Today marks our sixth day on the road. So far, it has been a fantastic adventure! We’ve wandered through beautiful eucalyptus forests, toured wineries, and covered a good deal of ground. Today we left the coast behind us and drove into what, to me, seems more like the Australia I’ve dreamed of than anywhere else we’ve been in the country. The flat, endless desert that stretches on in every direction. The low, dense bushes that paint the desert a dull gray-green. The cloudless sky that seems larger than life. This is how I’ve always pictured Australia.
Tonight will be the first night I’ve ever spent underground. We’re in Cooper Pedy, a dusty mining town located in the middle of nowhere. The only reason there’s a town here at all is because opals are abundant in the area. Mines riddle the ground beneath Cooper Pedy, marking where generations of miners have searched through the various mineral levels to find pockets of opals. Some have made their fortunes, while others have lost them. And some have found ways to make money even after they’ve sold off all of the opals found on their claim. Riba’s Underground Campground is evidence of that. Rick, a miner who long since has explored every nook and cranny of his staked claim, widened out some of his tunnels to use as camping space. His campground has become popular as the world’s only underground tourist park.
It’s strange to see tents set up under ceilings of stone many meters thick. Down here, it is pleasantly cool, and for some reason no flies ever venture even just a few feet into the entrance. Every sound echoes off of the walls. The boys experimented with hoots and shouts for a few minutes. The thrill seems to have worn off at this point, which is probably a good thing. As for me, I don’t think I’ll ever stop enjoying the effect, though I can’t say shouting appeals to me as much as it does to the others. Instead, I’ve been fiddling softly in my own little section of tunnel, just to hear the pure sound throb to life for a moment and then die away. Later on, I think I’ll take it up onto the surface and play for the stars. Nowhere but in the desert does the night sky seem so immense and beautiful that falling off the earth feels like a distinct possibility.
Earlier in the day, Mom asked me what I was grateful for. I wasn’t sure how to respond. There were too many options. Family, friends, the experiences I’ve had, material items, and yes, cheese, all came to mind, among other things. How do you choose just one? In all, I don’t believe you can. But after a bit of consideration, I believe I know exactly what I’m most grateful for, and that is… This moment. The fact that I’m alive to experience today and all that comes with it, the good and the bad. I’m grateful for the ability to see the stars, breathe the dry desert air, hear the wind dancing through the brush, and feel the world thrumming with life even in a seemingly dead environment. And that, my friends, is making this evening absolutely perfect. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!