My favorite day of the trip is the day when I wrestled a huge, completely charred, gum tree. I do need to mention the fact that it was located directly on the fence line that covered Australia’s version of Mount Kilimanjaro. Fortunately for us, and the property owner, I won! However, I did come away with not just a black eye, but also an entirely black, soot covered, face.
The day started like any other day on our trip.
Alarm clock when off at 6am. I got up, freezing because I am always cold, put on my clothes including my high visibility vest and completely American cowboy hat, and then made my way to the dining hall with a smile on my face. Smiling because this was not our first morning at the BlazeAid camp in Coonabarabran. I knew all too well what and who was already ready for me. A nice big bloke by the name of Evan! Evan was the man because everyday at 5am he got up, fired up the grill, and cooked everybody fried eggs and the Australian version of bacon; basically it was my grandmother’s version of fried ham.
And, on this particular morning, he had fried up some sweet potato slices as well. Out of control delicious! So after I had an exceptional breakfast full of grease, sodium, protein, and cholesterol I was ready. So what followed is only natural. I had to make a stop by the bathhouse, what other option did I have? Once the pertinent details were taken care of etc. etc. our group of 5 Americans and two Australians, Justin and Sallie made our way deep into the pasture land of the Warrumbungles where this epic match of strength, fortitude, and vertical slope would take place.
Justin, a forty something Australian, on the way out to our fence line that morning mentioned that the reason why they had us young American’s working this property was because of the section of fence we were about to rebuild. He kept referring to it as Kilimanjaro. I did not truly understand his comment until I reached the not so impressive peak of the fence line that we had been working towards for the past several days. Once I had made the summit, which was not that steep at all, I peered off into the abyss of the valley that we were about to descend. There were cries of eagles, high winds, the gray hue of clouds below, and my ever-present fear of heights that for the majority of life had not existed. Ok, that may be stretching it some, just take away the eagle sounds and well ok leave the rest.
In digesting the task at hand I noticed amongst the many burnt trees was an impressive gum that rested directly in the middle of two star posts of the descending fence line. At that point, I said to myself “self, it’s going to be tough to get all the barb wire strands around that tree.” So, I then implemented the only course of action I thought would make sense. I made my wife, Brett Ann, run all the lines of wire through each star post, around the toasted Gum, and to the strainer post in the valley.
I mustered all the energy I had to encourage her as she continued to make the hike up and down Kilimanjaro. By the time she ran 5 out of 6 lines we were both exhausted! And I had not made one trip to the bottom yet! It was a successful morning. But, as fate would have it a Kelpie puppy, by the name of Ember, distracted Brett Ann. Leaving me the sole responsibility of running the last line of barb.
I valiantly stood in my wife’s place. Pulling the barb up to the summit and then descending down towards the strainer post located in the valley. Charging the chargrilled gum with full force. Once I got to the tree I noticed the path Brett Ann was using to go around the gum was no longer accessible. Due to the completion of the 5th wire I could not fit through the fence as she had. My next thought was to jump the fence, but thanks to the slope of Kilimanjaro, that was not an option for this ole boy either. Therefore I would have to reach around the tree to pull the 6th and final wire around the appropriate side. This was when the match began! (Let’s get ready to rumble!) I attempted to bear hug the tree but found its breadth to be too large for my inadequate arms, even when I pressed my entire body, and face, up against its charred bark. I regrouped by climbing back up to the summit side of the tree, resting my body and face–once again– against it to feed the wire down the fenced side of my foe. I managed to slide around the tree, using its massive size for balance as I traversed the almost vertical pitch to grab the wire on the valley side of the gum to pull it down to the next star post. Finally, I had bested the tree! But, I was completely covered in soot. For the rest of the day I had to endure the mixed banter of my cohorts as they enjoyed the results of my bout with the gum tree touched by fire.
The day ended with Mount Kilimanjaro fenced. We were able to progress further into the valley completing roughly 200 meters of fence for the property owner. Looking back I take pride in the fact that I came away from my match with the Gum tree victorious. I also am proud of our efforts as Americans to help these Australians farmers and native BlazeAid volunteers tackle such a challenge as fencing land in the mountainous Warrumbungles of New South Wales.