Thursday, June 9, 2011

bright clear happy days

So what does a boy do,

when he turns 11, for the first and only time?

Well, if you're a homeschooling kid with a dad who can (just) take time off during the week…

you go on an adventure!

You get surprised on the morning before your birthday with an invitation Away.
You pack, skipping up the stairs and down, then head off!

Up to the Blue Mountains, where the air gets crisper and crisper

until your breath fogs as you get out of the car.

You rise up and up but skip all the amazing views (sorry!) 'til you reach the top,
then head down and down again, literally coasting the country roads
(to see how far we can go in neutral, all of us laughing 'til we cry)
down into a valley of magic and mystery, a valley holding inside its folds, 430 million-year-old caves.

The first night,
the night before his birthday, a boy and his family settle into a tiny cabin near the caves.

A cabin heated only by this

… the heat not reaching the bedrooms, not even close,
so we end up dragging mattresses onto the living room floor and sleeping like happy curled-up bugs.

A boy sleeps deeply, then wakes,
and just like that? He's 11.

What's next? Well, if you're a boy who has just turned a whole new age, you open your Loot, straightaway! And get hugs, from an adoring sister.

Then more hugs!

Then? Well, you go outside of course (OUTSIDE! In this cold! Egads!)

and find a view, and trees to photograph (with frozen fingers), and a dad to fetch wood with,

photos by a boy

and get lost in your brand new, just slightly too-big-for-you coat. 

photo by a dad
(Is he even in there?)

The birthday morning cruises by, slowly, happily, and then? It's time to go deeper into the valley, down and down again, until the happy family is 

At Jenolan Caves, where you can actually drive through an arch this big

and stay in a house this cool (but for a lot more money than our teeny freezer of a cabin in the trees. Maybe next time…)

Here, in the oldest conservation space in Australia, the birthday boy chooses to go far and finely underground, to tour the River Cave… 
(which was my all-time, hands-down favourite cave to visit when I was a kid…! Bliss)

The tour begins

with a view of a river this blue

then has us meandering into the folds of the mountain. Like the land opens its mouth, just a little, and swallows us whole. 

Inside we see…with our faces gaping, and with a lot of pointing…

extraordinary things.

And we find the blue inside

the flow of the deep 

the mountain's mysterious heart.

It is breathtaking.

And we climb ladders both up and down and 
down again

(and a mum gets kind of scared but faces her fear of tall and high things, quite well I have to say!).

looking down…spooooky
looking up… relief!

And everything seems suspended 
as we walk through something impossible to imagine,

 holding our breath,

while the land, simply,

And when we leave? And the lights are all turned out?

Well, the dark and the flow and the heart
keep on.

The boy and his family come out into the open air,
and find there is a river to walk beside,

 and a platypus to see!

(the first I have ever seen in the wild)

(There really is a platypus in this picture. 
It's the brown-ish blob in the centre. Adorable.)

And we are so happy.

Now, the family had planned to hike more but
it is SO cold.
And we thought we'd explore the Grand Archway some more but
it is SO SO cold.

So we end up 
inside that majestic Caves House, in the hotel lounge, with hot chocolates, by the toasty fire!

Where we gobble up a splendid dinner,

then drift on back up the mountain to our tiny cabin, 
where I somehow make an apple crumble in the microwave, 
and sing a Birthday song, and then…

we curl up like bugs again, 
sleepily, dreamily calling out good night
and one last 'happy birthday,'
to a truly contented boy…

while the fire in the stove crackles and jumps 
and the light quivers against the cabin walls. 

The last morning brings

frost and the tiniest bit of snow!! 

The kids
dash out
and stomp on the white grass like giants

while inside, by the warmth of the fire, the grown-ups pack to go

And when they get home,
a mum asks a boy, who is now 11 and will be eleven for a while now,
what he thought of his Birthday Adventure.

"It was awesome," he says with a smile. "I loved it, muchly."

Well, there you have it!

We all had a beautiful time.

Together, bright, clear, and happy. What a gift that was. 



  1. What a great idea! Happy birthday boy! And I loved the platypus and the snow :-)

  2. How fabulous! You gave him a gift he will never ever forget! I love looking at your family adventures. You are blessed to have a bit of freedom not only in your educational choices but with your husband's work as well. There are times I long for that. For us to plan time away is such work. Thank you for sharing this special occasion with us!!

  3. How wonderful for you and for your boy and your whole family. I love how he shines and you shine. I so enjoy seeing and hearing each moment of ordinary beauty through your eyes. (It's my turn for a bit of catch-up :)

  4. It's wonderful to be sharing through your story the special birthday in that special place The ladders are pretty amazing all by themselves. Photos really capture the whole day -- even the cold!

  5. Oh wow those caves are stunning!!! We have visited a few here in a couple different states, but I don't think any of them compare to yours!!! Warm snuggles by the stove--LOVE. And your son's fidora, my daughter has one just like it that she adores just as much :). I truly LOVE all the exploring you do with your family, I have to agree that I believe our families would most certainly get along ;). Maybe a rendezvous adventure together would be nice one day, yes? Again, happy birthday to your adorable son :).

  6. What a wonderful Birthday for your boy. He was just beaming in all the pictures. The caves are amazing. I know you all loved them.

    Helena I love your adventures, your time with your family. It is so special, do you know how special it is? I love the way you love.

  7. Thank you, everyone, for your comments! I think you all would have loved to explore this amazing place too (if you haven't already!). I love sharing my adventures here, and getting such sweet responses. Your words lift me, always. Thank you :)

  8. What a fun present! I love that pic of him in the hat and coat. What artist did that painting again?

    Happy Birthday to the newest 11 year old!

  9. Happy Eleven!
    I'm so glad he loved it muchly! No greater compliment to a mama, for sure. :)
    We have birthday week coming up here in a few more days... we'll see!


I love hearing from you! Thank you for your heartfelt, thoughtful responses—they lift me, and give me light.