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The Sentient Mountain

We sat drinking tea on the sandstone terrace of a property just outside Berrima in the southern Highlands south of Sydney. It was one of those balmy days in early Spring when the equinoctial gales have yet to wreak their havoc on the cherry blossoms – a day to herald the return of sunshine and warmth.

The flagstones shimmered pale gold in the late morning light, dappled with shadows from the grape vine curling along the beams of the loggia. Below us, formal rows of roses and lavender marched along the parterre, their buds still tightly furled, In a few weeks, their perfume would fill the garden and drift through the open windows of the sitting room.

It was an idyllic setting, and the others chatted happily, sharing their memories of travel to distant parts of the globe. But my mind was distracted by the Being peering at us from behind the distant hills to the north.

Mount Jellore is a volcanic remnant, a symmetrical cone rising over 800 metres (more than 2700 feet) above the surrounding highlands and state forests. It dominates the landscape as mountains tend to do, but there was something different about this peak; something uncanny.

I joined the conversation, but my eye continued to rove uneasily, finding its way back to the horizon where Jellore loomed above the line of gentle hills in the foreground. As strange as this sounds, I felt it was watching us.

I asked our hostess about the mountain, hoping she might confide a similar sense of unease. Everyone turned to look as she told me its name, then returned to their chatter, clearly immune to whatever I was feeling. To them, I suspect it was just another mountain outcrop in the long line of the Great Dividing Range. Nothing special. Nothing remarkable. Just an ordinary mountain…

But I have never found anything ordinary about mountains. They have personality. I have experienced the beneficent grandeur of Mt Fuji, the brooding power of Wollumbin, and the peculiar mineral energies of The Gib with its constant companion of thunderstorms.

Some invite you to approach and gather flowers at their foothills, while others repel, forbidding you to invade their sacred space. I tend not to approach them, but observe them reverently from afar, content to leave these majestic beings to their dreams.

While the others resumed their conversation, I pursued my ruminations. Was Jellore’s powerful energy an accident of topography? Was my imagination simply diverting me (as usual) along fanciful pathways? One of the perils of being a writer is a tendency to mythologize, and the world is filled with curious phenomena, simply begging the imaginative mind to create absorbing tales.

Mine is a mind constantly wrestling with opposing factors: rational and analytical, but simultaneously fanciful, it seeks to make sense of the world by approaching it from both perspectives. And sometimes this quirk of my intellect taps into phenomena which defy rational explanation.

It was not until months later that the Belanglo State Forest, mere kilometres south of the country property where we sat, became notorious for the horrific backpacker murders. Ivan Milat abducted, tortured and killed at least seven individuals, forever contaminating that beautiful region with the stain of his crimes.

Upon reflection, I find myself wondering whether Jellore's intrusive presence, which I interpreted as scrutiny that sunny day in Spring, might have been a warning about the evil lurking behind us in the forest – the full extent of which would finally be revealed months later when Milat was brought to trial. Or, perhaps, as I frame in the following poem, Jellore was simply reminding us that we are small and insignificant in the scheme of the universe. Humans will come and go, bringing joy or misery in their wake, while the mountains remain, unmoved by the slow passage of time.

* * * * *

Sometimes I feel that mountains are sentient.

Guardians of the forest, they peer above the hills,

Silently watching us,

Their crags and fissures, weathered by storm and sunlight,

The ages mere dust at their feet.

Some are deities.

I will not climb them

Nor even trespass on their lower reaches.

In their dreaming perfection, it is best

To leave them to their meditations,

Watching as the stars wheel slowly overhead,

Ruminating on the folly of the creatures

Scampering heedlessly over their flint-hard skin.

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