Since we moved to Melbourne in April of last year, the place that I have most relished exploring and returning to has been the Dandenong Ranges. In fact heading up to the Dandenongs was one of the first trips we made the very first weekend we bought our car. Over the year we’ve gone back a couple of times, and in different seasons, but my favourite will always be autumn. The changing leaves, the cool breeze that signals winter is already on the way, the feeling that the entire forest is just suspended in the wait. Autumn is definitely my favourite season.
This autumn, we thought we had missed getting up to the Dandenongs. We had done other trips of course, particularly down to Phillip Island a few times, and we had just sort of neglected that little forest getaway close to home. When I realised that it was the last weekend in autumn, the last chance to see the changing leaves (or at least what was left of them) I knew we had to go. So, off we went.
Usually, both Dean and are are fond of being up at dawn on the days we have our adventures. This was not to be a dawn-time expedition though. Instead, with our alarms improperly set, we rolled awake at about 8am, groggy and confused. We came so close to not going, but in the end the sight of my camera just waiting, charged and ready, in the corner of the room encouraged me. The open road softly calls, and we heed it heading out the door.
I’m always surprised at how close we are to the Dandenongs. It never seems like a vert long drive, and I relish the sensation of getting further and further away from the city smog and crowds. The air temperature on the car dashboard creeps down as we climb up the ranges, and soon outside there’s just forest and those little woodland cottages of the sort I’d love to own myself. We’ve already decided the best place to see the foliage: The R.J. Hamer Arboretum. A beautiful collection of tree species spread over hill and valley that has become our common exploration venue. Afterwards maybe we can go elsewhere, but for now the Arboretum is where autumn still clings to colour.
The Arboretum is just the most beautiful place in autumn. I mean, I love it all through the seasonal change, but the autumn here is really something special. Instead of parking at the lookout as we usually do, we start near the football pitch where keener folks than I are running around in shorts in the freezing morning air. We wander down a hill, through a field, and over a (very small) fence that has seen many cross-country hikers. As we go, we see in the distance the unforgettable orange and yellow of changing leaves, and surge towards it. A small grove of maple trees, with their tiny leaves burning bright in the increasing sunlight. All around us the leaves blanket the ground, the the bare trunks stand sentinel, and the sun steams in rays. I stand in a pool of that streaming sun, close my eyes and soak it all in. Gorgeous.
I could have stood in the maple grove all day long, photographing every angle of the light, every leaf that fell on the breeze and settled on the bed below. Dean however is fond of walking on his walks, so he graciously stays much longer than he normally would have, laughing at the antics of a foliage-obsessed photographer, before we go on our way. Elsewhere in the Arboretum, autumn has come and gone. Most of the trees have already shed all their leaves, with only the stubborn few hanging limpet-like on branches already starting to feel the touch of frost. The colours that remain though, they burn warm and foreign in the cooling air. Winter might be just around the corner, but here at least a fire still burns in the treetops.
I feel very lucky in times like this that I live so close to a place like the Dandenongs, that I can visit any time I so choose to. To live in such proximity to that kind of natural beauty, well not everyone has a life with that sort of privilege. We are very lucky in Australia, as in many developed nations, that the importance of such locations is recognised and respected by the people and their leaders. It would be a sad world indeed when two adventurers couldn’t roll out of their beds much later than planned and still have a beautiful autumn adventure.
No doubt I will return to the Arboretum and the Dandenongs before autumn comes again, but for now I have to see goodbye to my favourite season. I wonder how life will have changed when you roll around again.