To walk humbly with your Lord

Finished me courses in Fremantle, mate, dropped souf to Margaret River for a li’le r&r. (Me clutching the wheel as I hurtled the hired car down the left side of the road). “It’s just a short drive” – 4 hours later.

Margaret River’s inland scrub is being gradually replaced by expensive, Napa-style wineries, but I banged a ralphie for the beach. Miles of furry green bluffs over deserted wide webs of sand between extended claws of rock. Oddly, while I was there, the weather was grey and blustery, but in that ‘I didn’t really mind because it’s tropical’ way – fast moving scud and thin bands of warm rain.

In spite of my resolve to run the beach every morning, I was really there to scour my manuscript one last time – and I’m glad I did, because I found errors. How many times have I edited this and still missed them? But fatigue from many weeks out of a suitcase saps my resolve to exercise, which breeds more fatigue – I have miles to go…

Notwithstanding, manuscript completed, ditto trashy novel and body surfing, and cooking and early morning cliff walks. Saw the tracks of snakes, but not the actuality. Surprised roos bounded into the tall chaparral like deer – I was never fast enough to get a photo.

As a parting salute to a place I’ve liked, I usually like an ascent – overlook the whole experience, but this time I did a descent – into Hades, by metaphor. Into humility by happenstance. I have always loved caves, did some spelunking in college, and revisit the underworld sporadically. Ngilgi (closest I can get is ñil-gee) Cave is part of a limestone ridge across stretching 100 kliks, with 24 known caves beneath.

Parking the car in the shade of a eucalyptus, I walked the red dirt up the hill to the cave entrance. Greece – the weight of the air and the cicada sound in the eucalyptus scent takes me to Epidauros. I am alerted to the presence of the gods, and tune up my receptivity to whatever lesson they may have in store.

The outer presentation is bland enough: a tourist attraction in the state park, desultory and low-key. Just ahead of me buying tickets were Bruce and Marlene, over from New Zealand, so I listened as they got their instructions from Nelson. Marlene – who was Maori – asked if her jandals would be alright down there, and Nelson, Aussie and just out of school, looked confused so Marlene held up a foot. “Oh, your thongs,” he said, relieved. I chimed in with a cheery American “Flip-flops!” and the ’same thing, different words’ conversation ensued, in which neither New Zealander knew why they called them ‘jandals’, but I, in my capacious attic of useless data, plucked from my time in Christchurch: ‘Japanese sandals’ – short for.

Bruce and Marlene left to peruse the kitsch in the gift shop, and Nelson and I fell into conversation. Several times, he mentioned his ignorance – “I don’t pretend to know more than I know” “Oh, honey, I do,” I answered, “I make a living at it.” His guile-less blue eyes widen at the ‘honey’ – they are not ready for camp out here – but he continues as best he can on my questions about limestone porosity. “Ask Jacob when you get to the great chamber. I don’t really know about that.”

He asked me what I was doing here, and I mumbled something about anatomy, and he was off, telling me about his new yoga classes (he really was fresh out of school, this is his first job) and this amazing thing called ‘fascia’ (‘fescia’ in his mouth) that explains why he feels the stretches from his foot all the way up to his ‘ahm’. On this visit, Nelson was the only person to whom I gave a business card – “Look up Anatomy Trains when you get home.”

I join Marlene and Bruce eating an ice cream as we wait for the tour to start. A few small talk sentences and suddenly I find to my horror that I am spilling my whole story – the inexplicability of all my life changes at 70. Marlene is taking it all in her stride, and it’s really her bottomless heart I’m unloading into, tears coming out from under my sunglasses; one of these little emotional squalls I’ve learned to allow.

Fortunately at that moment Nelson calls the tour, rescues us all from this embarrassing moment, and we file out to the staging platform. These caves were the homes of the ’Saltwater people’, and all around was prosperous until an evil spirit moved into the cave. The story of Ngilgi is the battle with the good spirits who rounded up everyone to help send him on his way, so now it’s a good spirited cave. Some Brazilian girls joined our group, along with an Australian woman.

At the bottom of the first big room, a natural amphitheater, I let loose with my Tibetan chanting voice, impressing myself with the echoes and overtones. But then this Australian woman draws breath and, unexpectedly, starts in on La Boheme – beautiful, lyric – high and forward, but back of the neck shiver for me down in this dark cave.

Chastened and humble, I took in the rest of the cave, letting the evil spirit of my ego be chased out, and the good spirit of Ngilgi calm my nerves for the drive back to Perth airport and on.