Jarndunmunha: Postcard from the Outback

We’ve detoured inland after miles of monotony. Nearing the Pilbara the terrain transforms into a rusty, rocky landscape rich in iron ore. We set up camp near Mt. Nameless—an insult to the local Aboriginal people who have inhabited the region for at least 40,000 years. Jarndunmunha, as they’ve named it, is Western Australia’s second tallest mountain. It’s an easy hour’s hike along the trail. I stop to chat with a woman who within minutes dives deeper into conversation than I’ve had in as many hours with my companions, a small caravan of international travelers. She tells me about her two-year journey around Australia with her husband after the death of their twenty-six-year-old son to “very tragic circumstances.” Following ten years of running, they finally returned home to face the ghosts left behind. Those next twelve months everything shifted and the healing settled in. This elegant woman in her crisp white blouse and cream-colored hat says she appeared okay on the outside to everyone after her son died. “But inside all I wanted was to crawl into a small dark place.” I tell her about my six-month road trip around the USA, spurred by a different kind of loss, and how I’d also descended at times to that space I called no-place. We agree that travel doesn’t enable you to leave what ails you; it just helps you separate from the daily routines and assumptions that keep you from reinventing yourself. I marvel that she is not broken or bitter. “If my husband dies first,” she tells me, “I’ll travel solo until I find myself again. Because you know, you lose your identity and really become one with the person you’ve loved for forty-two years.” Back at camp, someone sings Scottish ballads while flocks of pink galahs screech across the sky. The cliff glows crimson and the wind brushes the tips of dragonfly wings that whisper past my face.

Nicole R. Zimmerman holds an MFA from the University of San Francisco. She lives with her wife in Northern California and is a 2019 recipient of the Discovered Awards for Emerging Literary Artists, produced by Creative Sonoma. Her work appears in literary journals such as Toho, Ruminate, Birdland, and Creative Nonfiction. You can read more at nicolerzimmerman.com.

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Issue 8.1

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