It is a beautiful day in Biggenden- bright and sunny, clear and crisp, and the grass couldn’t possibly be a more enticing shade of green. Just the kind of day that seems to come effortlessly to Queensland. Fly is leisurely grazing the clover around the toilet black here at the show grounds, and Basil and Jasmine are watching the nearby road works with great interest from the Pony Club paddock. They have had more than enough of their fair share of clover, and for the first time since setting out on the trail, are looking, well, rather overly tubby.
We are currently holed up here while we make use of the power and phone reception to sort out a few logistics. We’ve also had a lot of spare time to study, read and write, which has been awesome. It’s like a holiday from our holiday! And what better place to rest up than in Biggenden. Here are the books we’ve been gobbling up….
1. The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey
I have a bit of a fascination with Alaska, which was probably ignited by watching the series ‘Northern Exposure’ as a young teenager, as well as the fact that many fellow yurt-dwellers seem to live there, strangely enough.
So when I saw that ‘The Snow Child’ was a retelling of a Russian fairytale , but set in Alaska, I couldn’t resist. It tells the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless older couple who are attempting to run from a painful past by moving to the wilds of Alaska and trying their hand at homesteading. In a moment of levity after the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow, who basically, well, comes to life. But does she?
I love the darkness, mystique and magic that the Russian fairy tales do best, and was curious to see how it could possibly be reinterpreted in a way that would be palatable for modern-day adults.
To write with wit, humour, beautiful flowing prose or cleverness obviously takes great skill, but to write a fairy tale for adults? That is something else. Reading fairy tales as an older child, I remember them not as an assortment of sugar-coated Disney Princesses, but often strange and unsettling, yet magical and captivating nonetheless. To attempt this genre with an audience of jaded adults who, like my old class of 13 year olds, are probably wondering ”But is it true in real life, or not?”, is pretty brave. The beauty and harshness of the remote Alaskan wilderness lend real atmosphere to the story, and the relationship between the three main characters gently explores the idea of whether anyone can really ever belong to someone.
2. A Standard Journey, by Jackie Parry
This is the story of Noel and Jackie, who set off to ride the Bicentennial National Trail with five unbroken, rescued Standardbred horses. The first thing I noticed upon flicking through it was that they didn’t complete the whole trail- in fact the whole book is based on a journey of only a few hundred kilometres. I don’t mean to sound snobbish or shrug off thier journey as unmonumental- quite the opposite, in fact. Jackie Parry proves that no matter how short, long, hard, or easy the trip, in the hands of a decent writer, every journey can be a great story.
Unlike other trails such as the Camino, there are so few people who set out to do the whole BNT that it is still very much a novelty to see or hear of a trekker. This is pretty darn awesome – people will go out of their way to help you and love to hear about the journey. Refreshingly, the BNT is gloriously unafflicted by the ‘tourist fatigue’ that plagues other walking trails such as the Camino or the Pacific Crest Trail. How very lucky we are! But with this comes the opposite phenomenon – you can feel like you are in a bit of a goldfish bowl, and everyone has an opinion on how you are trekking the trail, what is best for your animals, etc.
Due to the fact that the relationship with some landowners along the BNT is still rather tenuous, trekkers must be on their best behaviour- this is vital for the continuation of the BNT and for access to future trekkers. But nonetheless, it is only human to make a mistake or two, and Jackie Parry, like us all, makes plenty of them.
Her honesty, self-deprecating tone and humour all make for a refreshing read. Anyone who has spent any time on the BNT will be able to smile, nod, and relate to at least one of their dramas- runaway horses, dangerous traffic, locked gates, or the despair one feels to find no grass at the end of a long day. There is no boastfulness, no sugar-coating or covering up of blunders, and reading this book together definitely made Z and I feel like us trekkers are all in it together, and that no one is immune from a drama or ten along the way.
Z has just finished reading one of her books too! Her review is below:
The Brumby Series, by Paula Boer
This wonderful series connects one to the Australian High Country as Ben and Louise discover the highs and lows of capturing and training two wild brumbies. These are great books that any young horse-lover between the ages of nine and twelve would enjoy.
Paula Boer brings alive the wild and exciting life of living in the Australian bush. Gallop along with the wild twists and turns of Louise and Ben’s many adventures. Tragedy strikes when Brandy, Ben’s stallion, has an accident in a fence. Will his wound ever heal? To find out, read the Brumby series! A must-add to the home library.