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? 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…
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
(and a mum gets kind of scared but faces her fear of tall and high things, quite well I have to say!).
|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
The boy and his family come out into the open air,
and find there is a river to walk beside,
(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!!
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.