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IT HAS ONLY been over the past couple of years that the relationship between my sister, Quynh, and I truly felt like both a sisterly bond and a genuine friendship. With Maily, the relationship has also morphed as she has entered young adulthood. I still see her as my baby sister but I also see her as an independent and strong young woman who has formed her own views and is everyday writing her own story.

When we are altogether at mum and dad's, of course we talk and joke around. However, for me, the family home still often carries overtones of separatism and slight disinterest. As teenagers, after high school, we would all scurry back into our hiding holes, where we would remain for most of the night as we rarely had family dinners. There was always unlimited love but rarely conversation about how our days went, let alone about us as individuals with our own feelings, opinions and intentions. Today, I definitely prefer seeing my family outside of the home to break down the hierarchy and to break those bad habits of idle chatter and lazy interactions.

Out in the Blue Mountains, these walls are completely torn down. As we trudged along the track, we laughed over things only sisters would find funny and we freely discussed our own dreams and little projects whilst binded by our common goal for the day- finding waterfalls! We talked about how Maily is contemplating becoming a nurse, about Quynh's 'food dream' and about where I want to take my writing and photography. There was no judgement and preconceptions that family members sometimes have from having known you all your life. When the day was done and dusted, I felt more in tune with them both in a way that I don't believe would have been possible had we not ventured outside of our norm to forge our own path together.

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WHEN QUYNH AND I were in primary school, we would while away afternoons playing make-believe games and it is this carefreeness that hiking together restores. One of our regular games was playing mailman. We would construct letterboxes out of shoeboxes, place them outside each other's rooms, and rush back and forth "mailing" handwritten notes and drawings. We also spent countless afternoons, completely captivated in our cardboard cubby houses that had colouring-in walls; Quynh's was themed like a kindergarten classroom and mine had dainty fairies and pretty pixies all over.

When we were frolicking in Empress canyon, there was this magic in the air as though it would be entirely normal if little pixie fairies suddenly peeked out from behind a fern leaf. This was my favourite stage of the hike. In the canyon, you are towered over by rock and an abundance of verdant plants and native flora. The water is unbelievably cool, considering the warmth of the day. The sun filters through the dense canopy and reflects sleepily off the leaves and stream. It is well and truly mid-morning by now but the lighting reminds me of when I catch a glimpse of that very first moment in the day when the sun rises up to say hello. I felt as though my cardboard cubby house had come to life.

My favourite part of my favourite part, though, was simply watching my sisters become kids again as they discovered the day's new joys. They marveled at the coolness of the water slipping between their fingers and they sprung ahead, deeper into the canyon, declaring, “don’t come down here, it’s not safe for your foot!”.

Throughout the hike, Quynh also entertained us by wildly exclaiming every ten minutes at some little bloom or berry she had seen. She would stoop down with her nose almost touching the plant, taking a close-up shot of the flora, before forcing me to do the same with my DSLR so that I might be able to research what species it was later.

Growing up together is so special. This hike reminded me of this as well as taught me that the playfulness of childhood can continue on into adulthood, if you let and foster it.

WHEN WE REACHED Empress Falls, the rushing sounds of the waterfall and the soothing murmur of the water pooling down into the rock pools at the base was a great reward. There were canyoners setting up to abseil down the waterfall so there was an electricity in the air and time seemed to stand still. 

The three of us sat there on the rocks, our legs dangling into the ice-cold water, just contently observing everything around us in silence. There was a deep sense of presence and comfort amongst us even without words. How many people can you truly experience that with?

The journey back up to the Hut removes any sense of cool and calm that we had achieved down by the waterfall. Quynh, who had been crazily chirpy on the way in, starts to deteriorate fast and by the end, she is exhausted! She had been eagerly leading but when she turned a corner after a long flight of stairs to see only MORE stairs, for as far as the eye could see, she wearily said, “okay, you go ahead” (hahaha).

If you have been meaning to spend some quality time with your brothers and sisters, I cannot recommend getting active in the outdoors enough. You feel like little kids again, exploring your new playground but with the added bonus of "mature" conversation. I think hiking will become our new sister-time activity.

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