that encompasses Trees Adventure Park.
Home to Australia’s Premier Tree Top Adventure Ropes Experience, Glen Harrow is a refreshing glimpse into the natural flora and fauna of the ancient land and you can enjoy a unique experience from the treetops while doing so. We had visited the park twice before but both visits occurred over five years ago. Now, after so long, we had returned with our childhood memories and our childhood friend to experience the exhilaration, adrenaline, and hair-raising challenges once again. With Trees Adventure boasting 5 long courses, 2 short courses, 70 challenges and 19 flying foxes, there would be no shortage of fun.
The autumn breeze encased us as we stepped out of the car and made our way down the familiar path to the entrance of the park. The scent of the leather utility gloves wafted out of the equipment containers and suddenly all I felt was excitement. Through the branches, I could make out the black cord of the flying foxes, the challenges zig-zagging through the forest; a labyrinth of the sky. The park was nearly empty due to it being a school afternoon, and we regarded this fact with the giddy smiles of three children who had a theme park all to themselves. We suited up with helmets and harnesses and followed Assistant Park Manager Emma down to the training zone. Our two-hour ticket session had begun.
We zipped from course to course, the colours a blur in my mind. Blue, red, blue, green. Each tested our skill and endurance. Each left us bent over with laughter. When we unclipped from the course and stepped back onto the wooden landing I looked up at the magnificent 150-year-old Algerian Oak Tree that connected all the courses together and I couldn’t help but reflect on this metaphor of life. Is this how we are all connected throughout our planet?
Last time we had indulged in a trip to the Treetops, I had been too young for the big, badass, black course, the highest and most challenging of the tree top challenges. But now, with us all over the minimum age of 13, there was nothing to stop us from climbing to the very top of the ladder, 15 meters into the sky, to see the world from a Eucalyptus’s point of view.
We hooked and harnessed ourselves into the black course, the two ladders separated by the girth of this giant oak tree. As I began to climb, my feet sturdily ascending from rung to rung, I found myself admiring the gentle giant I was scaling. It was hard to imagine that it had once been a minuscule sprout, tiny against the backdrop of the endless forest. Over time it had changed, allowing itself to grow and morph until it ruled the sky.
It made me realise; so many people on this Earth are afraid of a little word called change. Afraid of change, afraid to change, and most importantly afraid of what change might bring. For the past four and half years, we have been embracing it. To us, change is more than just an acquaintance, it is an intimate friend. It is our way of life.
The Algerian Oak Tree and Upper Ferntree Gully with all its revamped cafes weren’t the only things that had changed in the time we had been away. It wasn’t just the people or places, but my eyes for the way I saw my old home now had changed too. I had returned with a new outlook, a sense of exploration and a desire to gain insight in a way I couldn’t have when we had left Melbourne four and a half years ago.
It was a week away from my 11th birthday when we began our journey around the world. Now I was only a few months away from celebrating my 15th year. I was tentative. There were many more changes and challenges coming with this new year and it was quickly speeding closer. I looked over to Ayisha on the other side of the tree. We were neck-and-neck, ascending the tree at exactly the same pace. My head filled with a million voices, voices of people that we had met along our travels, voices across the world asking the same questions. “Doesn’t constant travel wreck the proper dynamics of a friendship?” “What about relationships?” and the biggest one: “But aren’t you ever lonely?”
The questions pounded against my head. The air swirled around me. I looked down and realised that I was more than halfway up to the top. To my surprise, I found a twinge of apprehension sliding down my throat as I continued to climb. I have never been afraid of heights in my entire life, yet somehow my feet seemed less agile and my fingers seemed to grip less resiliently. I climbed higher, my heart beating hard against my rib cage. I swallowed nervously as I came to the final rung on the ladder. In that moment, as I made my move to ascend the final platform, I slipped backwards, my feet giving way beneath me. In that split second, I forgot that I was strapped into the harness. I forgot that there was no chance I could ever fall. A sharp gasp ricocheted through my body and I closed my eyes in instinct.
Then I realised I had also forgotten that I was not alone 15 meters in the air. Ayisha’s hand squeezed my own tightly as she hauled me up the final ladder step and out onto the landing. A wave of emotion swept over me and suddenly all the fears and doubts fell where I couldn’t have. The voices shattered like glass around me and all that was left was what I knew to be true.
Change is a journey. One of a thousand emotions and one of a thousand stories. A journey of living, breathing moments transforming into memories. A journey of meaning, one that spans a million miles and never truly ends.
Embrace change. Friendship survives it. We had been apart for four and half years and yet when we were reunited it was as if not even a single second has passed. Our trio was still together, our sisterhood intact. I hugged Ayisha, 15 meters in the sky, the smallest wisps of our hair escaping our safety helmets. The truth was that there were many times along our journey when I had felt very lonely and had longed for the company of my friends.
As a traveler, you make so many new connections and new friendships that sustain you for the small amount of time you usually have together. But they are at the very essence, bittersweet, because you have to say goodbye, and one by one you must walk out of each other’s lives until it is time to meet again. Now, to have Ayisha with me, in the flesh, a living breathing being and not a silhouette, was like a dream come true. In that moment, I felt so completely content. I opened my eyes. The dark green gullies, deep forest air and laughing sing-song of a Kookaburra invaded my senses. I unhooked from the ladder. The black course was beckoning.
While the black course was classed as the most challenging, it was also the most rewarding. We were thrilled to discover that the majority of the course consisted of flying foxes and so we flew from tree top to tree top, treasuring the magical feeling of being airborne. Because of the way time had flown, I knew that this would be the last course we would complete and so we cherished each challenge all the more, going slow to enjoy it as much as we could.
It was at the very end of the course that I realised – for a few precious minutes Ayisha and I were the single, solitary figures in the trees. We were alone, hooked and harnessed into the last flying fox of the day. The treetops were afire with all the vibrancy of a late afternoon autumn glow. My hands gripped harder onto the carabiner. I didn’t want to let go. High above, I relished the feeling, as if the entire enchanted forest and I had a little secret all to ourselves.
There are those moments you know are going to become a memory. You can feel it. When everything else will meld into a collage of out-of-breath exhilaration and this one moment is what will remain. For me this was it. Standing on the edge of the tree with Ayisha, my feet caressing the air, the embers of the sun filtering down beside me, the autumn leaves rustling in the wind. This is what I see when I remember our afternoon at Trees Adventure Park. This memory… alive. I could close my eyes and see it again, all so clearly. Me, poised on the crumbling fringe, my hands stinging with sweat, my eyes blinded by the beauty of the world above the ground. I stepped out into the ether and let go. I flew through the forest, my hair whipping in the wind, slowly descending until my feet touched Earth. With a shock, the gleaming light dissipated, as fleeting as a whisper of fog. I was back to reality.
As we made our way to the exit, our time session complete, the sun now melted behind the horizon, Lalika, Ayisha and I locked fingers for a photo. Together we had rediscovered a place that had always held a fragment of my childhood. Because of this, Trees Adventure Park will always hold a special place in my heart.
While the dynamic of our lives are in constant change and silly trends will come and go (I’m looking at you rainbow latte), the energies of our friendship and the lives we share will remain a constant guide in my heart and a compass that I will forever take with me on my journey ahead.
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