As a tour guide, I spend a lot of time away from home. Birthdays, anniversaries and other regular celebrations are often marked away and it becomes expected that I most often won’t be around when the rest of the family get together for these occasions. Consequently, I’ve become a little laissez-faire about my own birthdays and it generally is no big deal whether I celebrate it or not.
Or, rather, it used to be. But this year has been a hard one for my family and there is the knowledge that a lot of our significant occasions will never be the same again. This is a year of ‘lasts’ and it is heartbreaking at times to miss out.
2016 was to be a big birthday for me – turning fifty. My family wanted me home with them and I wanted to be there but the career I’ve chosen precluded that. My ever generous employers probably would have worked around it if I’d asked (Casey, you’ve been amazing BTW), but I wouldn’t ask. This is my job and my lifestyle and experiencing the things I see, and the places I go, as part of my work day, more than compensates for what I don’t get to do.
Everybody on tour knew it was my birthday: I’d expressed satisfaction at the thought of being able to experience it way out in the bush, in the beautiful red earth heartland that I love so much. I’d bought a bottle of champagne and a bottle of port and I planned to encourage others to have a drink with me as I relaxed my own no drinkies on tour rule. What I thought was that Id get some well wishers around the fire at the end of the day.
Actually, no. I got so much more.
There was a breakfast setup decorated with balloons and a banner. There was a cake and champagne and cards and cards and a very thoughtful present. People went to so much trouble to make it special. Even my ever professional colleague relaxed enough to be affectionate and present me with a card and little gift.
I had chocolate cake and champagne for breakfast. I capriciously changed the routine of the morning and I got to take people to some of my favourite places. I randomly met up with old friends I’d worked with the year before and strangers sang me happy birthday. I travelled the whole day riding up the front of the cab and ignoring the ever looming paperwork requirements demanding my attention. Barry was nice to me all day!!! I got to take a guided walk into King’s Canyon and be passionate about an area I knew so well.
And nature was amazingly generous to me as well: earlier rain had carpeted the desert in a swell of verdant green and vivid kaleidoscope flower bloom. Colour as I had never seen it there before. At night the heavens turned on their display as well and the natural sky streaks of Pleiades meteor shower outclassed any man made firework display.
A significant birthday in a significant place, with significant people. Best birthday ever, in the circumstances . Thank you all so much.
(I wrote this this morning as soon as i had internet access again, for the company newsletter. The reality was less sanitised)