When I found myself dripping water into a kookaburra’s (pronounced “cook-a-burra”) beak, I knew for sure that I had arrived in Australia. Not that I had any sizable doubt about the fact before, but I was learning that there are levels of “Australia-ness.”
There’s the “Look! There’s the Sydney Opera House. I can’t believe I’m in Australia!” level. Then there’s the level where you pat yourself on the back because you called the “trash can” the “rubbish bin.” But you know you have found the deeper Australia when you, first of all, know what a kookaburra is (just picture a strange cross between an owl, a woodpecker, and something that would appear in National Geographic) and give him a nickname (in this case, “Jackie”).
It was week 8 of my trip when I met “Jackie,” after having just stumbled into one of the most breathtakingly sleepy towns on the southern edge of New South Wales: Nelligen.
Nelligen is one of those places that almost wishes not to be noticed. It invites passersby to take a Sunday afternoon nap with it. It has a town hall that keeps one eye open at least long enough to give tourists a chance to purchase a few trinkets, including a mug from the Sydney 2000 Olympics that I bought for 10 cents. (I’m sure it will be worth heaps some day, but, I must admit, buying something for 10 cents these days is like saying, “We wanted to give this to you, but we didn’t want you to feel bad, so give us a coin you forgot you had.”)
Nelligen also boasts a yearly treat under the “big top”: the Circus Royale. and if you had any questions about the caliber of this one-ringed show, just listen to what it bragged on the flier: Holstein cows, a pony, geese, and people from six different countries! Now that’s something to get excited about.
The Holstein cows perched their front legs up on stools, while the pony ran underneath them. The geese slid down a slide, and the people from six different countries…let’s just say, it wasn’t a coincidence that the trapeze artist looked a lot like the girl selling popcorn before the show.
I was beginning to like Nelligen. A lot. And not just because of their friendly aviaries, second-hand shops, and good, old-fashioned rural entertainment.
There was just something about Nelligen that made me feel like I could rest from the world’s eye, as if I could blend into the muted green landscape and go unnoticed for hours. Or chase a kangaroo until I gave up or it outran me (both happened). Or sit in the backseat of a “ute” (utility vehicle) with the windows rolled down, bounding over dirt roads, thinking of nothing more than what kind of lemonade I’d like to sip on the other end of the drive.
It felt like rest. Real rest.
Not the kind of rest that comes when I tell yourself to turn off the TV for two hours to read a book, but the kind of rest that can only happen after eight weeks of practice. And that’s what this trip has become for me: a marathon of rest. Of finding myself breathing the largest mental breath of relief, and allowing it to sink into every pore.
As I dripped water into Jackie’s mouth, I was in a world where bills to be paid, jobs to apply for, and lists to be checked off seemed like activities that belonged to a different universe. And I much preferred the new universe I was learning to walk around in.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.