Contrasts & Edges: A morning with Briony Penn

It’s Thursday morning and I jot down the weather in my makeshift journal: sunny and gold, with a cold bite in the air. I also note that I should have brought a scarf.

“Contrasts,” Briony Penn says as we approach the entrance to Kimberley’s Nature Park. “Everyone loves contrasts.” Briony is a naturalist, writer and artist and is leading us on a nature walk to talk about journalling. She’s referring to contrasts as they apply to sketching nature, but I wonder how that transfers over to writing: using words to capture the space where dark meets light.

We amble up the hill and she points out a cedar. Cedars are the open handed plant, she says. If you look at how their needles form off the branch, they are a series of small hands opening out of each other. Cedars are also indicators of water, she says. Aha, I think, that’s why I like them so much. Growing up on the coast, I moved to these interior mountains only two years ago. I have grown to love the grasses and open spaces of the Rocky Mountain Trench, but I must admit, the water still runs deep in my veins.

We see a burly clump of twigs and branches hanging off a tree like an ornament. “Look at this,” Briony says. “It’s important to record the strange things.” I write that down. I think about how it’s only possible to know what’s strange if you know what’s normal. And that requires a practice, a visiting of the same place over and over, knowing its stories, befriending the creatures and plants that live there.

One of the women with us on the walk points to a wildlife tree and tells a story about how an owl used to live in it. They tried for years to preserve its habitat, but lightning struck the tree one day and the owl had to move on. My friend, born and raised in this place, picks a stem of horsetail and shows me how she used to pretend they were cigarettes when she was a little girl. I wonder how many other stories are contained in the last 200 metres we’ve walked.

Briony stands by the creek. “Edges are critical,” she says. The places where different systems meet and meld. It’s where we always find the most diversity. I think about edges and my own life. About how terrifying they can be. But how if I can figure out a way to let go of the fear, the edges are usually where I find the awe.  We amble out of the woods and re-enter civilization. Two men are talking about the bear that’s been trying to get their apples. People, bears, woods, life. Edges.

I write down one last thing: next time, bring a scarf.