Our trip to the James Cook Research Center at Orpheus Island was one of my favorite parts of my time with SFS. After a morning of snorkeling a small group of us hiked across the island to the beach on the other side. I wanted to share with you our afternoon hike and little bit of reflection.
We slid down wet leaves covering the trail, laughing when we bumped into each other. After reaching the bottom I looked back up the path to see the last two members of our little group picking their way down the rocks. I lamented the journey back, knowing that every hill we skidded down we’d have to trudge back up. At least it wasn’t unbearably hot; the lush green canopy protected us from the brunt of the sun’s heat.
The river was long and winding. Deceptively deep in some parts, too. Many a shoe and leg was accidentally plunged in, much to the rest of the group’s amusement. We were all good sports about it, I think already being drenched in sweat softened the blow of a wet leg. Fascinating life surrounded us on our trek. Black caterpillars sporting vivid colored spots scooted along low-hanging branches and a stick bug the length of two hands blended into the trunk of a tree. Green ants we carefully avoided scurried in formation over logs that lay fallen across the river. The roaring rush of the river mingled with the calls of birds, a common feature in all rainforests we visited in Australia. Yet, it was calm and peaceful as we walked along, taking in all the beauty.
Excitement built as we rounded the final turn and saw the break in the trees. The ocean lay beyond and we picked up our pace to reach the sand. The brush along the edge of the rainforest was tangled with thorny vines that caught our pant legs and shoelaces. We absentmindedly shook them off as we stared around at the landscape. Jagged cliffs along the island’s edges sloped into the water, where white caps slammed into protruding rocks with a loud crash. The narrow strip of sand we stood on gave way to a bedding of rocks, making swimming ill-advised. At the little beach we saw clearly where the rainforest met the reef, an awe-inspiring sight. The forest behind us stood thick and lush against the blue sky, the greens of the trees vivid wherever the sunlight hit.
This side of the island was drastically different from where the research center was located. All that covered the beach was rocks. Across the island mangroves wrapped around the shore with their thick roots entrenched in the sand. The tide stretched out surprisingly far, and stingrays and baby reef sharks cruised around the shin-deep water. That same side of the island suffered from fire, the scorched bark of the trees silent proof. I contemplated the differences while I watched two of the girls I was with struggling to open a coconut. Then my mind wandered to my home in Massachusetts. There weren’t any coconuts there. There wasn’t a rainforest there either. I looked out at the ocean, trying to fathom that technically across the water stood North America, and across that New England. I was so far away, but the thought didn’t bother me. I was on a small island with only the people I arrived with, surrounded by a rainforest. Out of our windows lay an ocean home to unique aquatic life that mesmerized me. And I loved it.